On Losing Pop Culture Icons

gene wilder

I’m not the first person who has said this, but I need to say it to set the stage for this post. In this past year we’ve lost so many iconic figures to old age, disease, or tragic events. Why does it hit some of us more when we lose a celebrity or artist? Why do I feel so heartbroken at the loss of Gene Wilder? Why did I, someone who rarely sheds a tear, cry my eyes out after hearing the news of David Bowie’s passing? What causes that sting despite never knowing these people on a personal level?

I think it’s because most of us have grown up in a movie centered culture. Everyone remembers the Disney film they watched constantly as a kid or the first feature they saw in theaters. People associate movies with specific events or emotions. And when this happens, people become attached to the characters they see on screen, which is then extended into a connection with the actors behind them.


So when we lose people who were part of our childhoods or are associated with meaningful moments in our lives, we lose a piece of ourselves with them. They take a fragment of our nostalgia with them to the grave. On the night of Gene Wilder’s death, Twitter had hashtags trending for all of his works where people were posting quotes, pictures, and gifs from his films. They were desperate to hold onto the moments he made for them all because there was a bond present. These moments provided us with inspiration and hope. They sparked our creativity or made us laugh on a godawful day. And they stayed with us so in that way, we’re connected to these films. We’re connected to the people behind the curtain.

Then when we lose one of those icons we remember how nothing can be protected. We’re reminded that there’s a reality behind the screen where these actors are only human. They breathe. They create. They die.

But they aren’t lost. Those movies and songs still exist. Their presence is still with us, which makes us fortunate. All of those moments are just a click away if we need the comfort or the laugh after a bad day. We may have lost these figures in the real world, but their work hasn’t vanished. This world isn’t always pretty, but I say we hold onto the work these people have done so that we can keep learning from it. We can keep smiling from it. We can keep being inspired so that the world is never short on creative souls.

willy wonka


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