It's an odd thing, the death of a celebrity. People who most of us know only though their films, music or their accomplishments, somehow manage to genuinely affect us when they die. It is as if they were close, but still somewhat distant relatives.
Emotion arises in two ways
The first is sincere. We sincerely feel badly that someone we felt we knew on some level is no more. Death has removed them from the living and that, by itself, is sad. The other is the more coarse but no less well-known sneer that proclaims "they got what they deserved, living like that." Maybe they did, but is there anything in the death of someone famous that somehow helps the rest of us?
Heath Ledger was a young man with a promising career. Brad Renfro was a young man with a failing career. Anna Nicole Smith was a tragic figure with something of a dubious career. All are different, yet still scarily alike in their celebrity. We look at celebrities and imagine the life they lead, the things they do, possessions they have and the happiness we assume they enjoy. We imagine them to be like us only with more money. When their foibles are revealed we tend to want to heap scorn on them if only to make ourselves feel better for adoring them without knowing the truth. When they die, we see just how similar we really are.
Normal people die too, just like celebrities. And if celebrities can die just like us maybe we really aren't all that different after all. They may have more cars, houses and money to play with, but does that really change their problems? You do not have to be rich to be an alcoholic. You don't have to be famous to be depressed. You don't have to be an artist to crash your car into a tree.
Celebrities as mirrors of society
Every single ailment any celebrity has ever suffered from has been experienced before by many painfully average people. The main difference is that we don't often have our problems broadcast on the news every night. Our own mistakes, as numerous as they are, usually occur safely out of the public view giving us many opportunities to fix them.
Imagine if that spotlight was turned on you for even an instant?
It is not that people should not be held accountable for the things they take for granted or the mistakes they make that hurt them or others. When we see a celebrity fall, either in death or even through insanity (yes, Britney, you too), look at it as a chance to take stock of your own life. You can realize what you might be able to fix or improve while you still have the chance.
There are countless celebs who would have done anything for one last chance exactly like that.