2016 is going to be remembered for quite some time, as not only was it the year of Brexit and Trump, it was also a year of relentless losses of celebrity legends.While to list them all would be too long (and rather depressing), we feel we should say goodbye to 2016 by remembering some of the heaviest losses of 2016.
While we started off the year with some pretty significant losses, the tail end of 2016 was a ruthless pummeling of loss after loss. One of the worst losses, especially for the LGBT community, was undoubtedly George Michael.
In a cruel and ironic twist of fate, the news of George Michael’s death came out on Christmas Day when many homes were undoubtedly filled with the sound of the classic Wham! song, Last Christmas.
He was discovered by his boyfriend Fadi Fawaz, who said recently: “We were supposed to be going for Christmas lunch. I went round there to wake him up and he was just gone, lying peacefully in bed. We don’t know what happened yet. Everything had been very complicated recently, but George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I.”
While the classic Christmas track Last Christmas is probably one of his most famous, George had several hits under his belt. These include Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me and Somebody to Love.
However it wasn’t until his passing that the public learned of his incredible acts of charity, as he supported several organisations including the Terrence Higgins Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support.
The year also started with an incredible loss for music lovers at large as well as the LGBT community with the surprising passing of David Bowie. Unknown to anyone outside of his family and friends, Bowie had been battling liver cancer for 18 months when the news of his death rocked the world. Bowie’s death is probably one of the worst losses of 2016, because even if you weren’t a huge fan of his music, his impact on the industry, his creativity and originality, could not be questioned.
Of course, there was the childhood loss as well as many of us probably watched Labyrinth until our VHS tapes wore out. His absence is still being felt as we start 2017, and soon we will be approaching the year anniversary of his passing.
However, before he passed, Bowie left us a final gift: the incredible album Blackstar. While listening to it does have a bittersweet tang, I think this speaks to Bowie’s personality: he wants to be remembered through his music, and rather than us being sad about him being gone, he would probably want us to turn the music up instead.
Not content with the huge loss of George Michael, the tail end of 2016 took a geek icon and heroine with Carrie Fisher. She is undoubtedly best known for her performance as Princess (excuse me, General) Leia in the Star Wars franchise, which she recently took up again for the Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode 8.
Carrie became not only a sci-fi icon but also a role model for young girls for years with one of the very few leading female role models at the time, and she continued to be generally wonderful with her sardonic sense of humour and wit. Go and read her interviews, go and watch her television appearances (if you can bare the sting) and you will see the brilliant humour on display that made Carrie more than just Princess Leia.
However, as much as her passing has left a scar on the geek community, I think what she really must be praised for was her unabashed discussion of mental illness. She was always frank about it, and brought the topic of mental illness (one often cast to “hush hush don’t tell the neighbours”) into the limelight and spoke honestly and openly about it. I’m sure many of us can sympathise and empathise with Carrie’s struggles with mental health.
She once said: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.”
She broke down the stigma of medication and diagnosis, not just in her public appearances but also in her creative writing efforts. But I think the fact that Carrie just spoke honestly about it, and didn’t shy away from it’s ugly truths but also offered advice and comfort to those suffering: those are the things that are the most important. While to me, and to many , she will always be Leia – we musn’t forget what she did for the mentally ill.
Travelling back through the year a bit, there was also the death of Prince. I think his death can be described as having a similar scale of impact to that of Bowie. This was an artist who was legendary, and for mostly the right reasons. While his music wasn’t something I was personally into, I still saw and felt the grief of the multitude of friends who had grown up with his influence in their life.
Prince was definitely someone unique, both in his public persona and his music. In an industry that has always been chock full of cardboard cutouts, copies and bland paint-by-numbers songs that are bafflingly popular, someone like Prince had his own signature and was quite rightly regarded as a genius and one of the true long lasters from the 80s.
His best known songs are undoubtedly Purple Rain, When Doves Cry and Sign O’ The Times, but really – it’s hard to pick just a few from Prince’s huge discography that spans more than my entire lifespan. Again, just like Bowie, we should remember him through his work and through his musical genius, we should remember his uniqueness and style, and know that we will probably not see his like again.
I honestly feel like I could write a paragraph or two about each of the celebrity deaths from last year. It feels as if each and everyone of them was a legend in their field with a huge spanning career and many memorable works. Each one of them like a punch to the gut. So I will simply finish things off by also giving special mention to Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Rick Parfitt.
Let’s hope that 2017 is a bit kinder to us. All I can say is, stay safe David Attenborough (and you, Stephen King)!