The coverage which the media gave to the death of Muhammad Ali made me think about how the media, and society as a whole, reacts to the death of a famous person.
For a celebrity death to lead a TV news bulletin and appear on the front page of all the national newspapers is actually quite a new phenomenon. When Elvis Presley died in 1997 many newspapers in the USA didn’t feature the story on their front pages as they didn’t think that their readers would be all that interested.
Even the death in 1980 of John Lennon, surely one of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century, didn’t generate anything like the amount of media coverage which is now regularly given when much less important artists die.
Perhaps the turning point came in 1997 with the unexpected death of Princess Diana. Tony Blair’s description (possibly courtesy of Alastair Campbell) of Diana as ”The People’s Princess” perfectly caught the zeitgeist of the nation.
It’s also worth pointing out that our multi-media society means that we are much more aware of celebrities that we were in the past. Often we know more about the lives of the rich and famous than we do about our friends and neighbours.
There are some people who would argue that the media coverage of celebrity deaths is often over the top. I am sure that the editors would respond by saying that they are merely reflecting the mood of the public.
When a famous person dies, particularly if it is someone whose work I have enjoyed or admired, I tend to have a mix of emotions. Sadness at their passing can be tempered by remembering the pleasure which their work has brought. That was certainly how I felt earlier this year when David Bowie David Bowie passed away.
Rock stars of course have a tendency to die young, often as a direct result of a hedonistic lifestyle. The one exception to this is of course Keith Richards. Keef is still going strong at 72 despite a lifetime of taking a blowtorch to both ends of the candle. I can’t help feeling that Keef will outlive the lot of us.