It’s been over a month of the Earth spinning without David Bowie and Alan Rickman still on it, still creating art. I wanted to write about it right away, but it seemed too fresh, and now that time’s passed, I feel like I can better put into words what it’s meant.
Some people say it’s pointless to have “heroes” or look up to celebrities because they’re as fallible as the rest of us; that they’re “nobody special” and I didn’t know them personally nor they me, so why are my emotions involved?
Well, I can take that argument five steps further than most, because I *have* known some of my heroes personally. I dated one of them for half of my twenties. I can tell you that what you think you know about someone whose work you admire may be twenty miles from the truth. But what I can also say is, whether you have a real-life connection or not is not the point. The point is the work, and the gratitude you have for that person’s willingness to share it with the world. A person’s work can say different things, specific to each person who receives it. And that’s part of its beauty. That’s part of what makes living beautiful.
Like a lot of people from my generation, I suspect, Labyrinth was my childhood gateway to David Bowie. Still one of my favourite films, partly because my biggest creative hero in life, without realising it for many years, is Jim Henson. Sesame Street and the Muppet Show played a huge role in the kind of person I grew up to be. Sesame Street in the 70s & 80s was *magic* and it taught kids so much. It’s still teaching today. If you ever get the chance, check out Jim Henson’s biography by Brian Jay Jones, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
What Jim did was devote his life to his passion, through incredibly difficult times, through painful rejection on his most beloved projects that he put his entire heart and soul into, and he never gave up. He was also taken from us too soon, though it’s mind-boggling to think he could’ve given more than he did. He drew teams of other visionary artists around him, and they made worlds of education and love and storytelling come alive. People toss around the word “legacy” with little consideration for its weight, but Henson, Bowie, and Rickman truly have left us their legacies.
So Labyrinth was a big deal for me, and Bowie was genius casting. He was Jareth. He was a goblin king of both light and dark, unafraid to face both sides and question each. As I got older and played in bands, one band covered Ziggy Stardust, and our guitarist gave me the album as a present (thank you, Jeremy). I was enthralled. It had taken me that long to dive into Bowie’s music, and as trite as it sounds, he truly lives on in it. He’s not gone from this planet. He’s here for as long as we are.
If you missed it, another of my heroes, my favourite actor Gary Oldman, gave the most perfect and moving tribute to Bowie at the Brit Awards, along with Annie Lennox. I don’t think anyone could put it into better words than these two.
And Alan Rickman. Another of my favourite actors, This was such a hard week and I think I must have said, “No, that can’t be right,” in utter confusion for several minutes when scrolling through headlines. I loved Alan’s work since Die Hard, from music videos to personal projects to Hollywood blockbusters, to Snape, to my favourite philanderer in Love, Actually. He was also an artist who gave his everything, not for celebrity or red-carpet moments, but because his soul’s expression was through the characters he brought to life. You could see the passion written on his face. You believed him, every time, utterly. And if you read his quotes in recent tributes, you know he believed his talent was a responsibility. It was serious work, to him. It wasn’t a job – it was a calling in life that he could not refuse or ignore. He knew he had a platform to do good things, and he used it.
The similarity between Bowie and Rickman isn’t just that we lost both during that horrible week; it’s passion. Both reached inside and brought it out with every creation. There was no half-assing. They could do nothing BUT give us their all.
So why do I look up to the people I call my “heroes”? If they’re fallible and imperfect like the rest of us, and they just happened to be born with drive and talent and innovative minds, and they got money and fame in exchange for doing it, why do I look up to them?
Because they didn’t stifle their creative voice. They did something with it that’s inspired me to share my own. There are hundreds of pop songs, fun books, films, TV shows, theatrical shows, and actors I enjoy immensely — but there are only a *handful* of creative people I call heroes. They’re the ones who bring me true joy, who make me feel alive, whose work shows me something important about life. They’re the ones who’ve inspired me to live better, work harder, create more, and not give up on my own passion.
We all have passion inside us for something, but sadly, I don’t think we all chase it as though our life depends on it. These two did, and I’m grateful to God for it.
“A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”
– Alan Rickman