To millions, David Bowie was the sexiest man alive, even when parading across the stage in a silk bathrobe or satin gown.
Known for exploring the boundaries of gender, of spacey drug-expanded consciousness, of folk and pop and rock, Bowie was an icon. And just days after the release of “Blackstar,” his death Jan. 8 at age 69 had us all thinking about changes.
Then Alan Rickman died, also 69. You know the iconic British actor as Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, Dr. Lazarus, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was the best part of any movie he starred in, from “Die Hard” to “Dogma.”
Now Glenn Frey, founding guitarist of The Eagles, has died at age 67. Some of my friends don’t appreciate The Eagles and they’re patently wrong — he was responsible to the soundtrack of much of my young life, from “Take It Easy” to “Lyin’ Eyes.”
With three entertainment giants gone, some are already calling 2016 “the year of the shocking celebrity death.” Contributing to that moniker is a list of less-celebrated but still very famous people:
• Dale Griffin, 67, drummer for the Brit glam band Mott the Hoople, best known for the (Bowie-written!) single “All the Young Dudes.”
• Dan Haggerty, 74, who played TV’s Grizzly Adams.
• Rene Angelil and Daniel Dion, husband and brother, respectively of singer Celine Dion.
• Lawrence Phillips, 40, former NFL running back, of apparent suicide while imprisoned for felony and domestic assault.
• Brian Bedford, 80, the actor who brought the voice of Disney’s Robin Hood to life.
We’ve hit peak celebrity. The market for famous folks was flooded in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and now we’re seeing those icons reach the life expectancy mark. It’s a simple matter of mathematics.
There are a few in particular I am dreading. When Mark Hamill dies, expect me to wear black for a year. Others on my can’t-we-nominate-them-for-immortality list are Michael J. Fox, Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, Martin Sheen, Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young.
Oh, the list could go on.
But here’s something to consider: As we experience these seismic departures from the ranks of music and movie heroes, the shocks are bound to get smaller and smaller. We’ve passed a sort of event horizon of ultimate celebrity.
What I mean is there can never be another Michael Jackson, another Robin Williams, another Leonard Nimoy, another Freddie Mercury. Those days are gone. We’re not set up for that anymore. There are too many channels, too much on-demand content to sate our individual tastes, an entire Internet to tailor your consumption.
Celebrities can’t be universal anymore because there is so much choice. When I was a kid, before Dad finally sprang for cable, we had at times three TV stations to watch, and so that’s what we watched. Our celebrities were chosen for us.
In our market-fragmented age, it will never be plausible for 106 million viewers to tune in at the same time as they did in 1983 for the final episode of “M*A*S*H.” “American Idol,” I think, was the last truly epic juggernaut with viewership reaching nearly 40 million.
Only the Super Bowl remains as TV’s last 100-million-plus event —2015’s Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots contest boasted 168 million viewers.
There will always be celebrities, but 2016 might well be the tipping point toward the demise of the truly universally famous.
Jason Hawk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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