Why Your Grief Over a Celebrity’s Death Is so Painful

In June 2017, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington died by suicide It came as a shock to the music world and his fans. Bennington often did charity work focused on animal welfare and disaster relief and engaged directly with his followers on Twitter.

That personal connection meant that many fans experienced profound grief. In fact, his family launched a new charity in his memory to help fans struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Why did his death affect people so much? Most of his fans had only heard his music or saw Linkin Park in concert. They hadn’t actually met Bennington or have a personal connection to him. But that doesn’t mean their grief is any less real.

Why celebrity deaths affect us

When you’re genuinely sad after the passing of a celebrity, you might receive negative reactions. Some people may minimize your grief or act like you’re being silly. But the pain and sadness you feel is very real and completely normal.

Shelby Forsyth is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist in Chicago. She believes that we experience grief after a celebrity dies because of how long we know them, as demonstrated by the reaction after the death of actor Robin Williams.

“The longer we are acquainted with someone—being exposed to someone from childhood versus being introduced to them as an adult—and the more closely we identify with someone, [such as] similar traits, humor, struggles, passions, or interest, the more we tend to grieve,” Forsyth says.

Because so many people knew Robin Williams from their favorite childhood movies like “Aladdin” or “Mrs. Doubtfire,” they had a closer connection to him. His sudden death impacted them because he was someone they grew up watching and admiring.

The grieving experience can be very much the same as if you lost a close friend or relative. In some cases, it might feel even worse.

“It goes back to time and intensity, for sure,” Forsyth says. “We may grieve a celebrity more than we grieve a friend or relative—if we’ve known them longer and feel more identified with them.”

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When should you seek help?

Any grief—whether over the loss of  a celebrity or a friend—is a natural process. However, there are times when grief can become unhealthy and potentially harm your well-being.

“Grief in general is a healthy practice just like anything else,” Forsyth explains. “It’s only dangerous when it consumes your life or disrupts your regular patterns of routine and behavior.”

Feeling sad, having trouble sleeping, and losing interest in your favorite activities is common. However, over time, you should start to see improvement and regain your passions. If that doesn’t happen, or you find yourself unable to go to work, it’s a good idea to seek help.

Forsyth says anytime is a good time to see a mental health professional, “but especially if and when you feel your grief is interfering with your day-to-day practices.”

If you don’t know where to start, you can call your primary care doctor to ask for a referral to a therapist. Or you can find support groups, a helpline, and other information through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nationwide organization.

Constructive ways to handle grief

One of the hardest feelings to grapple with after a death is a sense of helplessness. But finding a way to constructively express your grief and channel your emotions can help you move on.

Forsyth recommends grieving with others. Being surrounded by people going through the same experience can emphasize that you’re not alone. You can attend memorials or tributes or join a support group.

Finding a way to express your emotions can be a powerful healing tool. Writing, painting, singing or dancing can help prevent you from bottling up your feelings. Volunteering for a cause, such as something your favorite celebrity loved, can help you feel closer to the person’s experience. And just talking to someone, whether it’s a friend, relative, or therapist, can also help you explore your pain and why this death affects you so much.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. 

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