Why appreciate people only after they die? Do it while they’re alive

Yonden Lhatoo looks back at the past year of celebrity deaths to highlight how we suddenly show respect for people only when it’s too late to matter

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 7:34pm

I don’t care much for New Year’s resolutions, but since everyone is talking about them at the start of 2017, how about something more worthwhile: this year, let’s appreciate the people we usually ignore and spread the word about how awesome they are before they die, not after.

Doesn’t it make infinitely more sense to be nice to someone who is still alive and primed to benefit from our attention and admiration than dead and permanently beyond caring?

The past year, with its seemingly endless succession of celebrity deaths, really brought out this absurd phenomenon of neglecting the living and revering the dead, particularly those who have been more or less forgotten in the fickle world of showbiz and fandom.

Of all the memes on the internet, there was one that really captured the supreme irony when Hollywood comedian Gene Wilder died last August. It showed him in his classic 1971 role as a sarcastic Willy Wonka, with the message: “Oh, Gene Wilder is dead? Tell me again what a big fan you were.”

Spot on. He was one of those long-forgotten celebrities whose photo had to be shown to most people to elicit any inkling of recognition, and even then the response would be along the lines of “Oh yeah, that guy, what’s his name again?”

In that same spirit, tell me again what a legend Carrie Fisher was, how she “empowered women” and “changed lives”, or how poor planet Earth will “never be the same again” without the “real people’s princess”. There were some jaw-dropping superlatives being flung around in the recent mass-mourning pandemic triggered by her death.

Watch: Carrie Fisher, Star Wars’ Princess Leia, has died

Are we talking about the same Carrie Fisher whom we feted during the huge success of the first Star Wars films and then consigned to the furthest corners of our collective memories when she faded into irrelevance as her movie career fizzled out?

When I check into the Horizontal Hilton some day, feel free to say what you want about me

The only people who have the right to wax eloquent about how amazing she was are the loyal fanboys who continued to make her feel like a star at comics and games conventions all these years – you know, the neck-bearded selfie seekers and autograph hunters who figuratively stuck by their Princess Leia and still made her feel special when she was battling drug addiction and manic depression in obscurity.

Similarly, when was the last time anyone spared a thought for, say, Macaulay Culkin? It’s not about feeling sorry for a privileged Hollywood has-been – it’s about pre-empting the meaningless pseudo grief and tribute contest when he inevitably joins the ranks of the dearly departed.

So, watching Home Alone made you a better person? Talk and write about it now, send him some fan mail, when he could probably use the attention and perhaps a hug. Not after he’s dead.

Watch: Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone

There’s no shortage of fallen icons out there. Val Kilmer, anyone? Or Brendan Fraser? Not that I personally care when movie stars are no longer the flavour of the month and slip into showbiz purgatory – I’m just suggesting their hero-worshippers do their dance of reverence now, when it would actually have some value.

It’s the same, or even worse, when it comes to relatives, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. How bizarre that talking trash about someone gives way to hushed respect after he or she dies. Like it matters any more.

When I check into the Horizontal Hilton some day, feel free to say what you want about me. There’s no need for the obligatory “RIP” or “he was a great guy” Facebook post.

I’m pretty confident I won’t be in any state to give a damn at room temperature.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post