Everyone can name a celebrity whose death has affected them. From Whitney Houston to Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse, we as a society have always gathered around the passing of famous people who contributed to our cultures and world. What is it, though, that causes us to feel so deeply when people whom we’ve never met pass away?
According to psychologists, it all comes down to the person’s presence in our lives. When we consume a person’s work, be it entertainment, education, or otherwise, it’s easy to feel like we do know them and share a connection. This was first identified in the 1950s when psychologists paid attention to newly emerging trends in television. They called this particular type of one-sided relationship parasocial interaction.
“We also grieve more today over the death of a celebrity because of the narrative,” Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert told SELF magazine. “The constant bombardment of every occurrence and every detail of the life of a celebrity leads us to believe that we have an intimate connection with them.”
This should come as no surprise, really. We all know and live in the media culture of the 2010s. Smartphones and social media help news spread worldwide in the blink of an eye. And it’s important to note that, at the end of the day, celebrities really are like the rest of us in their mortality. While some in the public eye die peacefully after long, happy lives, others deal with demons and addiction while the paparazzi and media document all of their struggles. They aren’t alone. Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose at 46 years old in 2014, and he was among over 8,000 people who met the same fate. When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2015, an estimated 40 million Americans shared his struggle with depression.
Read on for reflections on these celebrities’ lives, accomplishments, and more.
30. Steve Jobs
This is one of the last photos of Apple founder Steve Jobs. He died after a pancreatic tumor spread elsewhere, and he had delayed operations and chemotherapy for nine months after his disease was discovered in 2003. While family and friends plead for him to seek standard cancer treatments, he instead tried to cure himself through alternative medicine.