I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and how dumbfounded I felt when I heard the news that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. I was sitting in the car on Super Bowl Sunday waiting for my dad while he grocery shopped when The New York Times notification popped up on my phone. Just a few nights before, I had rewatched “Almost Famous,” one of my favorite of Hoffman’s films, for what probably had to be the 20th time. He was dead. I was devastated. I didn’t know him. So it is with celebrity deaths.
Albeit this wasn’t the first time a celebrity’s death felt strangely personal, it took me a while to accept the fact that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I” was the last new film of Hoffman’s I’d see. He was an actor who I felt was the coolest member in the weirdos of the world club. He made me feel like it was okay to be uncool, reinforced by his best monologue from “Almost Famous” where he tells the young protagonist, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
Last Monday morning, on my early trek back to school, I got another notification from The New York Times that rattled me just as much as Hoffman’s death did: David Bowie, president of cool in the weirdos of the world club, had passed away. I spent the rest of the ride to school softly — okay, pretty dramatically — sobbing to his greatest hits. Later, reminiscing with friends on campus about his death, I started to wonder about this type of grieving. I didn’t know him, but his music was formative for me in my teenage years and still is to this day. How could I be so sad? I knew him about as well as I know a passing stranger on Franklin Street.
The truth is, death isn’t easy. No matter if this death is of a close friend or a supernova celebrity whose song “Heroes” made you feel okay when people in high school were just too small to understand you, death feels like it happens to you even when you aren’t the one who died. Those left behind have to answer the questions of morality, which feel overwhelming to even consider.
It may seem silly to mourn the death of someone you don’t know, but those who loved “Harry Potter” know how I feel about Bowie in the wake of their beloved Alan Rickman’s, aka Snape’s, passing. Some people we know so deeply without ever meeting them, and in the case of celebrities, it’s because of their art. Those stars we love seem immortal, because they kind of are.
So, David Bowie is dead. I am mourning in the best way I know how: listening to his music. Campus life keeps moving, as it does in the wake of anyone’s death. There was no vigil here, except perhaps small ones in dorms and in Carrboro. Rest in peace, Starman. There is a better world waiting for you, and someday these tiny stars looking up at you will meet you there.