By now I am sure everyone has heard the news. It was one of the fastest spreading pieces of news I have ever witnessed. Within minutes of the report I had emails, a few phone calls, and texts. Heath Ledger was found dead in a New York apartment. There was a general feeling of shock at the news. “He was only 28!” “I can’t believe someone so young …” “He had a good career going … ” “His poor family …” It seemed to shock everyone, even though most of us never knew him.
Death is never easy to deal with, though we know it will eventually consume us all. We tend to think ourselves immortal, even with an entire history supporting the opposing case. We see it all around us, each of us has experienced it in some capacity. A family member or close friend passes away, and we are forced to confront the issue of their death along with our own mortality. It is uncomfortable so we become distant from the experience calling it a “passing” or “they are in a better place” in order to deal with the tragedy. The experience is too close to us, but we deal by finding comfort in those close to us who have also felt the impact.
Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum. A distant death of an individual or group of individuals that impact us in no way. We do not know them, how could it affect us? Open a newspaper or watch television for a few minutes and you will witness stories of death flooding the columns and screens. We do not bat an eye, if we even take notice. Another statistic, just a number.
Here is a case where we have the two situations combined. We did not know Heath Ledger, but we are still forced to deal with his death. He was no more than a screen image to us, but we still felt a connection. He created an image we recognized, an image we wanted to believe in: young, attractive, actor, famous, but there was a reserved quietness to this talent. It is what you wanted to see a star be. He made a connection with us having never met us, something an actor strives for, but not all can achieve. It is an odd thing to have a one way connection, only to lose it abruptly.
His death has left many questions: How can Amy Winehouse take excess to a new level and come out ok, but Heath takes a few Ambien and is found dead? Why so young? Why? And because we have this one way relationship, it is hard. We care, but who do we share our care with? There was a death of someone we don’t know, but we did connect with them. A celebrity death is no more important than a death found on page six of a news paper, or even a death unnoticed, but it impacts us differently. We must take a look at our loss and our own mortality and reach out, but to whom? And that is why we talk about it, send emails, phone calls and texts.