Over the past ten days, news of several deaths has reached me, and in certain cases the rest of the world, that have been deeply saddening. The loss of life is of course tragic no matter what the circumstances, but these particular deaths have highlighted how, without personally knowing any of the people involved, they can still have a profound effect on so many.
A musical legend was truly lost when Whitney Houston’s death was announced last Sunday at the age of 48. After being found dead in a bathtub, the news quickly circulated round the world and devastated the millions of fans the singer had accrued over her long and successful career. Whilst the toxicology results have not yet been released, it is presumed that her death was due to the consumption of harmful substances. The media has been typically scathing in its reportage of the incident, with alleged secrets about her private life being splashed in tabloids and magazines alike. But perhaps the real tragedy, apart from the incredible talent that has gone to waste, is the millions of fans overcome with grief by what has unfolded. Irrespective of how she spent her final moments, the fact that Houston had such an impact on so many shows how deeply death can affect people who never knew the deceased.
While saddened by Houston’s untimely demise, the increasing frequency with which we are seeing celebrities die in somewhat unclear circumstances does make it difficult to feel the real gravity of the loss. But today, when I heard of war correspondent Marie Colvin’s death, I was affected far more deeply. Perhaps this was because she felt somewhat closer to home, or perhaps it was because she really is iconic in a field that I hope to one day be involved with. I have read with great sadness the various tributes to her left by former colleagues, and although no solace can really be found in the death of the innocent, the fact she died trying to show the Syrian devastation on a worldwide platform reinforces her dedication to what was truly a brutal job. You can read my obituary of Marie Colvin here.
And a death that will have reached far fewer people is that of James Andrews, a talented young writer from London. An avid social media user (@JC_Andrews), he Tweeted his final words before taking his own life last week, prematurely ending what had already been a prosperous career. The amount of tributes that have poured out over the week since his passing have shown how deeply affected so many have been by the news, and a Twitter get together has been proposed to celebrate his young life. Again, this death struck even closer to home – James was an acquaintance of my sister’s and was followed on Twitter by several of my own friends. What is perhaps most touching about many of the tributes I have read on Twitter is how so many who hadn’t met James, but had spoken to him via the social media site, felt compelled to share their sadness. He wasn’t a celebrity or an internationally revered reporter, just a young man who had, by many accounts, had an impact upon a lot of people’s lives in some small way. It is, to my mind, often easier to sympathise with the deaths of so-called ‘ordinary people’ – those who haven’t lived a life of privileged excess. But one thing that the passing of all of these talented people shows is that death truly is a leveller, and that the power of one person to touch the lives of many should never be underestimated.
Death the Leveller
James Shirley, 1596-1666
THE glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death’s purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.