By Anne Hamilton, M.F.A.

I was saddened by the news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death on June 25th.

We were kids together. We grew up together. We both sang and danced little routines, and had dreams of becoming a star.

Of course, his dreams came true and he became an international star – but he took me along for the ride somehow, anyway. This is why I feel sad and have taken some moments to grieve. I grieve first for my own lack of success, in a way, and also that his genius was lost way too soon.

Michael Jackson was on TV with his brothers when I was a little kid. I watched his TV show every Saturday morning on our black and white TV with rabbit ears that needed to be warmed up in time for the opening song to start.

The term “pop culture icon” wasn’t invented yet. It was invented when people like Michael Jackson grew up to become who he became.

And Farrah Fawcett was just simply beautiful. She came of age when I was a teenager, and her smile radiated from one end of the country to the other.

The sadness that a society feels when its icons dies is complex. Primarily, it stems from being reminded that life does not go on forever – for anyone. Of course, it reminds us that we are mortals, because we have seen one of our contemporaries pass away. When there is any kind of sad, accidental, or sensational story attached to the death, we feel the actual shock and sympathy for the icon – and we empathize with his or her suffering.

Thousands and thousands of talented people throw themselves into the entertainment profession, hoping to become a star. Although they may seem to live glamorous lives, often their pain seems magnified. Sometimes they succumb to addictions, or misuse of drugs, alcohol, or painkillers. Sometimes a natural illness occurs.

The key feature of watching and loving a popular icon is that – despite setbacks of many kinds, over many years – they continue to produce meaningful work that touches our hearts and souls, and becomes a part of our everyday lives.

That sense of walking along the same road – although it is a very different daily road for each of us – is ended when the celebrity dies.

I always mourn the loss of the talent, the generosity, and the whirlwind of activity that?stops with the death of an admired iconic talent. I always wonder, “What would have come next?” and “Who will replace him or her now?”

However, just as when we experience any other death, this is the time to have faith, to look around and see that there are many other talents surrounding us, giving us music, great performances, a steady presence, and a loving and brilliant contribution to society. Perhaps it’s time to find, or support, a new talent. The best thing is that in the cycle of existence, many are born, rise, give their hearts to us, and pass away. And we do the same for them.

In a way, we recognize our own contribution to culture and society when a celebrity passes away. A celebrity gets celebrated. We need to continue celebrating. The cycle continues, so let’s accept the new faces which rise up to meet us. And continue to celebrate the power and genius inherent in our own lives everyday.

Anne Hamilton is an award-winning Columbia University graduate and the principal of Hamilton Dramaturgy. To ask Anne for help on developing your own play, screenplay, poetry, fiction or non-fiction, please contact her at

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Anne Hamilton

Anne Hamilton is an NYC-based freelance dramaturg and the Founder of Hamilton Dramaturgy, an international consultancy. She created Hamilton Dramaturgy’s TheatreNow!, where she hosts and produces an oral history podcast series of important theatre women working in America. Anne has dramaturged for Andrei Serban, Michael Mayer, Lynn Nottage, NYMF, Niegel Smith, Classic Stage Company, and the Great Plains Theatre Festival, among others. She is also an award-winning playwright. Her chapter, “Freelance Dramaturgs in the 21st Century: Journalists, Advocates, and Collaborators” appears in The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy. She was a Bogliasco Foundation Fellow, won the Dean’s Prize for Dramaturgy at Columbia University School of the Arts, and holds dual citizenship in Italy and the United States. Anne lost her best friend Curtis in a head-on car accident in 1979, two weeks after his high school graduation. Her emotional life became frozen and she has spent the last thirty-two years exploring all areas of self-expression, particularly through stage plays, poetry, theatre, art, and music. She is currently developing her own chamber-play-with-dance entitled ANOTHER WHITE SHIRT, about the way that grief moves through the body.

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