Nearly 50-years ago, the King of Late Night Television, Johnny Carson (1925-2005), predicted:
“We are approaching a time when Americans will live in a nearly perpetual state of grief over the loss of people whom they have never met.”
The King went on to explain his view of the power of television to build “connections” between entertainment fans and the celebrities they love. He noted that, in past generations, there had been a “barrier” between fans and their celebrities that would vanish as the power of television created virtual relationships between fans and their favorite entertainers.
“Celebrities are now brought into the living rooms and the bedrooms of their fans. The bonds that will grow between entertainers and their fans will be similar to those between family members. When those celebrities pass away, the sadness fans experience will be enormous.”
Carson’s sophisticated and prescient predictions were based in his understanding of what he saw as the ultimate media. Absent from the formation of his view was the internet, near perpetual touring by entertainers, the constant news-cycle, a ubiquitous entertainment and gossip press, fleets of video-paparazzi stalkers producing endless youtube videos, and the willingness of many modern celebs to circulate and live among their fans.
Nowhere has the truth of Carson’s speculation been recently more evident than in worldwide fans’ emotional reactions to the death of songbird Amy Jade Winehouse.
Amy, once considered the Queen of Camden – subsequently, the world’s Princess of Jazz and Soul – was arguably the most accessible and egalitarian entertainer of modern times. She personally met with and was chatted-up by many thousands of her fans and she always wanted to know their names.
Her autograph hand was virtually always generous, and even her wisecracks were felt as sweet kisses by their auto-hound targets. Day after day, through joy and pain, fans were glued to youtube; living their lives punctuated by Amy’s adventures. Princess Amy was “of the people” and her people loved her for it.
Combine the open and public nature of Amy’s life with the extreme power of her musical art, and it is easy to understand the “relationship” that her fans developed with her. That closeness can be dismissed by some distant observers, but it is very real to Amy’s most ardent admirers.
When Michael Jackson passed away, the grief of his fans was seen across the planet. A sense of “closure” was delivered to MJ fans via an understandable explanation of what had happened and by a spectacular, stunning and beautiful memorial service broadcast to every corner of the world.
Amy’s fans were granted no such professionally managed closure. They have been forced to rely on their own devices to assemble pieces of an elusive grief-management puzzle. Some have done relatively well with their self-directed grieving; aided by each other, via internet connections and the willingness to “talk it out” with fellow fans. But many are left stunned, dazed, confused, and broken hearted; with a feeling of hopelessness that is not fully recognized until they summon the desperate courage to openly state their feelings to strangers on internet message boards.
Many of the grievers are extremely young; their coping skills are not finely honed and they are showing sundry signs of lapsing into states of severe and dangerous depression. Because young people tend to view their present moods and feelings as “everlasting and never-ending,” they are at particular risk of being unsuccessful at trying to self-manage their grief.
Because the adult concept that “this too shall pass” is foreign to youth, many young fans are openly expressing their desire to “join Amy.” Such suicidal ideations are terribly dangerous and must not go unaddressed by friends, families, and mental-health professionals.
Amy would be totally mortified to know that any of her fans would even consider harming themselves to escape their grief. The JadeMermaid Princess was all about “living the dream,” not ending it with a nightmarish “solution.” AJW knew a lot about pain and she understood that it was a natural and unavoidable part of living. Amy would understand how her depressed fans feel and she would demand that they buck-up and get professional help to deal with their feelings.
If you are having trouble dealing with Amy’s passing, do not be ashamed of your feelings; they are common and natural. Tell your family and friends how you feel and ask for their guidance on how to best get through this very difficult time. If you are having symptoms of clinical depression – can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t focus – seek immediate professional help. If you are in school, talk to your teachers and guidance counselors; they will know how to help. If you lack financial resources, simply present at a hospital emergency room and tell them you are in trouble; you will not be turned away and the pros will help you.
Amy’s troops – you and I – have a lifetime of work to do. Preserving her legend and establishing her philanthropic legacy is going to be a long and hard task. We cannot afford to lose even one of US. Please don’t add more grief to the world by contemplating leaving it too soon. Please don’t dishonor your JadeMermaid Princess by giving up. You will only die of sadness, if you allow it to happen. If your tears won’t dry on their own, seek help and do it today.