When my friend Kenesha texted me on Saturday — “wait is paul walker dead?!” — I had to Google his name. I soon learned I was alone in my confusion. Over the course of the next two days, nearly every heterosexual woman in my life mentioned the death of the Fast and the Furious actor. They were low-level distraught, as if they’d lost a distant cousin or ex-boyfriend from way back, but their sadness was palpable. At brunch on Sunday, my friend Nikki gasped and shushed me when I said in a normal speaking voice, "I don't care about Paul Walker." My Facebook feed was flooded with Paul Walker R.I.P. posts, frowny faces peppering the comments beneath.
Were my friends all secret fans of his plotless action movie franchise? “No,” Kenesha said to me, "but I loved him in The Skulls." She was only half-joking. And that’s when I understood that women’s grief over Paul Walker, much like the mourning of Heath Ledger, is really about losing some part of our teenage selves. I failed to join the mournful chorus for Paul Walker because I’d never crushed on him during high school. He wasn’t my type. I was a nerdy, sarcastic girl who actively chose not to develop crushes on fresh-faced, handsome male celebrities who resembled my real-life tormentors. When Heath Ledger died in 2008 and I confessed I didn't care, friend after friend replied, "Whaaaat?! What about 10 Things I Hate About Youuuu?” I explained that didn’t see that movie until after college, right around the time Brokeback Mountain came out. Heath was not active in my early sexual imagination.
Experts say that we mourn celebrities the way we mourn family members because we’ve grown up with these people. They are in our homes and part of our conversations. “When a celebrity passes, the loss is personal — not because we knew the celebrity, but because they were with us as we grew up and as we had our own special moments,” Dr. Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, told U.S. News & World Report. In other words, they’re in emotional proximity to us even if we’ve never met them.
The celebrity objects of our teenage affection were safe vessels for sexual desire at a time when most boys walking the halls of our high schools didn’t quite live up to our ideals. Our celebrity crushes’ movies or music or TV shows are always available to us, so our relationships seemed ever-deepening. We’d have recognized his nose-crinkly smile anywhere; we knew the sound of his voice so well that we could replay it in our minds when we zoned out in class. On some level, the feelings were real. And years after abandoning the obsessive fantasy for more complicated relationships with real humans, some deep-down part of us is still in love with the ideal.
Even those of us who were culturally snobby teens can relate. I posted something sentimental about Lou Reed’s death in October because I spent my teen years mainlining the Velvet Underground. There are dozens of artists whose politics I admire more, whose music has touched me more deeply — but I was obsessed with Lou Reed during my most obsessive years. And it wasn’t even a sexual thing. Can you imagine the My So-Called Life generation’s reaction when Jared Leto dies — even if it’s from natural causes at age 102? Or, god forbid, if anything should ever happen to Ryan Gosling? Let’s not even talk about it.
Most Viewed Stories
Josh Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s Brother-in-Law, Was Spotted at the Women’s March
Bernie Sanders Wore the Only Appropriate Outfit to Trump’s Inauguration
A Scene from the D.C. Women’s March
Kellyanne Conway Goes With a Subtle Look for the Inauguration
Here’s the Official List of Speakers for the Women’s March on Washington
15 Protest Sign Ideas for the Women’s March on Washington
Tiffany & Co. Unveils New Collaboration With NYPD: Branded Barricades by Trump Tower
The Complicated, Controversial, Historic, Inspiring Women’s March
The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for the Women’s March
Over 1 Million New York Women Will Have Access to Free Contraception and Abortions
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.