IAIN WRIGHT MP: Celebrity deaths stir memories of the past

Carrie Fisher at last year's Star Wars premiere.
Carrie Fisher at last year's Star Wars premiere.

This year has been a momentous and significant year for many reasons, but one is surely the number of famous people who have passed away over the past 12 months.

Some say that the number of people who have died this year is statistically insignificant, by which I think it is meant that it is no higher or lower than any other year. That may very well be true, but given the number of famous people who have died, that doesn’t seem to be the case in respect of celebrities.

I’ve also seen an argument which states that the combination of the ‘baby boom generation’, those born during or immediately after the Second World War, and the rise of popular celebrity culture sometime in the 1950s and 1960s, mean that those who were both born at that time and then became famous in the 1960s or so are now coming to the end of their lives.

Given the range of ages of famous people who have died this year, I’m not sure that theory holds much water.

There does seem a long list of celebrities who died in 2016, however, I think it is the death of two during the Christmas break which have had a big impact, certainly among my generation.

There were clear similarities between George Michael and Carrie Fisher: both were amongst the biggest stars in the world in the 1980s, both had clearly enormous talents, both seemed that they were not all together comfortable with fame and struggled with some of its consequences and both died far, far too young.

Given that from the age of five, when my Dad took to me to see the film at the Odeon in York Road, to about the age of 12, Star Wars is all I thought about, the death of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the films, has hit a lot of my friends and me hard. To my mind she was far too underused in the new Star Wars film last year The Force Awakens. She was funny, intelligent and a great writer.

It was more difficult to be a fan of George Michael as a boy in the 1980s – I was more into Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood – but it is clear that he was the number one British pop talent of that decade, with an astonishing voice and an unparalleled ability to write a song.

As somebody who was starting to become politically aware in the 1980s, largely in reaction to the Government of Margaret Thatcher, Wham! always seemed to be celebrating those policies.

Actually, it’s only in retrospect that I realised that the lyrics were in defiance of the mass unemployment of the age. In the last few days, examples of George Michael’s remarkable generosity to students, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to strangers, showed the true nature of his character.

It’s strange how moved people can be at the passing of somebody whom they don’t know. Yet, for the likes of Carrie Fisher, George Michael or David Bowie earlier in the year, these people have served as the picture book and soundtrack for millions of people’s lives.

It’s a reminder of time gone, of memories of the past and, probably, a reflection of people’s own mortality.

At this time of year, when people are contemplating the passing of one year into another, these sorts of feelings are probably even more pronounced. As 2016 moves into 2017, I hope you have a Happy New Year.