Celebrity deaths are interesting. While we don’t know these people personally, we know them intimately through their art, performance, public persona and our personal connection we have with the joy and beauty they’ve brought into our otherwise tedious and mostly insignificant lives.
Is it crazy to feel grief for someone you’ve never met personally? Maybe. But, I’ll be the first to admit, I have been deeply and emotionally affected by many celebrity deaths, and Prince is no exception. Love him or hate him… his influence on music is undeniable and his mentorship to aspiring musicians and his support to pushing the boundaries of convention are well documented.
We will all undoubtedly read many Prince tributes in the coming days; so, I won’t waste your time with another one of those. What I am curious about is where do these emotions come from? What do they mean? And, is it normal to feel this way?
Turns out, I have decades of science and psychology on my side. In 1969, noted psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying that there are five stages of normal grief, and that they apply not only to family and individuals we know, but also pets, perceived relationships and “the death of any valued being.”
That’s the important phrase, “the death of any valued being.” Certainly, if you’re a serious fan of music, theatre, art, film or any other media you feel that that artists that you love and admire are “valued beings,” so, maybe I’m not so crazy after all.
According to Kübler-Ross, and widely accepted by grief councilors, social workers and psychologists, the five stages of grief are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Upon hearing the news of Prince’s sudden and untimely death this afternoon, this is my account of my feeling as each of these stages rushed into my consciousness:
1:22 EDT: I get an NBC 4 news update that “Music Legend Prince has died.” I am mid birthday shopping, so I step out of the store and begin scouring Google for confirmation… Not much here, rumors and a story that he’d cancelled a concert in ATL due to illness. First assumption is that this is a hoax… immediately text message JTH, as he’s usually more tied in and “in the know” about such things as myself…
1:35 EDT: Step into a bar and order a drink to try and process what is going on… Finally news outlets begin to confirm the rumors. First NBC, then CNN. Prince is gone. Fortunately, I’m not the only one at the bar choking back tears. How could this happen? JTH confirms what he’s heard as well… PRN dead at 57.
2:00 EDT: This stage typically revolves around our feelings of helplessness and vulnerability and often results in our questioning the reasons why, and an attempt to regain control of the situation. For me, when it comes to Prince, my selfish thoughts are, “why did I never go to see him live?” While my big-picture questions are more, “why him… why someone so talented with so much to offer?” What if?
1:22 EDT: I’d have to say that in this case; denial, anger and depression hit me virtually simultaneously. For me, as I think in most people, depression is the longest lasting stage in the grieving process… knowing that this brilliant light is gone forever is a source of tremendous loss and sadness. Currently, at 5:55 EDT, as I tune in and search for his brilliant performances, I’d say that I’m dealing with my depression and honoring his legacy, and that I will continue to do so on and off in the days that follow…
XX:XX EDT: Here is where Ms. Kübler-Ross and I differ in opinions. Do we ever really “accept” someone’s death? If we accept doesn’t that mean, in a sense, that we forget? For the time being, I’m going to say that I’ve gotten through 4/5ths of the stages, and be happy with my C+/B- average… depending on the curve.
Prince will always be a favorite and a major source of musical influence to me. From submitting unwilling passengers to the majesty of 1999 on my newly acquired subwoofer in my pimp-ass Buick Regal in the late 90’s to belting out karaoke versions of “Beautiful Ones” to Forum Magnum staffers who shall remain nameless ****CSMITH****, Prince always and forever!
Prince videos are slim pickings on the YouTube due to copyright issues, but his legend lives on… If you haven’t heard this recent cover of Nothing Compares 2 U, by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, Please enjoy….