An uncle of mine, whom I was not close to, passed away a few days before Michael Jackson’s death. Guess why I wore black and sobbed that week. I’d been listening to this man’s music my entire life and he was integral to some of my earliest, happiest childhood memories. Simply put, he had a bigger role in my life than someone with whom I shared blood. That doesn’t mean that my reactions to the two deaths wouldn’t have offended my mother to the core if she had been around me to see the disparity in grief. I understand why she would feel that way, but I also accept my feelings with no shame.

When news of the tragic-if not at all surprising-death of Amy Winehouse hit, the typical post-celebrity death grief acts played out on the internet*. There were true fans who were devastated, halfway fans who may have been surprised by their level of sadness, those who instructed mourners to care about more “significant” tragedies (such as the terrorist attack in Oslo, Norway) and the callous souls who decided to make an internet name for themselves by telling jokes. Le sigh.

Celebrity death is a curious thing; some people are quite naturally compelled to grieve for people they have never met because of the attachment they have forged to their artwork or public persona, while others are horrified to see that fame makes one woman’s death more important than another’s. Why? Our culture is celebrity obsessed. Many of us will read tabloids and blogs detailing the lives (and deaths) of even those famous people they don’t like or who make music, films and television appearances that they don’t even support. This is problematic, not because we feel too attached to people we don’t know, but because many of us concern ourselves with mindless gossip in lieu of following important news. Thus, I understand the frustrations of those who didn’t agree with Winehouse’s death making bigger headlines in certain media than the Norway tragedy.

However, we cannot deny people the right to grieve a death, any death. The conversation about deemphasizing our celebrity obsession should not be forced when someone is hurting. Instead of attempting to shame people in to refocusing their priorities in the light of a celebrity passing, we should try and figure out what can be learned from it. Winehouse’s life and demise provide a sad, brief narrative about the reality of addiction; people laughed at her dirty ballet shoes and her crackhead behavior or sang along to “Rehab” and attempted to make light of the fact that this woman was dying before our eyes. We have friends, neighbors and family members who may be suffering from addiction and depression in the same way and must use this as a reminder that we can’t count on our ability to help someone tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come.

The difference between Amy Winehouse and Amy who died on Stony Island Avenue may simply be that you had fond feelings regarding the former or had followed her story for some time. Winehouse may have sang the tune that got you through your first breakup or, perhaps, the one you and your bestie used to rock to freshman year. It’s okay to feel bad that she’s gone.

Be mindful not to disrespect the lives of those who pass without obtaining the level of notoriety that yields a massive outpouring of sadness, just as we ask others to respect the mourning period despite their distaste for celebrity. Don’t feel guilty for feeling hurt, nor feel like you are required to be down if the passing didn’t really effect you.

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  • Alexandra

    I don’t feel bad for feeling sadden and shocked by Amy’s death. A lot of people are saying very nasty, heartless things about her and it’s disgusting. People keep saying “who didn’t see this coming?’ See what? A life is a life. Whether she caused her own odd with death, it is still sad she lost her life so young.

  • Steve D. Mobley, Jr.

    I am So glad that you wrote this.

    I am a fan of Ms. Winehouse and was truly dismayed by her death AND the subsequent response from that I saw on The Twitter and The Facebook. How can one ut one death over another…It is STILL a life lost.

    Thank you for using your pen to once again take a stand.

  • AlmondJoy

    This reminds me of Michael Jackson & Farrah Fawcett’s death; they died on the same day, yet you heard little coverage of her’s as apposed to the WHOLE WORLD bawling at the thought that MJ is no longer here. Hmmm…..people pick favorites with celebs

    • LMO85

      Yes but consider the fact that the WHOLE WORLD was moved by Michael and grew up with him in one way or another. Also consider the fact that no one was surprised at Farrah’s passing, while a good number of us, including myself, were beyond shocked that MJ went home so soon.

  • Why wear black to mourn, why not wear dead white? Amy winehouse was one person, in Norway 75 persons was killed. Plus with Amy’s behavior death was expected.

  • Why wear black to mourn, why not wear dead white?