As the sun goes down on 2016, many of us take the time to reflect on the year that was. As with most years, there were highs and lows, ups and downs, changes and losses, but as I sat down to write a ‘year in review’ style blog about 2016, what struck me most about the year was that the losses we experienced were extraordinarily impactful, spanning countries and generations. With that in mind, I would like my final blog of the year to extend beyond the white isle and pay tribute to those who were so special to so many of us and taken too soon – lest we forget. There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind. – Hannah Sensesh, poet, playwright and paratrooper, as referenced in Carrie Fisher’s 2011 memoir Shockaholic.
We grow up thinking our heros are indestructible, so when one of them is taken from our midst, it can serve as a reminder of our own mortality. While many of us have surely experienced own unique grief, sorrow and loss in our personal lives throughout the years, 2016 has been a year of fallen heros. The phenomenon of mourning celebrities is quite a new-ish thing thanks to the internet and TV and one that has hit us hard in 2016. It can feel weird. It can feel wrong. It can feel silly. It may be mocked or looked down upon – as are many things that can’t be explained. But it makes sense and it’s OK. There is no shame in mourning someone (or indeed, someTHING, as Space Ibiza closing here in Ibiza proved in October) who affected you through their art, music, work or creativity. I woke up this morning to the news my childhood and grown-up hero, Carrie Fisher, had passed away after suffering a major heart attack earlier this week.
As I type, I am surrounded by a pile of snotty tissues because I can’t stop crying at the thought she is no longer in this world – had been checking the news reports every hour over the past few days, praying 2016 would not claim the world’s favourite princess. My first instinct when I woke up was to Google her name and my worst fears were realised. Now my my nose is swollen and my eyes are red (thank goodness for eyelash tinting, at least they’re not streaming with black mascara) and I feel sick to the stomach. I didn’t know her personally, yet I feel like she has been with me through every step of my life (as Tina Fey once said, like every woman my age Princess Leia occupies 60 percent of my thought space) right up until last week, when (SPOILER ALERT!) her younger self beamed out of a cinema screen to me in the final scene of Rogue One. What an unexpectedly poignant final performance.
I cannot bring myself to open my Facebook account or Instagram feed today because I know it will be filled with an outpouring of grief via images of Princess Leia and the very thought of seeing those donut buns or that bikini fills my eyes with even more tears. What a woman. She was a role model in both her youth through her strong character portrayal and later on through her own humanity regarding her addictions and her mental illness. She was funny, self deprecating, sharp, irreverent, witty, honest and of course, beautiful – I will always feel grateful that I grew up with Carrie Fisher to look up to. She doesn’t need the force to be with her – she is and always will be a force in her own right.
It was like sadness upon sadness, as only two days ago, we woke up to the news that the amazing George Michael had passed away in his sleep – after celebrating his Last Christmas (you know he’d want us to make that joke – the man was truly hilarious!) – at the very young age of just 53. So much of George Michael’s life was famously documented, from the amazing body of music he created, through to the brave opening up about his sexuality in a time when it wasn’t ‘the done thing’ for a heartthrob pop star (not to mention the son of a deeply religious Greek family) to be gay, to the sex and drug scandals that ultimately saw him spend time in prison and withdraw from the spotlight. What wasn’t as widely spoken about was his generosity, humility and kindness of spirit. Until now. A natural born philanthropist, the self described ‘singing Greek’ donated much of his wealth to charity – from donating 100-percent of the profits (which ran into the millions) from his single Jesus to a Child to Childline to smaller, random acts of kindness such as leaving a cheque for 25k to a girl crying in a cafe about her debt (after he’d left of course) or to a couple who couldn’t afford IVF, to performing a private concert for NHS nurses after they had cared for his dying mother, to volunteering anonymously in a homeless shelter.
The internet is now awash with people coming forward to credit him with selfless giving, as he’d wished to remain anonymous in life. A truly inspiring human being and one we here on the island always feel a strong connection to, after Wham! filmed the iconic Club Tropicana film clip at Pikes. Thanks to his music (and videos!) there is no doubt George Michael will always live on. The world also mourned the loss of Prince back in April, with even the notoriously snooty French lighting up their Eiffel Tower in purple in remembrance of the musical genius after he passed away. An innovative one-of-a-kind soul who lived by his own rules and refused to be put into a genre or defined by society, he created an incredible body of music, one of the most iconic 80s flicks of all time, developed his own flamboyant style, won countless awards and encouraged his legions of devoted fans to be themselves. Everyone was accepted in his purple world and his fans were treated like royalty, with private shows, after parties, invitations to his home – always on Prince’s terms. Most recently, he cancelled a tour as soon as he realised tickets would be resold at a higher value than the cost price via resale websites run by the ticketing agencies. It was always about the music, and never about the money, as Prince’s career-spanning problems with contracts and labels will attest. And once he had his own money, he was a generous benefactor to many (though as a Jehovah’s Witness, this was something he never spoke about), including his own Minneapolis community and far beyond. His acts of kinds included anonymous donations to ensure the the first full service library for African Americans in the USA in Louisville remained open; anonymously paying off the medical bills of drummer Clyde Stubblefield when he was undergoing cancer treatment; supporting the Rebuild the Dream charity which trains 100,000 low opportunity adults for high paying careers in technology and helping poverty stricken children in Harlem. A silent angel and an unforgettable icon.
Losing David Bowie in January was perhaps the worst way to start off a year. It seemed the entire world was united in grief for this incredible man – from the streets of Brixton and the clubs of Ibiza to the beaches of Mustique and the high rises of New York. I cried as much then as I am today. Every note from one of his songs is still enough to illicit tears in his honour. It was Bowie who made anyone who felt a little weird, alienated or unusual be able to recognise, accept and celebrate their uniqueness. Thanks to his many personas, we knew it was OK – and in many cases, perhaps even better – to be different. A modern day storyteller, his vast body of music never seems to grow old, giving Bowie a sense of immortality. He was a singer, a songwriter, a painter, a philanthropist, an actor – but he was so much more than those simple labels. An artist, for sure. A pioneer, for so many and in so many ways. A creative genius, yes. A fashion icon, without a doubt. It’s impossible for someone like me to put into words what David Bowie was (and still is) to the world. A space oddity? Something out of this world, that’s for sure. In life, and in the afterlife, as a lightning bolt shaped constellation of stars was fittingly named after him, ensuring his name will live on, long after his generation of fans have gone. And there were so many more…
The great Muhammed Ali, onscreen super villain and real life nice guy Alan Rickman, iconic musician Leonard Cohen, comedy legend Gene Wilder, supermum Mrs Brady aka Florence Henderson, Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee, glamour queen Zsa Zsa Gabor, my wonderful feline best friend Buffy (ok, she wasn’t a celebrity but to me she was all that and more) – the list goes on. While browsing Facebook yesterday, I read something (and you know, if it’s on the internet it must be true) that put an interesting spin on this year’s spate of celebrity passings. That a bunch of aliens had been sent to earth over the years and in 2016 they would be called home. As kooky as that sounds, I thought to myself at the time, well isn’t that a nice thought, that someone out there is gifting us with incredible human beings (whether well-known celebrities or just regular folk like you and I) to share their art, creativity, personalities and souls with us. The world was definitely a better place for having them in it and we’ll never forget 2016 as the year that seemed to take away our childhoods in a cruel 12-month sweep. But in the end, despite all the sadness, I think it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. May the force be with them. Normal blog service will resume next week – thanks for indulging me if you’ve read this far!