Yesterday, everyone was surprised by the death of retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in the tragic Calabasas helicopter crash. Ten years ago, I would have wondered why everyone was freaking out. Had you died, Kobe probably would have no idea and would not have attended your funeral, so why make a big deal out of his? It was a long time before I realized the significance. 

Chester Bennington’s death in 2017 was the first celebrity death that actually bothered me when it happened. The music he made with Linkin Park was really therapeutic to listen to during my angsty teenage years (and it was of good quality). Hybrid Theory and Meteora were basically the soundtrack of my high school and college years. It was also saddening to hear about the sexual abuse Chester suffered when he was younger which no doubt had shaped the music of his career and his eventual suicide.

Ages 15 and 17 were especially rough for me because that was respectively when my maternal grandmother and grandfather died. Those were the first big deaths in my family after I reached an age of reasoning (my paternal grandmother died when I was 3ish, but I didn’t understand what was going on).

I think it’s a celebrity’s material helping you cope with tough times in life is what makes it hard for you when they pass away. I retroactively felt that loss for Fred Rogers after watching “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” taught many great lessons (sometimes dark lessons such as deaths of loved ones, assassination, and nuclear war) in an easy-to-digest manner for children. I plan to talk about him more in a future blog entry. The Tom Hanks movie and the documentary both brought back a lot of fond childhood memories.

I’m not a Kobe fan, I’m not a Lakers fan, and I’m not even a basketball fan, but I’ve come to understand why people grieve for him. I know a lot of Kobe fans. He inspired a lot of people to enjoy the sport of basketball or even to pursue it as a profession. Even if these hopefuls didn’t end up in the NBA, they still ended up learning the skills of teamwork and got in really good shape as a consolation prize. Maybe someone going through a hard time in life got cheered up by a high-stakes victory by the Lakers, with Kobe leading the charge.

Religious folks say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and I believe it. Hobbies and pursuits keep people out of trouble. Maybe Kobe inspired a child who decided to pursue some games of ball in the park or gym after school instead of getting mixed up with, drugs, gangs, crime, or sex. Several role models veered me into enjoying artistic and literary pursuits because it definitely looked “cool” or “fun.” Kids think back and remember those defining moments. My mom worked at home when I grew up, so I wasn’t an “at risk” child for falling into illegal activity, but I know a lot of “latchkey kids” are. Celebrities who are role models are good for channeling a child’s energy.

The next time a celebrity dies and you see fans of theirs emotionally saddened, even moved to tears, think about what that celebrity was to them and how that celebrity affected their lives.