When a Public Figure Dies

I didn't know that I could grieve a celebrity's death... until I did.

The "Hollywood" sign.

The first death of a public figure that I remember being strongly impacted by was Avicii’s in 2018.


For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Avicii was an immensely popular DJ who made some of the best songs I’ve ever heard.


I found out about his death after school one day. I remember that moment vividly: The bell rang, I got my things from my locker, I walked to the cafeteria, checked the news, and felt my heart stop. I started sobbing, rushing over to a table to sit down at, and quickly texted two of my friends.


It was a horrible day. I felt this undefinable sadness for the next few days, but I refused to call it grief. It didn’t make sense to me at the time: I had never met Avicii, so how could I grieve him?


That’s a question I’ve asked myself after many celebrity deaths since. How could I grieve someone who wasn’t actually a part of my life?


That’s the thing, though. Avicii was a part of my life, even though I never met him.


Avicii’s music is tangled up in memories of my childhood. When my mom and I would drive in the car together, I’d turn on Avicii’s songs from her iPod. For years, I would listen to “I Could Be The One” (w/ Nicky Romero) and spent countless hours trying to figure out where Avicii sang, and if he didn’t sing, why his name was on the song. (I actually found a place where I thought he was singing in that song. Spoiler alert: He didn’t sing in it. He was a DJ.) His music got me through so many hard times, and so many good times. I spent all elementary school listening to it and still do to this day.


It was like I lost all of that when Avicii died. He was a part of all of those memories, and a part of my life, even though he was never physically with me.


I realized that I grieved him about a year ago. I was sitting in the car, listening to one of his songs, and remember thinking: Wait, how I felt after he died… that was grief. How did I not realize this sooner?


It’s okay - and completely normal - to feel grief after a public figure dies. Even though you may never have met them, they were a part of your life - whether it was through music, TV shows, writing, or anything else - so it makes sense that you may feel grief after they pass away.


Coping with grief from a public figure’s death is similar to when you lose someone you knew personally. The biggest thing you should do? Feel your feelings. You may be feeling grief right now - that’s okay. You may feel sad, angry, or even happy. Acknowledge these feelings, and don’t try to push them down. It’ll make things a lot easier later on.


Another thing that helps is talking about what you’re going through. With Avicii, I had two friends who also loved his music, and we created a group chat to talk about how we felt when we found out about his death. If you know people who also enjoyed this public figure’s contributions, talk to them about that person. Enjoy their talent together, such as performances or music. Even if you don’t know people who also knew this person, ask your friends if you can talk about them and if you can introduce your friends to this person’s work.


You can also reach out and get professional help if you're having a hard time. If you feel comfortable, talk to your school guidance counselor, or talk to your parent/guardian about seeing a counselor.


The most important thing to remember is that it is okay and normal if you’re struggling with the death of a public figure. Take a step back, and let yourself grieve. You don't have to be okay.



Read Next: The 5 Grief Resources I Use

Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Martin Jernberg.

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Disclaimer: The content on this site is not meant to be taken as medical information, as it is written by teenagers. If you are in need of medical help, seek assistance from a licensed therapist or, if it is urgent, contact emergency services in your area.