Something I’ve observed about fame is it increases tenfold when you die. Google Trends, a tool that monitors how often a person, event or term is Googled, gave Philip Seymour Hoffman a steady score of 0 out of 100 from 2004 until the week of his death, when the number of times his name was Googled spiked to a perfect score of 100.
I don’t want to reduce a death to a statistic, nor do I want to imply that any celebrity’s passing is anything less than a tragedy. No one wants people like Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse or John Lennon to come back more than I do.
Death is a delicate affair, yet the public’s reaction to celebrity deaths is crass fascination. I think it is important to analyze society’s preoccupation with fallen artists. Here are a few of what I consider the most covered celebrity deaths of the last century.
Whitney Houston — d. Feb. 11, 2012. Whitney Houston has always been an icon in my opinion, but she was the most Googled person in 2012. I’m not saying everyone is a bandwagon Whitney Houston fan, but if this many people liked her when I was in middle school, I would have been stuffed in lockers significantly less often.
Michael Jackson — d. June 25, 2009. In 2013, Forbes named Michael Jackson the top-earning dead celebrity in the world. His estate brought in $160 million. For someone who fewer than 10 years ago was arguably one of the most infamous celebrities due to his legal battles, I would say he has managed to stay pretty relevant.
Princess Diana — d. Aug. 31, 1997. It’s hard to argue that Princess Di received an increase in popularity after her untimely death because many already held her in high regard. She was affectionately referred to as “the people’s princess” and was admired globally. One million people lined the streets of London on the day of her funeral, which was broadcast to almost 2 billion people worldwide.
Elvis Presley — d. Aug. 16, 1977. Graceland, Elvis’s private residence, was opened to the public as a museum five years after his death and has attracted 600,000 visitors annually since 1982. His estate released a greatest hits compilation in 2002 that stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for three consecutive weeks. I don’t think this king will be dethroned anytime soon.
Marilyn Monroe — d. Aug. 5, 1962. Maybe it’s because of her glamorous persona, but Marilyn’s death seems to be one of the most romanticized. She became something of a martyr; “the fame killed her,” people said. You would be hard pressed to find a girl who doesn’t have a quote of Marilyn’s hanging on her wall. It would be equally challenging to find a girl who has actually seen one of Marilyn’s movies, which is a point of frustration for me.
Those are just my favorite examples. Judy Garland, Liberace, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain and Bob Marley are a few others who passed before their time and have become immortalized in culture.
It’s a shame that death has become a means to guarantee attention. It is clear that living in the spotlight does not stop when you’re done living. Those on my list of the esteemed deceased are obviously deserving of respect, but let’s not forget to appreciate the living while they’re still here.