Mourning the Actor or the Character?

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As a writer, I really hate when I can’t come up with the words to properly express my thoughts at any given point in time. Usually I am so much better expressing myself in writing than in speaking, but once in a while even written words fail me. Today appears to be one of those times. As I attempt to write something about my reaction to this weekend, all that comes to mind are these words from Shakespeare, which really aren’t that uplifting:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”  –Macbeth 5.5.24-28

This is a rather bleak look at life, but then again Macbeth is a rather bleak play. It’s not one of my favorite plays, however these lines popped into to my head today as I was thinking about how fans mourn the loss of celebrities they loved.

I’ve always thought it interesting how emotional people can be when a celebrity dies. There are always these images of people crying hysterically over a person they never physically met and whom they couldn’t have possibly known; you would think they had lost their best friend, not a complete stranger (though granted, often these people don’t view their favorite celebrities as complete strangers). We only know the public persona of celebrities. Sure, in some cases that public image is very much like the real personality but sometimes it’s not even close. When all you know about an actor or actress is the characters they’ve played, how can you really mourn the person? It’s not that I’ve been entirely unaffected by celebrity deaths, I’ve felt a sadness at the loss of talent and in cases such as Heath Ledger the loss of potential. But I’ve never truly mourned a celebrity death the way I would mourn the death of a friend or relative.

A little over a year ago Davy Jones passed away. For those of you who are reading this and have no idea who he is (not the character from the Pirates movies!) he was a member of the Monkees, one of the early “boy bands” and my very first celebrity crush. While I had been sad about losing Ledger so soon and being robbed of his future work, Jones’ death hit me because an important connection to my childhood was now gone. I think this was the first time I began to sympathize with fans who mourn celebrity deaths, because Davy Jones and the Monkees had been a part of my life since I was three years old. (The Monkees were even my very first concert experience, which you can read a little about here.)

Yesterday morning I woke up to a text from a friend telling me Cory Monteith from Glee had passed away. I had been upset over Davy Jones’ death, but something about Monteith’s hit me even harder. Perhaps it was the fact that Monteith is just a year older than me, or that I had followed his career sporadically since he appeared as an extra on Supernatural in 2005, or perhaps it was the fact that unlike Ledger and Jones, who I only kept up with occasionally in the media and whenever Ledger had a new film out, Monteith was someone I was watching regularly on television. Finn Hudson was a character I had loved from the moment I began watching Glee – I loved his awkwardness and good heart, I sympathized with his struggles to find his place in the world and figure out what he wanted to do with his life post-graduation. And like many Glee fans, I was looking forward to Finn and Rachel’s inevitable wedding (I was also charmed by Cory and Lea Michelle’s real life romance).

Whatever the reason, Cory Monteith’s death hit me hard.

However, even though I mourn with the rest of the Glee fandom today, I’m still a little perplexed as to whether I mourn the actor or the character he played. Since I’ve never met the man, Cory Monteith is kind of an abstract concept the way all celebrities are – you’ve never met them, so while you know they exist you only see them on TV. In many ways, Finn Hudson is more real to fans than Cory himself, since that was who they saw on a regular basis and Finn is why Cory has become so loved. And while I loved Finn Hudson, I know almost nothing about Cory Monteith aside from what I’ve read in the past few years. I don’t know his favorite band, or his favorite song, color, movie, etc. I don’t know what made him laugh or cry or what made him angry. Is it possible to truly mourn someone you know so little about? Are we mourning the man, or are we mourning his talent? Or are we really just mourning Finn Hudson? And does this distinction really matter?

Whatever the reasons the truth is, a large part of the world is mourning the loss of a very talented young man this week. The fact that they may never have met him should not diminish the pain they feel.

And Macbeth was wrong. To those who knew and loved Cory (and for those who have ever lost someone they’ve loved) the memory will live on, and his life doesn’t signify nothing.

2 thoughts on “Mourning the Actor or the Character?

    B.B. Zeter (@BB_Zeter) said:
    July 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Great observation and well said. I felt that this really hit the heart of the issue without stepping on toes or being too oversensitive about Cory’s death. I think that his life will inspire others for years to come and that’s what truly counts. He’s left a legacy. I agree with you when you said, “…his life doesn’t signify nothing.”

    Like

      Charissa said:
      July 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Thanks Brittney! I just hope now that some preliminary autopsy reports have been released people can continue to focus on his life, not his death. Because while it may be disappointing to fans that he wasn’t able to overcome his addiction the point is he was still a good person and shouldn’t be defined by his faults. I believe he genuinely wanted to beat it, but in the end just wasn’t strong enough, sadly.

      Like

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