Grief is such a personal emotion. It is one that we feel when we lose something that is precious to us: a person, a relationship, a home, a job, etc. On its first face, it seems strange that we collectively feel very deep, very real grief at the death of a beloved celebrity. The vast majority of mourners have never seen these people in the flesh, let alone met them. Let alone gotten to know them. Still, the feelings remain intensely palpable.
Actors, musicians, sports stars, TV personalities, and celebrities of all stripes evoke these feelings in us. There is something about how these people chose to share their lives with the general public so freely. I think with artists, the connection between artist and stranger is strengthened because that artist has allowed us to peer, if only for a second, into their soul.
This year has been particularly hard on artists. It’s only April, but the world has been in mourning more times this year than any year I can remember. I have lost three of my heroes. The world has lost two queer-of-center artists, for whom my heart aches the most: David Bowie and Prince. The world has lost one of my favorite actors of all time as well in Alan Rickman.
I have always been a very self-isolating person. I’m an introvert. I’m a writer. I enjoy many of the things I enjoy in solitude. When I listen to music or watch a film, I dedicate my full attention to it. I allow the art to envelop and seep into me. I allow art to find empty corners in my heart, my soul, and my personality. I allow the art to live in those nooks and crannies. I carry those artists with me for the rest of my life.
When an artist dies, their fan base mourns as if they were close, personal friends. We celebrate their lives and work. We mourn them in any way that we can. We struggle to do something positive in their memory, just as we would for a recently deceased friend.
The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince passed away on April 21, 2016. His formal cause of death is not yet known, but sources indicate that an acute overdose on the painkiller Percocet.
Prince was a revolutionary performer. He was prolific. He played several instruments and wrote music not only for himself but several other performers. He allegedly possessed a vault in his Minnesota estate containing enough unreleased music to quench the thirst of his fans for years to come. His musical style was all his own. A smooth combination of soul, funk, rhythm and blues, and pop, there was something for everyone in his repertoire. He was also a fashion icon, embodying an androgyny once reserved only for women and David Bowie.
Prince redefined what it was to be a black man in the United States. He found a way to strip away the layers of machismo forced into the black psyche by the brute force of colonialism and slavery. As he sang in “I Would Die 4 U,” “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I’m something you will never understand.”
Prince was considered something of a diva. He had a very particular way of looking at things and incredibly high standards for himself and those around him. This too was a testament to his integrity to his art and against those who would attempt to dim his starfire. He fought against the exploitation of record labels and refused projects that could have made money for personal discomfort.
Prince was one of my great role models. He effectively decoupled gender and sexuality in a way that made sense to me. He was one of the most talented musicians and composers of his generation, maybe ever. He was spiritual in a carnal way, one not tied down to the constraints of virginality. He took shit from nobody and largely kept his private life private.
It would be disingenuous to say that Prince did not grow in relevance to me after his death. He died from nearly the same ailment that killed my fiancé just three months before Prince died. Painkillers, both abused and taken as directed, are scourges on this planet. As someone who broke the hold of opiates on myself, losing two of my heroes in a matter of weeks to these drugs put things into perspective for me. As much as it hurts to live with both my fiancé and Prince. It could have just as easily been me.
Listen to some music. Make some art. Have sex. Go feel something. It’s the best and only way to honor Prince’s memory.