Why do people grieve celebs? Experts weigh in after Matthew Perry’s demise: ‘A little part of us dies’

November 1, 2023

The passing of a celebrity can lead to a lot of complicated emotions. Millions are mourning the death of actor Matthew Perry, who was found lifeless in the Jacuzzi of his Los Angeles home on Saturday, October 28, reports USA Today.

Almost immediately, Friends fans posted tributes on social media and even flocked to the West Village apartment the characters on the show called home to express their sadness for his passing.

“It’s completely normal to grieve a celebrity’s death and most of us have been affected by the loss of a celebrity at one time or another,” therapist Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S, from LifeStance Health says.

While most fans never met Perry, therapist Aniesa Hanson, Ph.D., explains that fans often latch onto an “idea” of a star rather than the A-lister themselves.

Although our favorite celebrities may not know we exist, our connection to them can still run deep and emotional as we identify with their lives or art in a real way.

“Our relationships with celebrities are different than our everyday relationships,” Hanson recently told Psychology Today.

“Our emotional bond with an influential person is based on our projection of what we need that person to be for us during influential moments of our lives. It’s the idea of that person we bond to, not necessarily the person themselves—since we didn’t come to know them in real life.”

Hanson also noted that certain celebrities may be “embedded into your youth.”

“Not only are celebrities infused into our developmental milestones, they oftentimes fill roles of a mentor or support person we [are] lacking,” Hanson noted. “We turn to them for support and they become part of our lives. When they die, a little part of us dies too.”

Whether it be growing up watching Sir Michael Gambon inspire us with Dumbledore’s iconic lines in the Harry Potter series of films, or bonding with family while listening to Tony Bennett’s classic hits, celebrities and their work often leave a strong lasting impression on us when we connect with them at pivotal moments in our life.

“An actor’s death can bring back memories of a movie he or she did—triggering memories from that time in your own life,” psychotherapist Tom Kersting explained to Reader’s Digest. “So, the key is to be grateful for the positive memories and fixate on that rather than on the sadness.”

Their death can also be especially confusing as we often put them on a pedestal and have a disconnection with their humanity.

“Because we bond to celebrities at a distance, we have a tendency to immortalize them through nostalgic life experiences,” Hanson explained, adding that this makes it “difficult for us to see them as the mortals they are.”

While the experts both encourage fans to acknowledge that their feelings are valid, even if they only admired the celebrity from afar, they noted that they should consider seeking professional help if their grief becomes overwhelming.

Although our favorite celebrities may not know we exist, our connection to them can still run deep and emotional as we identify with their lives or art in a real way.

“The important first thing to do in mourning the celebrity’s death in a healthy way is to acknowledge your feelings about the loss and not judge yourself for it,” Leanza advised.

“Mourning the death of a celebrity we’ve admired is just as important as any other death,” Hanson justified. “Grief is grief. Ignoring your feelings of grief won’t make you grieve faster; it can actually do the opposite.”

Research contact: @USATODAY