The man who sold the world and the other who saved it

On Sunday, Jan. 10, musician, actor and fashion icon David Bowie died. Four days later actor Alan Rickman died. Both died peacefully in their homes after battles with cancer. Both Rickman and Bowie died at the age of 69.

Each were memorialized on countless social media and news feeds. Their deaths, despite that the vast majority of us didn’t know them personally, felt like an intimate loss; a loss that is shared with other strangers across the globe.

Their performances and their art, spilled across movie screens, canvases and radio wires, feel intrinsic to how we, as individuals, develop. Bowie, a man of metamorphosis throughout his career, gave his fans room to accept themselves through the multitude of personas he took on—whether it be the androgynous glam-rock alien with billowing, fiery red hair known as “Ziggy Stardust” or the sleek and hollow “Thin White Duke.”

Listening to “Blackstar”, which was released two days before his death on his birthday, I found myself getting lost in the jazzy undertones. Bowie’s voice felt dizzyingly urgent and in his urgency it seemed as if he was revealing his own mortality to his audience. All his audience could do in the end, after his final encore, was stand in awe at a life lived in fervent passion.

Collectively, it seems as if the public forgets that even celebrities’ lives are finite. The breadth of impact that both Rickman and Bowie had on the world feel infinite. Once consumed, art becomes a part of an individual; that’s why the news of their deaths can feel so jarring. It’s the loss of something that had become integral to one’s self.

As humans, we identify ourselves in the films, art, music and fashion we take in. When the artist who dies has a large cultural impact, we pour our grief into our social media to find solace in a pain that stretches far and wide.

Rickman notably played Professor Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series, a series that was interwoven into many people’s childhoods and lives. Rickman not only portrayed Snape, but for many, he was Snape. Through Rickman, the audience could feel Snape’s deeply rooted anguish and see the distant sarcastic exterior that veiled it.

He brought life to other iconic characters as well, armed with a deep, languid voice and dry wit. Rickman entertained us from his portrayal as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard” to the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

When an actor dies it often feels like the role they played has passed on as well; when the role is a part of a film or franchise that one holds dear the loss becomes even more devastating. Essentially, it feels like the passing on of an era.

Prominent deaths create an atmosphere of universal introspection. They leave behind etches of who they were, their art and passions living on despite the death their body. This week, planet Earth lost the man who sold the world and the man who said “Always.”