death

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Death and Celebrity

Published July 26, 2011 by Jennifer Loring

Back in March I wrote this post in response to a reading of Stephen King’s Misery for class. I discussed King’s prescience in illustrating, through the character of Annie Wilkes, the twisted world we were creating for our celebrities. We no longer see them as human at all–certainly not as creatures who suffer the way we do; after all, their money should be able to cure them of any affliction, right?

The number of celebrities who have gone to rehab for and/or died from addiction should be an obvious signal that this is not in fact the case.

Russell Brand, a former addict himself, noted in his tribute to Amy Winehouse that our media no longer cares about talent; rather, it’s tragedy with which they are obsessed. That Amy was a 5-time Grammy winner with a voice rarely heard in today’s overproduced pop wasteland mattered little to the tabloids, especially those who now hypocritically eulogize her (I’m looking at you, Perez Hilton) for that very talent. That she was quite publicly addicted to drugs and alcohol drove their stories and their sales. Dehumanized by the media and unable to fight her demons, she became a sideshow freak for the millions who now post “Who cares about Amy Winehouse?” on their Facebook pages.

We should all care. As Simon Pegg said in a tweet about his friend, death diminishes all of us. And for anyone who has ever loved an addict and has had to stand by helplessly as they destroyed themselves, Amy Winehouse’s premature death strikes a very sensitive nerve. I have been on the receiving end of that phone call. I have suffered the weeks of crippling depression that follows when one of your best friends has died in the night from respiratory failure induced by a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol. I have heard the promises to get clean–the desire to get clean, and the inability to do so because of the vast amounts of psychic pain that drive one to self-medicate.

We should care because she was a human being suffering from a very real illness. We should care because she was someone’s daughter, someone’s friend. We do not berate and humiliate people who are sick with cancer, yet with addiction, and especially celebrity addiction, we place all of the blame squarely on the victim. We cast them into the lion’s den of fame, demanding they entertain us even as we tear them to pieces. Yes, Amy and countless others made a choice to take that first drink/smoke/whatever. But no one ever asks “Why?” What drives someone with such enormous talent to seek out the chemical numbing of her own emotions?

Amy Winehouse was one of the few “pop” musicians whose music I actively sought out and adored. I will remember her not for the drunken performances or the crack pipes, but for the all-too-brief legacy of music with which she left us. She gave us a gift, and it is a gift that most of us do not even deserve.

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