Monday, January 09, 2017

Celebrity Apocalypse 2017?

Oh my God!  Oh my God!  It's started!  The 2017 celebrity apocalypse is upon us!  Haven't you heard?  Peter Sarstedt dies yesterday!  More famous people are sure to follow!  OK, I know Sarstedt's death might not have the same resonance of that of, say David Bowie, but I'm surprised not to have seen more bleating about how awful it is that 2017 has already claimed a celebrity victim when, after last year's holocaust, we'd apparently been promised, (by whom, I'm not clear), that no famous people would die this year.   I guess some old sixties singer just isn't famous enough for those social media hipsters to get worked up about.  Of course, he wasn't the first celebrity death of 2017.  I believe that 'honour' fell to Indian actor Om Puri.  Obviously, as he was a 'foreigner' (ie, not white and didn't appear mainly in English-language blockbuster movies), he didn't count.  Despite the fact that he was a major figure in Indian cinema and a familiar face in British films and TV, giving many fine performances, perhaps most notably in East is East

But why were people making such a fuss about last year's celebrity deaths?  It wasn't just the volume, there seemed to be much more in the way of public grief surrounding many of the individual deaths.  I'm guessing it was because for a particular generation of people, now active online in social media, many of the celebrities who died last year were 'iconic' figures, who represented an important part of their cultural personal histories.  I certainly understand why, for people of my age group, the deaths of Bowie and Carrie Fisher, felt hugely significant: Bowie seemed ever-present throughout my teens and adult life, whilst I'm one of those people who, as a teenager, queued up outside their local cinema to see Star Wars on its UK release.  Indeed, Star Wars was a huge part of my teen years - I remember being obsessed by everyone and everything associated with it.  But I outgrew it and whilst saddened by Carrie Fisher's untimely death, i don't feel devastated by it, or feel that part of my childhood has died with her.  To be honest, the only celebrity death last year which really affected me was that of Muhammed Ali.  I'd admired so much, for the better part of my life.  Not as a boxer - I'm not really a boxing fan - but for the fact that, over the issue of the Vietnam draft, he stood, unwaveringly, by his principles, regardless of the cost.  And it cost him dearly, losing his titles and having his boxing licence suspended for several years.  I remember seeing him on British TV in the early seventies, when I was very young - he impressed me immensely: witty and funny, frequently self-deprecating and passionate about the cause of civil rights.  In every way he contradicted the popular stereotypes of black people prevalent in popular media at the time.  So, when he died, I did feel a profound sense of loss.  He really was 'The Greatest', in and out of the ring.



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