I am studying and writing about “dead celebrities” in society/ies. Part of my approach includes analyzing our responses - material, emotional, social - to the deaths of celebrities. In my work, “celebrity” refers to anyone commonly understood to be widely known in public, about whom society knows some life circumstances beyond the celebrity (or "public figure")'s profession. The celebrity may have wide popular status, or be famous more within smaller social groups or demographics. Public figures and celebrities are human persons; I don’t intend for my work to manifest disrespect or callousness toward the experience of grief or dignity of any person. Rather, I hope ultimately to offer some valuable reflection on complex, layered human relations.
I asked a small group of recent college graduates one of the casual prompts I’ve used over the years of my research: “Who’s yours?” I.e., What celebrity can you recall where you were when you learned of their death? Whose death stays with you and/or impacted you in some significant way? The most common response from this group was “Amy Winehouse.”
Amy Winehouse presents within one of the theories predicting strong public response: “bad death” + “great talent/work” + “bad character/life.” Story loves conflict. These broad terms (bad, great, good) serve as foundational categories in which nuance and complexity and value judgment expand with each case.
With the recent release of a documentary on Winehouse (along with related published reactions), now’s a good time to check our responses to one particular celebrity’s death, and the circumstances of those responses.
Whether you are or were a fan of Amy Winehouse the musician and/or public persona, I welcome your responses to any or all of the prompts in this survey.
Thank you (and I’ll post updates and other related ideas in the coming months).