Celebrity Deaths Have an Impact on Us Mere Mortals


A person on Twitter asked whose “celebrity” deaths affected his followers most. These are the “I can’t believe she/he is gone” people.

It’s perhaps a bit odd that the person who came to mind right off the top for me was Prince. I have no idea why. I liked his music, but wasn’t a huge fan by any means. 

The second person I thought of was John F. Kennedy. I remember, as a nine-year-old, being consumed by the story. I heard of the president’s death while I was going up some stairs at Haultain School. As an aside, I remember being in a hotel room in Weyburn when I learned John Jr. had died.

The third death was John Diefenbaker’s. He lived a long life, to be sure. I remember being angry when he lost his leadership to Robert Stanfield.  I was lucky to shake Diefenbaker’s hand when I received my arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He died about a year later.

Locally, the name that popped into my head was Sid Buckwold. I then thought of Keith Magnuson, a hockey player from Saskatoon who was killed in an accident while riding with a drunk driver. While he is not officially from here, I thought about Kenny Shields, and my good fortune to interview him and to see and hear his band three times, including once during the days of Witness Inc.

I asked Sandy who came to mind for her. Off the cuff, she said John Lennon, Glenn Frey and Robin Williams. Lennon’s death meant there would never be a Beatles reunion. 

The first name Ken Noskye mentioned was Merle Haggard. He then packaged together a number of writers — W.O. Mitchell, James Baldwin, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain — and ended with Jim Thorpe. “Of course,” Ken said when he named Thorpe. 

Ken said it is not the death of the person that has the impact on him, but how he is informed about it. It hits him at that very moment, he said. He’s right, which I seldom say about Old Ken.

After my picks I looked at the Twitter replies. The first person on the thread said Prince. That struck me as an odd coincidence. He also listed Jim Henson and Sammy Davis Jr. 

Henson’s name came up over and over. For people of a certain age, he represented their childhoods, and then, just like that, he was gone.

Anthony Bourdain, Princess Diana, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Tom Petty were on many lists. 

People were both sad and even a little bit angry that Bourdain took his own life. 

One youngish man said Bea Arthur: “In my childhood, she was a beacon of strength in not conforming to societal expectations.”

A touching response came from a Vietnam vet. 

“I was sitting on a bunker in the jungles of Vietnam when I heard Martin Luther King had been murdered. I wept. I was in a coma from being wounded when Robert Kennedy was murdered. When I later found out, I almost gave up on living.”

Among others that kept coming up were Carrie Fisher and the crew on the Challenger. The name that came up by far the most, though, was Robin Williams. He has been gone for more than four years, and is missed by many.

Who are some of the people whose deaths hit you hard? 

I had a moment of panic a couple of weeks ago while I was on Valley Road taking a photo. It was really cold and windy that day.

I took the photo and walked briskly back to the car. When I got to the car, it was locked. My hand or elbow must have hit the lock button as I was getting out. 

My phone, my toque and my gloves were all staring at me from the other side of the glass. 

My mind raced in a moment of panic. I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, so I figured someone would give me a ride to a warm place where I could call Sandy, so she could bring me the spare key. Failing that, I would take a cab to my home and back.

I glanced at the car again and saw the pad on the door. It’s one of those things where you punch in the combination and the door unlocks. It was my father’s car, so I had forgotten momentarily about this feature. Thankfully, I remembered the five digits.

All of this happened in a minute or two. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be stranded in a secluded area.

I was at the news conference last week officially announcing that Uber drivers were now on the streets of Saskatoon.

It struck me as odd that the announcement was made at city hall, even though media members were told it was not a city event. 

Given that cabbies aren’t happy with the competition and are heavily regulated by the city, it seemed like a slap in the face to them to use a media room in city hall for the announcement.