Enough Already: The Celebrity Deaths of 2016 and Gen X Mortality

Posted On January 2, 2017

Carrie Fisher. Prince. David Bowie. Muhammad Ali. Florence Henderson.

They were all icons of a Generation Xer’s youth. The female lead in the biggest movie franchise ever. Two musicians who left lasting legacies in rock and pop. The greatest boxer in the world. The TV mom after which so many other TV moms were modeled.

They all died in 2016, along with many other familiar names to most Gen-Xers – George Michael, John Glenn, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, Pat Summitt, Gary Shandling, Glenn Frey. The sudden deaths of Michael and Fisher within the last month – and the subsequent death of Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, a day after her daughter — have people ready to say goodbye and good riddance to 2016.

The deaths of so many icons from their youth not only have people ready to kick 2016 to the curb, but the Associated Press reports that they have many Gen-Xers thinking of their own mortality.

The AP interviewed a 47-year-old in Connecticut, who described it as “a very melancholy time” and a 43-year-old in Florida who noted that with the deaths of so many musicians he admired growing up, “the reality of dying is much clearer to see.”

Lou Manza, a psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, told the AP that MTV and, later, social media, made Generation X feel closer to its pop idols than any previous generation – which may be why 2016 feels so brutal.

Indeed, while Baby Boomers saw their favorite celebrities at the movies or stood by the fence to get their autograph at the ballpark, television innovations like MTV brought Gen-X’s teen idols right into their homes. Today, many celebrities correspond directly with fans through social media channels.

We don’t know these people, but we feel like we do. We have watched them grow up and age. We have followed their careers. We have seen and read of their triumphs and failures. They have inspired us to chase our own dreams.

When they die, it hits us where we live — particularly if they aren’t that much older than us.

While technological advances have made them seem more accessible to us, however, the impact celebrities have on us isn’t anything new. Previous generations were touched by the deaths of their heroes in the same way.

An estimated 100,000 lined the streets of New York for Rudolph Valentino’s funeral in 1926. More than 75,000 waited outside the church at Babe Ruth’s funeral mass in 1948, and 77,000 more viewed his casket at Yankee Stadium. Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962 is memorialized in pop culture even today.

The difference this year is that there seems to have been so many of them. The memes and social media tributes are still circulating for one when news of the next death breaks.

For middle-aged Gen-Xers, it’s a reminder of the finite number of our days. But it doesn’t take a Gen-Xer to say: Enough already.

Categories: Generation X