A Reflection on Death, Celebrities, and Characters

Apparently 2016 is shaping up to be a bad year to be a celebrity.

With the multiple deaths of famous people that have happened over the past few weeks, I thought it was time to write something about it. I guess I should preface this whole thing by saying that it’s not my intention to glorify celebrities. As I shouldn’t have to tell you, the stars that we so idolize are just normal people like us who just happen to have gotten a few lucky breaks and made more money than most people have the chance to in their whole lifetimes. They’re not perfect, and they’re not, as is all too painfully obvious now, superhuman.

But what I think is praiseworthy about celebrities is what most of them use their talents to do: become fictional people, characters if you will, that many of us look up to and idolize even more than the stars themselves. We all have our heroes, whether it be in sports, the movies, politics, or other fields who we aspire to be like, and who shape our development over the years. And it just so happens that a few people we’ve lost recently happened to be some of mine.

To start off, we had to say goodbye to Wayne Rogers right on New Years. This probably should have been an indicator of things to come. For those of you who haven’t seen anything from the ’70s and don’t know what the TV show “MASH” was all about, I won’t bother explaining it: you can look it up yourself. What I will say is that while Alan Alda gets a lot of the credit for being the main character and star of that particular show, it was Rogers’ character, Dr. “Trapper” John Xavier McIntyre, who was the true heart of the story and the 4077th. Trapper was pure joy to watch: fun, lighthearted, and carefree, usually with a big, goofy smile on his face, and cracking jokes that always make me laugh. But he also had his share of serious stories too, and often had to deal with emotionally disturbing and heartbreaking things that the protagonist, his best friend Hawkeye, didn’t always have to face. I also really respected how Trapper was often a voice of reason and calming influence on the much more volatile, cynical, and unstable Hawkeye: I think that we all need a friend like that sometimes.

I’ll never forget the episode where Trapper saves a young Korean boy after a bomb strikes his village and jumps through hoops to adopt him as his own son, but at the end is devastated when the boy’s real mother finally tracks him down and he has to give him back. And of course there’s the fact that Trapper never really gets a proper goodbye on the show: he just kind of disappears between seasons without even letting Hawkeye send him off right. That departure really said a lot to me about the nature of life and how transitory a lot of it is, even friends, despite the fact that we try not to think too much into it. Some things just aren’t meant to last. But while Hawkeye never got to say it, I won’t miss this opportunity: farewell, Trapper. We miss you, pal.

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Wayne Rogers as “Trapper” John McIntyre

I’m always sad to see a “MASH” actor pass away, since it’s one of my favorite shows. But not a week later, the artistic community had to say goodbye to a person who made waves not only in the movie business, but also in music. David Bowie, a legend in the entertainment world, is gone for good. Growing up, my father listened to Bowie’s music all the time, and to be honest, I never really cared for it much. But I could certainly respect how much of an influence he had on everything from music, to film, to fashion, and everything in between. Bowie wasn’t just a stellar musician (and yes, that is a purposeful pun), he was a cultural icon: a landmark on the same level as the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore. Right up until the end of his life, he was still making impacts on the world, putting out new albums, and generally just showing people that you shouldn’t be afraid to be different or weird: just be yourself and do what you want to do. By the way, for those of you who haven’t seen “Labyrinth”, it’s…well…an experience. You probably should, though.

To be fair, I did end up growing to like David Bowie’s music in the end and I listen to him on a pretty regular basis myself now. So it’s all the harder for me to say goodbye to him. But, as one of his most famous songs states, that’s the nature of time: it changes.

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Actor, singer, fashion and cultural icon David Bowie

But it was the latest death in the celebrity world that caught me the most off guard and really hit me in the gut: the passing of, just reported earlier today, the acting legend Alan Rickman. For most of the uninitiated, he famously played Snape in the recent “Harry Potter” film series, and is known as the sinister, snarky professor by most people in my generation. But being a film geek, I feel like I’ve known him for much longer. I grew up with Alan Rickman in movies, essentially, from his turn as a bad guy in the very first “Die Hard” movie that catapulted Bruce Willis to stardom, to “Galaxy Quest”, “Love Actually”, the often unappreciated “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and so many more that it’s hard to keep count. Personally, though, I will always remember him best as Metatron, the sarcastic and snappy voice of God Almighty from Kevin Smith’s religious parody film “Dogma”.

Honestly, I always pictured God, if he really exists, to probably be a lot like Alan Rickman: an aged but sophisticated man with a dry, irreverent wit and an love for showmanship, as well as a heart of pure gold inside his sometimes crusty exterior. Goodbye, Mr. Rickman. I’ll miss you more than words can say.

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Alan Rickman as Metatron in “Dogma”

I guess the one positive insight that I’ve gotten from all this death and sadness recently is that people may not live forever, but the characters and works they’ve created over their years of life on this planet most certainly can, and will live on in the hearts of their fans forever. And maybe, just maybe, that makes all of this heartbreak a little more bearable.

Oh, and I just learned that “The Martian”, easily one of the best films of the year, was nominated for Best Picture. And “Mad Max: Fury Road”, easily one of the best films of ALL TIME, was also nominated for that and about nine other Academy Awards. So yeah…that’s something.

 

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