This may come as a surprise to anyone who has never read or met me before, but I have a pretty active fantasy life in which I pretend to not only know celebrities but consider them friends and/or potential future spouses. Having such an [imaginary] intimate connection can make their unfortunate choices or untimely demises especially difficult for me; after I feel the basic human empathy, I start to experience weirdly personal reactions, as if their actions reflect on me somehow. Like they were rejecting my [unknown] allegiance, snubbing my telepathic attempts to offer them loving devotion.
I remember feeling this way about James Dean when I discovered him in college - I developed an odd adoration that was tinged with a melancholy annoyance at his early death three decades earlier. Every time I read about him or watched a movie, I wondered why no one could keep him from acting so reckless and dying so young. Repeat 20 years later with Heath Ledger, and every time I teach Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, and today with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Of course these feelings do not only apply to celebrities but they are spotlighted and magnified by them - my first thought is often WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE THAT F*CKING HARD ABOUT YOUR LIFE? I compare their supposedly blissful swag-filled LA mansion/Manhattan flat lives to my mundanely satisfactory thrift store-filled suburban neighborhood life and imagine them chuckling at our blandness. But one minute later I think of how irritating it would feel to know someone is always waiting to snap a picture as I wave my kids to school or grab personal hygiene items at the store. To know that all of their very human fears and anxieties will be dismissed because they are presumed to have reached a state of superhuman perfection due to their fame + fortune. When people think you're amazing, you let them down when you are a mere mortal - unless you look sweaty after the gym or buy lattes at Starbucks Just Like Us, because THAT'S FUN! Otherwise, don't let your issues cloud our shining vision of you.
I am sad when people die. Period. I am especially sad about the death of people who have shown so much promise in their given area because I selfishly want more of what they were bringing - performances, writings, general good will in the world. When their deaths seem preventable, I feel mad. Why not seek help? Why hurt your family with this final act replaying in their minds? Why leave everyone asking, helplessly, why? And then I'm back to sad.