If only we knew, when 2016 started, how many people we would lose over the next 12 months who left an indelible mark on our history and our culture.
There are dozens who have died this year, that if you take any one of their lifetime contributions away, then we are living in a different world.
Not a vastly different world — like 12 Monkeys- or Planet of the Apes-type-stuff — but a little different. And that’s saying something. The goal of living is to make a positive contribution that imprints your permanent mark on the world. A way to guarantee you will be remembered, so that your contribution lives on long after you are gone.
And this year, we lost a lot of contributors.
Now, it’s not uncommon to reflect on all the deceased at the end of the year and realize that an extraordinary amount of people died. So in that regard, has 2016 really been that much worse?
I think when you consider the loss of the once-in-a-lifetime icons, like Muhammad Ali, David Bowie and Prince — names so big that even one of them passing away would make it a notable year for celebrity deaths– and then all the other major names in addition, like Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Anton Yelchin, Glenn Frey, and so on and so on, then the answer is yes.
And now, George Michael and Carrie Fisher.
It cannot be overstated how ironic it was for George Michael, the man who brought us the holiday classic, “Last Christmas,” to die on Christmas day. But most people will also remember him for his even bigger hits, like “Careless Whisper,” “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go” and “Faith” — or for millennials, the Limp Bizkit song.
Carrie Fisher, meanwhile, is known by all for her portrayal of a single character — Princess Leia.
What made her character so admirable was how she subverted the usual tropes associated with women in action/adventure films. She wasn’t the typical damsel in distress or bashful woman who only existed for the heroic man to swoop in and save her.
She was tough. She was fierce. And she could defend herself as well as anybody else. It may have been a fictional character, but it undoubtedly sent an important message to the young female fans who adored Star Wars.
And, as an early 20-something filming Return of the Jedi, she looked pretty damn good in that gold-plated bikini. I wouldn’t have brought it up to avoid minimizing her to one image, but, heck, I’m sure she’d like to be remembered that exact way.
But what people also need to remember about George Michael and Carrie Fisher outside of their obvious accomplishments was there bravery to openly discuss certain things that others may perceive as weaknesses.
George Michael came out in late ’80s and became an advocate for AIDS during a time when there was very little support for the gay community in America. He was also outspoken about his battle with depression.
Carrie Fisher, for her part, did not shy away from her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
These were more than two cultural icons that we lost in the last three days. These were two brave souls.
And for the love of god, I hope this is the last time I have to talk about celebrity deaths in 2016.