Life is short. That was the first WhatsApp message from a friend that came through when news broke that Kobe Bryant (pictured) and his 13-year-old daughter had died in a helicopter crash. I’m not sure I would have even recognised the NBA megastar and I certainly never saw him play basketball. Still, like virtually everyone else on the planet, I knew his name and about his outstanding sporting achievement.
Although I knew almost nothing about him, when the news of his untimely death flashed up, not only did I then read everything I could about him, but I felt despondent. Sad, of course, for his wife and daughters, but incomprehensibly gutted. If anything reminds you of the precariousness of our existence, it’s the death of an international icon.
When the Swedish superstar singer Marie Fredriksson died on December 9, 2019, just before Christmas, her death had the same effect. I hadn’t thought about Roxette’s lead singer in years or even listened to her music, nor did I know about the brain tumour she had battled for the last seventeen years of her life, but I had loved the pop duo’s music.
Roxette’s song, “It Must Have Been Love”, appeared in the movie Pretty Woman, and in 1990, it was a number-one hit. If any singer defined that era, Fredriksson was it for me. In one of my favourite performances, the petite Swede wore a short, skintight black dress and danced barefoot, with her blonde hair and a unique voice, she electrified the stage. I felt such shock, sadness and loss for a person I had never met. I spent hours listening to YouTube and reading about the intervening years.
Fredriksson’s untimely death, she was only 61, brought back all the nostalgia of the past. At that time, I had recently got married, I had a new job, and life held joy and promise and excitement. Her death triggered long-buried memories of past hopes, the memories of youth. Nothing transports you to the past faster than a song.
As for Princess Diana — I remember waking up in the morning to the unbelievable news that this immortal creature had died. How could this storybook princess (albeit one without a happy ending), who was supposed to have this fairy-tale life, who should have had the gods protect her, die so young, so suddenly and so tragically?
I wasn’t even a fan, and of course, I don’t believe in fairy-tales. We do absurdly attribute these kinds of characteristics to certain celebrities. With Diana, the spontaneous outpouring of global grief seemed only natural as we had followed every twist and turn of her life. She was so omnipresent. It was as if we knew her.
It’s an illusion that other people’s lives are part of ours, that their fates are intertwined with our own. But their deaths crystalise, for a moment, what’s missing in our lives, and remind us, that life is short — so very short.