Dear George R.R. Martin: Please stop killing everyone this year
Hi George. Nice to meet ya.
Now, I know how you’re going to retort in relation to the title of this article. “Psh, everyone dies in Game of Thrones. Get over it.”
Sadly, I am not referring to Game of Thrones—I don’t even watch it (I know, I know, I’ve lost my credibility already. I do love all of the strong female characters though, promise!)
Instead, I am referring to the celebrities who have been taken too soon this year. (And addressing you, you amazing, bearded beauty and Northwestern (woo-hoo!) alum, because it has recently become a joke in the Internet sphere that you are “writing” 2016.)
David Bowie on January 10, aged 69. David Bowie was probably the first man I had ever seen that confused me. From my perspective, he didn’t really fit into the gender (from what I knew of gender definitions at the time), and he didn’t really fit into the pop music I heard on the radio as a kid. But, in large part due to my mother’s enthusiasm over Ziggy Stardust, I grew up to appreciate and even love the English rocker’s music and persona. From watching 2001: A Space Odyssey while listening to “A Space Oddity,” to gushing over the love between Bowie and his wife of 24 years, Iman, I greatly appreciated and respected his celebrity, and still have a hard time accepting that Major Tom has really lifted off one last time.
Alan Rickman on January 14, aged 69. It was hard enough watching Snape die in Harry’s arms in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To then have the actual human gem that is Alan Rickman then die only five years later (and four days after David Bowie) was devastating. Growing up, I became accustomed to Rickman not only with the Harry Potter films, but also as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility, and Alex Dane in Galaxy Quest (a lot of eclectic film choices in my upbringing). Rickman was an incredibly talented actor, who was not at the forefront of Hollywood gossip because he was able to separate his work from his personal life—and still succeed in both areas. Watching his films, hearing about his 40+ year relationship with Rima Horton, and seeing the bloopers from his time as Severus Snape help to soften the blow, but also remind me that we will never have a celebrity quite like Alan Rickman.
Abe Vigoda on January 26, aged 94. Compared to the other people on this list, Abe Vigoda may seem like an odd duckling. Yet, he still holds importance for us as being the actor we saw time and again in films and on television, even if we didn’t exactly know his name. I first saw him when I watched The Godfather and one of my relatives pointed him out: “Oh, Abe Vigoda.” That phrase seemed to reoccur throughout my entertainment bingeing, seeing Vigoda in Law & Order or Good Burger through the years. Alongside his film work, Vigoda was perhaps more well known in recent years for the fairly consistent and mistaken reports of his death, which he took in good humor. Unfortunately for us, Vigoda never achieved fame quite like the others on this list—but he sure was a unexpected favorite whenever he made an appearance.
Harper Lee on February 19, aged 89. To Kill a Mockingbird was — and still is—one of the most life-changing novels you will ever be lucky enough to enjoy. The story provides its reader with lessons on courage and compassion, gender roles, and social injustice through the eyes of a female protagonist and storyteller, Scout Finch, in a mere 281 pages. The fact that a novel like this can be so ever-encompassing of American literary canon, while also being Harper Lee’s first and only published book (until Go Set a Watchman over 50 years later), is astonishing. After all of the controversy surrounding the publication of her second book, Harper Lee’s death comes as a hard blow to the literary world, that can be slowly healed by continuing to enjoy her first novel and discussing its importance with future generations.
Doris Roberts on April 18, aged 90. If you couldn’t already tell, I grew up with a lot of television and film (I still got out and did other stuff, promise!). One of the television shows I remember watching weekly with my parents was Everybody Loves Raymond. The titular character was great, the family life was relatable, and the antics were hilarious. One of the best parts of the show, though, was the actress who played Ray Barone’s mother, Marie — the one and only Doris Roberts. Roberts was possibly the most realistic grandmother/mother I had seen on television at that point—no real fluff, some annoying traits, but always full of love. To think that I only really stopped watching her on television a little over a decade ago is hard to imagine, and even harder to believe that she was 90 years old when she passed this April.
Prince on April 21, aged 57. One of the most confusing and untimely deaths of this year was that of The Kid himself. Prince was much like David Bowie for me growing up—not really knowing what to expect when I first saw him, yet growing to appreciate and love his music. It seemed that Prince’s songs played everywhere and anywhere, because nearly everyone I knew was a Prince fan. “When Doves Cry,” “I Would Die 4 U” … hell, he even wrote “Manic Monday” for The Bangles and the list of his influence goes on. Plus, in recent years, Prince has made it even more clear that his talents for side eye and shade are off the charts (sorry, Kardashians, Prince is the real MVP). Sadly, Prince tragically passed from an accidental overdose at only 57—perhaps the most common and continuous way to honor him is to listen to Purple Rain and remember the majesty of this extraordinary performer.
Morley Safer on May 19, aged 84. When I was in middle school, I started watching 60 Minutes with my parents during dinner on Sunday. I didn’t always like to watch all the stories or end up staying for the full hour, but I always enjoyed hearing one journalist introduce himself and report: Morley Safer. Sure, probably weird for a 12-year-old girl to like Morley the most of all of the reporters on 60 Minutes (or for her to watch 60 Minutes in the first place), but Morley always seemed like the sweetest, most genuine member of the team, all while being one of the most lauded journalists in the biz. I’m sure this early fascination has galvanized me now to apply to Master’s in Journalism programs, and I can’t say I’m the least bit upset about Morley’s influence in that fact. I only hope to have a career as praiseworthy as his, and will definitely hold onto his persona as inspiration for myself.
Muhammad Ali on June 3, aged 74. When I was in elementary school, my mom taught me “Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee” to tell one of my elementary school teachers, who was a fan of Muhammad Ali. It’s a cute song to sing, but it wasn’t until later on that I started to learn more about Muhammad Ali and his boxing career, his fight for racial justice, and his debilitating battle with Parkison’s. From my initial searches about him, Muhammad Ali seemed to be angry and aggressive albeit a great fighter. However, what isn’t largely divulged is Muhammad’s charitable work, the causes he cared about, and the ways he worked to protect other boxers. The song truly fit Muhammad Ali in and out of the ring, and he fought a good fight until this June.
And now, Anton Yelchin on June 19, aged 27. I’m still a bit unsure as to whether this death actually happened. I didn’t accept it when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw all of my film major friends posting about it. I don’t want to accept it. I think because Anton and I are closest in age, it hurts a lot more than if he was older. It feels like Anton and I grew up together, him on one side of the screen and me on the other; him in Charlie Bartlett as the adorable awkward teenage titular character, breaking my heart as Jacob in Like Crazy, and pretending once more to be an adorable awkward teenager in the Star Trek trailers (yeah, haven’t seen the movies, but I will!). Aside from this talented and humble actor dying so young, the tragedy also lies in how he died, which is now calling for reform in vehicle safety checks. I hope that this horrific accident will prepare car companies from future accidents, and I will continue to watch his films, if only with a heavier heart.
Those are only the ones who affected me personally. Like a hard punch to the gut, followed by a period of bargaining with whether the news was accurate or not, and then a solemn realization that this death—all of these deaths—were not hoaxes. Even though they were celebrities, it doesn’t mean that the loss of their talents and energies was any less difficult to stomach.
If those were the emotions that ran through me, I can only imagine the reactions of the family and friends of each of these amazing individuals.
My heartfelt condolences to all those affected by these deaths. May they rest in peaceful slumber.