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Celebrity Death: The Horror Of Mortality Caught From A Distance

A couple of weeks ago, I was told that a relation I am very close to was being operated on and she might not make it. The following two hours were among the most brutal and painful of my entire life. Complete horror and a horror as much a part of life as breathing.

I mention this because I was upset by the passing of Justin Townes Earle on Sunday, a gifted songwriter and only 38 years… no official but the smell of an OD permeates the story. Earle has been a heroin addict and was straight with a three year old daughter and wife, stuck in the isolation of Covid-19, the desire to lose yourself is clear. On a personal level, it took all my willpower not to have a drink these past six months. It is tempting but deadly.

Well, however he died, he is dead. And the reaction to his death is unlike my reaction to my relation. With my relation, it was an all encompassing pain that made it impossible to think of anything else, with Justin it was fringe sadness and a sort of dullness that made what turned out to be a terrible day that much worse.

Celebrity death, the death of the famous, becomes a sideshow to our own imminent mortality. It’s not that people die, it is that everybody dies, that every soul is in trade.

i am not a religious person, when you say everlasting soul, I say personal characteristics and while, certainly during those two hours I said a certain prayer, it was more in the nature of hedging my bets. But the pain of the deaths of those we love (Keanu Reeve’s reply when asked what happens when we die, replied “One thing I know happens, those who love us miss us”) doesn’t compare to the constant, shifting platform of mortality.

If you become obsessed with death there is no way out. It is a little like alcoholism, everywhere you go death is available, is happening, and as you watch it from a distance and from up close, it becomes more and more a shadow on life, on the primary uselessness of our existence.

Considering our lives meaningless isn’t necessary a negative, becomes from the biggest to the smallest, none of it means a thing. As Woody Allen noted in his memoir, everybody is forgotten, Shakespeare will be forgotten, everything that ever has been will disappear as if it never existed… eventually. Seven billion years or so. That sense of no reason frees us to live as we choose and it is clear when celebrities die because when those we love die, it stops being true.

I speak for myself, but the difference between the death of someone you love and someone you know from their music like Justin is that the former will lead you to a reaching out to a God of hope, and the latter will have you backing down to a form of nihilism.


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