I’m posting this impromptu blog about the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Some debate has been sparked about reactions to celebrity deaths. I’m aware this is not the kind of topic I usually write about. Regardless, I want to address the impact both Rickman and Bowie had on the arts.
Last week was a very unpleasant week for the world and the arts, as we lost pop legend David Bowie and acting giant Alan Rickman, both aged 69 and both died from cancer. Obviously, this is a ridiculously young age to go and not the most pleasant of exits. Neither had announced their cancer battles either, preferring to fight the disease in private while continuing to make their art.
Bowie of course was the pinnacle of musical success. His career, especially in the 1970s, was considered innovative. His talent was obvious. He wasn’t one of the artists like we have today who sang generic tunes written by multitudes of other people. He could play instruments. He could write songs alone. We’re unlikely to see a musician do what he did again. There’s really no point in harping on about his career and what he accomplished. We all know it. And it’s actually not where I really discovered him either.
Yes, like a vast majority of 80s and 90s children, I knew Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King from the 1986 film Labyrinth directed by the legendary Jim Henson.
I watched Labyrinth so much in primary school. This was the movie the teachers would always play when it rained, or the day before the holidays started, or on the coach to school camp. Sadly though the school’s VHS copy seemed to pause at one particular moment. Every time, without fail, the tape would go haywire. So it took a few goes before I finally saw the ending. And while this may have been the early days of the internet and spoiler alerts, it didn’t stop my friend from ruining the end for me. Grrr.
It’s not the most flawless of movies. There’s definitely a dated quality to Labyrinth now. But I still really enjoy it. It’s undeniably charming, it’s wildly creative, visually interesting and Jim Henson’s magic reigns supreme.
Bowie wrote the songs for the movie, and they’re all wonderful. My favourite is the ungodly catchy Magic Dance. That song refuses to leave my head when I hear it. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a good song 🙂
Above everything else, Jareth is a fun villain, no less because of who’s playing him. Though I’m also prepared to bet he’s memorable because that infamous costume taught us more about the male anatomy than our young minds ever wanted to know.
Alan Rickman gave us so many excellent performances it’s hard to know where to begin. He was the hilariously charistmatic terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard, one of my favourite movies to watch at Christmas time (shut up, it counts!). He shone in Sense and Sensibility. And of course, he was Severus Snape.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, it’s PHILOSOPHER’S Stone, it always will be philosopher’s stone and if anyone tries to ‘correct’ me, you are WRONG and should be introduced to a Blast-Ended Skrewt!) came out when I was five years old. I could already read fluently by that point and I was the perfect age to read the books. I’m a proud and unashamed Potterhead in every sense of the word. I’m so grateful to be part of the Potter generation. And we’re all so thankful to J.K Rowling for giving us the world of Harry Potter, and giving us a character like Snape.
Could the Harry Potter films have ever asked for better casting? Rickman was everything Snape should be. He was a vindictive bully, he was intimidating, but he was still sympathetic, incredibly funny and played the Pensieve scenes in Deathly Hallows Part 2 to absolute perfection.
I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. The same goes for his other characters. Whether he was playing a cold-hearted villain or an amiable office worker in Love Actually, Alan Rickman made every role his own. And even though he was known for being the antagonist, according to every report he was the exact opposite when the cameras weren’t rolling. By all accounts, he was the most kind-hearted and generous of people you could ever wish to meet. It just goes to show how the actors who play the best villains are often the nicest people in real life.
The loss of such talent is completely heartbreaking. Sadly, there’s been a number of self-righteous keyboard warriors in cyberspace who feel the need to discourage people from paying tribute to the deceased. You didn’t know them personally! they howl. Where were you when they were still alive?
In rebuttal, I give you my friend and fellow actor Sam’s views on the matter:
One of the (mixed?) blessings of social media is the chance for people to share their sentiments outside of the realm of private conversation. But there seems, for some reason, to be a reactionary response to people expressing grief when famous artists shuffle (or, in recent cases, plummet before their time) off the old mortal coil.
The premise of ‘you didn’t know them personally, so why mourn publicly’ seems to be a moral stance, as if it’s somehow undignified or sycophantic to do so. It’s disrespectful to their ‘actual’ family is also a phrase I’ve heard lately.
I really think people who feel that way are missing a vital point. Great art is meant to be shared, becomes public domain at the express intent of the artist and is one of the great things that makes life worth living. No one who mourns the loss of an artist, unless they actually knew them privately, is mourning the loss of person they claim to have known. They are mourning the loss of an ARTIST and should be encouraged to do so! When ambassadors of great art leave us, we feel loss. That’s a good thing, surely?It means their work is done! They may not have known us, but, as artists, we sure as anything knew them. Bowie may have been your Goblin King or showed you how being different was beautiful, Rickman may have shown you more succinctly than anyone else what losing a loved one feels like when he ‘haunted’ Juliet Stevenson and so on. These artistic turns may have had more impact on us than anything else, for all I know!
So mourn them. I reckon it’s pretty warranted. And if people say you’ve no right to, tell them, in your best Alan Rickman voice, to ‘get knotted’!
We mourn the loss of talent. We celebrate the achievements of these men. We get inspired, we long to have the impact they had. We strive to have their passion and dedication. We want to have the same fearlessness they had in the pursuit of creativity.
This is what the arts can do for people. Bowie and Rickman had visions. They had creativity. They had integrity in life and in their work. It never seemed like they craved the spotlight or awards. They just wanted to change the world through the most accessible means possible. Art.
If nothing else, Bowie and Rickman were examples of true artistry. No pretense, no childish attempts to grab the spotlight, just two very talented people who wanted to say something to the world in their own unique way. We remember what they gave us, we thank them for the gift they left to the world and learn from what they taught us.
Thankyou David Bowie and Alan Rickman for everything you gave us. You will be sadly missed and never forgotten as long as the art form lives.
Now if everyone could form a protective circle around all remaining British talent, that would be great.