As 2016 winds down and we reflect over the past year, people around my age (I’m currently 51) are sadly cataloging the pop cultural icons from the 70’s and 80’s that we lost. We grew up listening to David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, Prince and George Michael. My television brought Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty), Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) and the White Shadow (Ken Howard) into my living room on a regular basis. My imagination was sparked on the silver screen by Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher. Muhammad Ali, Pat Summitt and Arnold Palmer set high standards in their respective sports. Elie Wiesel and Harper Lee wrote words that will forever resonate with those who read them. We also lost genuine American hero John Glenn. These are just the biggest names in a long list of familiar faces that passed away in 2016.
My first thoughts about “famous” deaths are usually about how no amount of fame or fortune can keep anyone from that grave appointment with the grim reaper. Then I ponder about how odd it is for thousands of people to mourn the deaths of those they have never even met. I guess they seem like family because they have made us laugh and cry and cheer on the public stage. More than this, however, I believe losing the idols of our childhood remind us all too clearly of our own mortality. When the celebrity dies, we are reminded there is no escape for any of us and that day is looming ever closer.
Death was thrust into my life at an early age. In 1977, at the formative age of 12, I lost my 9 year old brother to leukemia. That’s the same year I first saw Princess Leia race through space with Luke and Han. Travelling to that galaxy far, far away in my mind was one of the ways I could temporarily escape the pain of this world. As my years now seem to pass with light speed, I have to face the fact I am more Kenobi than Skywalker. On this New Year's Eve, I am thankful for all the artists and icons that have made my life fuller along the way and for all the people I actually know and love that have made it worth living.
I would wish you all luck in 2017, but as Obi-Wan says, “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.”
Graphic by Mike LeMieux