Celebrities are dropping like flies in the closing days of 2016. Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liz Smith, George Michael, and now Carrie Fisher.
Biographies and obituaries are the most instructive moral literature our culture now produces. And the biographies of these celebrities do not reveal happy people, but rather deeply unhappy people.
Even when performing in comedic roles, in their private lives they were miserable. They were users of drugs; desperately promiscuous; conflicted; lonely; fretful; fearful; suffered from depressive disorders; rejection; and were ridden with health problems. These were people who had voids in their lives.
Liz Smith, who played comedic elderly characters, said of herself:
It is lack of reassurance that has made me how I am. I’ve had withdrawal symptoms from people all my life – rejection and withdrawal – so it is lovely to have reassurance… I’m odd and melancholy, that is why I turn to comedy.
Sadness being a common theme among the world’s best known comedians. Kenneth Williams, for example, was a grotesque and monstrous person. Robin Williams built a career of laughter around an inner core of depressive darkness. The list could go on.
The lives of celebrities proves that our deepest convictions about happiness are ultimately an illusion. Unfortunately, the world’s ideas about happiness are drilled so deeply into us, is so much part of the cultural mixture, and is dinned so loudly into our ears, that it requires great personal effort to see through it. We are taught that happiness is predicated on things. Or on fame. Or on friends. Or on romance. Or money. Or parties. Or sexual gratification. Or having big houses and big cars. In fact, some of you reading this article will be literally unable to stop believing that this is where your happiness lies.
But it’s simply not true. And therefore, I think celebrities are greatly to be pitied. For they have ascended to the pinnacle of the culture; a pinnacle to which they can cling only precariously for a brief moment in time. But having drawn back the curtain on the ultimate dream of millions, they discover it is fraud. Yes, they have rivers of money and people who love them wherever they go and yet… “the world is hollow and I have touched the sky“, to quote the brilliant title from the third season Star Trek episode (1968).
Just like all human beings, celebrities desperately try to fill the void. They medicate their pain and misery with pleasure, chemical stimulation, hobbies, or with the pursuit of Some New Thing. Legion are the celebrities who seek for “something” in Buddhism, materialism, Kabbalah, spiritualism and so on. They are the greatest victims of Satan who has plunged them into the deepest misery of all, far from Christ.
Their prosperity and desperate search for meaning always fails to end the existential ache.
This seems to me to be the ultimate tragedy; not only are celebrities unhappy – even more unhappy than ordinary people – but they vigorously repudiate the Christian faith, because the Christian faith forbids the very behaviours they use to medicate their misery!
Most celebrities are forgotten in a few months. Muhammad Ali, who died earlier this year, is never going to be front page news again. Zsa Zsa Gabor’s passing was even less noteworthy, for her star had cooled and faded in the 1980’s. Shrivelled and aged, most young people do not so much as know her name, must less her films and movies. The “glamour” she supposedly radiated is not the idea of glamour that young people have now. From memory she passed, into pitiable, unmemorable old age. And that even before her death.
Carrie Fisher is likely to be the longest remembered of this year’s crop of celebrity deaths. She exercised enormous cultural influence as a consequence of Star Wars. The character she portrayed has entered into a kind of secular mythos, commanding as much power as medieval legends or the hagiographies of the saints once did. Her face will be immortalised (at least for a long time) on countless t-shirts, novel covers, posters, mugs, dress-up costumes etc.
But even here, there is a sour note. She is not really remembered at all. Not the person. Only her face when she was young and pretty, only her body when it was at its shapely fittest is celebrated. Only a youthful Carrie Fisher is worthy of being printed. The actual person who left those impressions on film is a worthless husk. Nobody is interested in her real appearance as she actually was as a 60 year-old woman.
At the termination of her very sad and tumultuous life, “being remembered” seems such poor compensation. This has always been the secular prescription to ease death. Gene Roddenberry and his successors brought this out many times in Star Trek. When a beloved crew member died, it was said that the person lived on in people’s memories and hearts. This was supposed to be a great comfort. This was supposed to be a replacement for the opium of religion. But on reflection, it is a cold and bitter comfort.
Who will remember the real Carrie Fisher? Those who knew her best are also approaching death. So what was her life for? What memories did she produce? Of a princess in a galaxy far, far away? Was making a sci-fi movie series the only thing her life counted for? Are those impressions left on flickering screens the summation of a heart, soul, and mind?
If ever we needed a reminder about the hope of the Christian message, this is it.
Firstly, we are promised that there are real and lasting pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God (Psalm 16:11). These pleasures are pure and clean; loving and gentle. There is pleasure and fulfilment in holy living, in being a people who constitute Christ’s “royal priesthood”. There is hope in a life centred on Christ, a hope that banishes existential gloom, gives meaning and purpose, a daily reason to get up, and “joy unspeakable”.
Secondly, Christianity offers us not only a meaningful life, but the promise of immortality in a world that is so joyous and clean that we shall at once forget this one, swallowed up in the glory of the life of the world to come. And so, at life’s inevitable end, for the Christian there will be a triumphant and true glory when Christ’s people will “shine like the sun” in the kingdom of their Father.
We have no reason to live in the futile shadows of nihilism, fatalism, materialism, or hedonism. These are the hellish forces that have swallowed up man’s mind in the 21st century, but in Jesus Christ, the Christian finds a fortress secure and the fountainhead of crystalline rivers that descend from the very throne of God.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall never perish, and though he die, yet shall he live, for I shall raise him up again at the last day.”