“Let’s stop with the disrespectful responses to celebrity deaths.”

When someone dies, usually we tiptoe quietly.

We are respectful, careful. We think of the family involved, the feelings of those closest to the person too-soon departed.

Sometimes we use social media to share our grief. Lamenting the loss of a person who was wonderful and unique and “I-remember-when-they-did-this” and the many reasons they’ll be sorely missed.

Other times we are quiet. Maybe we didn’t particularly like the person who died; maybe we didn’t know them well, so we tread without a sound.

Unless the person who has died is a celebrity. Then, it seems, no rules apply and everyone has the right to say something, anything about the death.

debbie reynolds carrie fisher
Advertisement This week, we've lost both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Image via Getty

This past week - what should have been the glowing aftermath of Christmas - has been scattered with celebrity deaths.

On the 25th there was music icon George Michael, who was only 53. Two days later, actress Carrie Fisher, 60, best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars also died. This morning, news broke that Fisher's mum, Singing in the Rain actress Debbie Reynolds, 84, was killed by a stroke.

Social media and news stations are flooded with tributes and stories of sadness and shock. But some responses have been less considerate. Downright hurtful, even.

American comedian and actor Steve Martin tweeted, then later deleted, his reaction to Carrie Fisher's death.

"When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well," his tweet read.  

The backlash online was swift. As many pointed out, Fisher spent her entire life trying to break outside the box of female-heroine-sex-symbol.

She fought for women's rights, once tweeting, "Youth and beauty are not accomplishments." She was a brave, outspoken, inspirational campaigner for mental health awareness. She shared stories of her own bipolar and manic depression. She answered the questions of people in need.

"Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side," she wrote in her Ask Carrie Fisher column on The Guardian. "As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do."

Fisher was much, much more than a "beautiful creature".

UK broadcaster Andrew Kershaw, who is known for his interest in world music, also drew criticism when he called the public reaction to George Michael's death "hysterical".

george michael buried
George Michael died on Christmas Day. (Getty)

"Here we go, again... brace yourselves for the now routine hysterical over-reaction, and obligatory bogus sentimentality that follows the unfortunate premature deaths of these figures, regardless of how flimsy, insignificant and lightweight their cultural contribution happened to be," his Facebook post reportedly read (it has since been deleted.)

"I'm very sorry George Michael has died young," he continued (why won't he stop?). "But please spare me the predictable onion-from-pocket outpourings, claiming he was one of the 'greats'. George Micheal was, in reality, a very successful yet frivolous, glib, and fleeting pop-star."

Was there a reason to share this?

In tearing down another's cultural contribution as "flimsy, insignificant and lightweight", Kershaw made a contribution of his own. One that was hateful, unnecessary and self-indulgent.

Today, US actor Charlie Sheen responded to the death of Debbie Reynolds over Twitter. He related it to US President Elect Donald Trump.

Too soon, and way, way off the mark.

You know that saying? "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"? It's a trite and cliche and over-used proverb. But there's a reason for it.

When you have a voice that is as big and powerful as Steve Martin's, or Andy Kershaw's or Charlie Sheen's, you need to be extra careful in the way you use that voice.

When you use that voice to break all the rules we ordinarily follow when people are grieving, your voice is no longer deserved.

When you use that voice simply to hear yourself speak, to promote your own cleverness or point-of-useless-difference, your voice is no longer deserved.

It is not the role of any voice to stamp out or abuse another person's grief - no matter if their grieving involves the death of a celebrity.

If you have nothing thoughtful or kind or supportive to say, when people are hurting and there's no changing the outcome, then maybe you, too, should just tread quietly.

Save that voice for something positive. And use it at a time when it might do some good.


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