‘Legend’ is an interesting term, the kind that gets thrown around by drunk twenty-somethings late on a Saturday night. But what is legend, really? Once upon a time, such terms were applied only to the rarest of diamonds in the rough, those who achieved something truly magnificent (and were usually dead) but in today’s world of rash colloquialisms, a legend is generally a person who has achieved something remarkable and, in most cases, inspired millions.
The world has lost three of them in just under one month.
When Lemmy from Motörhead died, it was a huge shock, probably most of all to the man himself who was allegedly diagnosed just two days before his death. Metal fans across the world mourned the loss of the man who was rumoured to be so full of drugs that a nuclear holocaust would leave just cockroaches and Lemmy. An article published many years ago reported that his blood was so toxic that a blood transfusion would be lethal, giving fuel to the rumours. It made the impact of his death even greater. But for many, worse was to come.
On 11th January 2016, reports came through that David Bowie was dead. Lemmy’s death may not have quite rocked the world but Bowie’s seemingly sudden death knocked it off its axis. For millions of music lovers, he epitomised everything the industry once was, should be now, and isn’t. He stood for diversity. He stood for the right to make choices. He stood for the right to be whoever you are. A man of exceptional talent, incredible intellect and inner beauty was lost to us and hearts broke everywhere. Comment after comment mentioned tears shed at the news. The fact that the majority of the fans had never personally known him didn’t matter. For my generation, he was Jareth, the Goblin King. For our parents, he was Ziggy Stardust. A Bowie-less world is a slightly harsher reality to face.
Today, like the proverbial salt in the wound, Alan Rickman’s death was announced. Still reeling from the horror of the previous two deaths, the latest was a kick in the groin. In a world of talentless so-called celebrities, it feels as though legendary icons of genuine talent are being ripped from the world left, right and centre. Like Lemmy and Bowie, Alan Rickman was known for his kindness and generosity of spirit in addition to his wonderful acting ability. Everyone loved him. Sadly, cancer doesn’t pick and choose. The good guy doesn’t always win.
The truth is, we never really knew any of these people. They weren’t Bob from down the road, the friendly neighbour we wish a good morning on our way to get the paper. They aren’t our family or our friends so why do we feel so bereft when they are taken from us?
Growing up, I remember my first serious boyband obsession. A1. Oh, I’m still mocked for it to this day but at 14 I was certain I was destined to marry Ben Adams. I didn’t, of course, but even though I know they were a manufactured group not unlike today’s One Direction, they occupy a space in my heart because they were my first real passion. I suspect this is the case for many of us, although I hope a lot of you have a slightly more discerning palate. When we become a fan of an actor, a singer, a musician, we take them into our hearts and we hold them there. Despite physical absence they comfort us when we go through teenage angst, they guide us through early adulthood with possibilities of what we may choose to be, and if they are talented enough to last, we journey with them through our adult lives, changing with us but always a constant. When they leave us, we feel the loss as though a distant friend had died. And we never really got to know them. There are missed opportunities and the loss of the chance to say goodbye. It hurts. But like everything, it will pass in time.
The good news for now is that their work lives on. A true legend’s work transcends mortal life and over the coming months there will be a proliferation of music and films featuring these great names. Initially it will remind us of the loss, but with time the pain will ease and we will be left with the wonderful memories of everything they did and the invisible hands that held ours as we walked our way through life. True legends never really die.