On Chadwick Boseman, and Why It’s OK to Grieve the Death of a Celebrity

Photo by Katie Jones/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

It was an almost perfect evening. My wife and I danced, sang and laughed in the parking lot outside our apartment. We were still glowing, even though we’d seen “Black Panther” several times since it opened on February 16, 2018. We’d been following the movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, since he played Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42” half a decade earlier.

Seeing someone who looked like me, a Black man, do larger than life things on the silver screen, was one of the more empowering moments from my own life’s reel. Chadwick was more than a great actor. He seemed principled to me. Like the older — more poised and regal — brother I never had. In many ways, I felt like I knew him.

I wish I could travel back in time to that night. While life still came with its challenges, the ground beneath my toes felt much stabler. It didn’t erupt the way it has this past year: one devastation after another. Thankfully, I was sitting on our living room couch when my wife told me Chadwick had passed away on Friday. He’d died from stage IV colon cancer. He was only 43. He wasn’t coming back.

There’d be no sequel.

My wife and I both struggled to breathe in our shared shock, as we scrolled through the collective grief that was our Twitter feed.

Issa Rae, comedian and creator of HBO’s Insecure, tweeted “this broke me.”

While Jordan Peele, writer and director of Get Out, posted “this is a crushing blow.”

It wasn’t just celebrities who shared their hurt, it was everyday people sharing the ways in which Chadwick had touched their lives, the lives of their children, how he’d given them hope. Clips of Chadwick’s 2018 Howard University commencement speech auto played. People shared his quotes from interviews, while others shared tears, hurt, and the unbearable burden of grief for which we were never prepared.

All this from people who’ve never actually spent time with Chadwick. Who weren’t with him as he wrote plays in college, or braved the uncertainty that is Hollywood.

So, why do our hearts ache? It’s easy to get caught up on the specifics. We might ask ourselves, “Can I really grieve someone I’ve never met?”

And, the answer would be a resounding yes.

Earlier this year, in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, HuffPost interviewed David Kaplan, a former professor of psychology. Kaplan remarked that “we grow up with these people… so when they die, it’s like an extended member of our family dies. It’s somebody we feel like we know.”

Social media has brought us more access than any typical fan has had with celebrities. From cooking alongside Chrissy Teigen while clothes and books line the kitchen floor, to singing along with Lin-Manuel Miranda in his home office, it’s no wonder we feel suffocated and at a loss for words when someone we’ve followed for so long is no longer with us.

Now doesn’t have to be the time to solve anything, to put the pieces together, nor to prepare ourselves for the next inevitable blow. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for us to just feel our feelings and celebrate the life of someone we loved.

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