Celebrity deaths and why we grieve
Oct 31, 2023, 5:52 PM | Updated: 6:17 pm
(Photo by Warner Bros. Television via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY — Celebrity deaths. We don’t know them personally, but we know the way they act, talk and laugh.
We can come to feel close, so it’s no wonder we grieve when they die.
Mathew Perry, known as the popular “Friends” character Chandler Bing, died at age 54. According to the Daily Mail, sources said on Saturday he drowned in a jacuzzi at this home in Los Angeles and no drugs or indication of foul play were found at the scene.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office hasn’t released the official cause of Perry’s death.
Perry had a history of struggling with substance abuse. Even throughout the series “Friends” which aired between 1994 and 2004, according to CNN. In November 2022, he released “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir” about his battles with drugs and alcohol.
Ask the expert
Dave and Debbie spoke with clinical psychologist Tom Golightly about why we mourn celebrity deaths.
Golightly said audience members or viewers can form a one-sided relationship — called a parasocial connection — with favorite characters or celebrities on TV or online.
“It felt like we were around that coffee table” [on the set of ‘Friends’], Golightly said.
“It can be an intense bond,” he added, “and even though it’s maybe not a reciprocal relationship, we do feel that connection. But we also remember when in times of these deaths, how it did help us disconnect for a minute, how it did help us cope through our struggles.”
A celebrity’s death can also be a reminder of our own mortality, Golightly said, adding viewers may be empathetic to Perry’s substance abuse battles.
Learning how a celebrity died can make us think of our own lives and how these health issues may have impacted us personally or our friends, family and colleagues, according to Choosing Therapy.
He said actress Suzanne Somers’ death from breast cancer last month was a personal reminder for him.
“My wife struggles with breast cancer; I connect to that, right? So even though I don’t know her life or her work . . . it’s like that’s really personal to me,” Golightly said.
Golightly said the death of a celebrity can also feel like the loss of a happier time in our lives.
“We kind of think of happier times, maybe even in our youth . . . and we grieve that we’ve lost our youth,” he said.
Related: Celebrity Deaths 2023
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