Impacted by reports of our favorite celebrity deaths, we mourn the individual and seek solace in our memories of the personalities we did not know but with whom we had formed a relationship.
As this feeling of kinship often developed during our childhood, our sadness increases as we read the celebrity obituaries.
Why are we so grief stricken with word of our favorite celebrity’s passing? Do we mourn the dead celebrities or lament what used to be?
As an increased media presence gave rise to an unprecedented intimacy, we gained access to 1950s movie stars and personalities on and off screen lives and drew comfort from their familiarity.
Beginning with the 1951 premiere of his television series, millions of children formed a bond with “The King of Cowboys” when Roy Rogers became a member of our Sunday night family. Although many of us had grandchildren by the time Rogers died in 1998, we felt a sense of loss. We were even saddened by the 1965 death of his Golden Palomino, Trigger.
While not many of us remember the actual passing of the following 1950s movie stars and celebrities, we are often melancholy when thinking of them. Some of the more notable celebrity deaths during the fifties include:
- King George VI (December 14, 1895 – February 6, 1952) – The King of England who led Great Britain during the Second World War. He ascended the throne after the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. His oldest daughter Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II upon his death.
- Hank Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) – Hank Williams’ death in 1953 at the age of 29 ended the career of history’s most significant country music entertainer.
- James Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) – James Dean’s portrayal of a troubled teenager in John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden allowed fifties teenagers to identify with his character. His performances in East of Eden and Giant garnered him posthumous Academy Awards nominations.
- Humphrey Bogart (December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957) – One of Hollywood’s original “bad boys.” His death seems especially sad as he had only married Lauren Bacall in 1945.
- Michael Todd (June 22, 1909 – March 22, 1958) – Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband and the only one she did not divorce.
- Gladys Presley (April 25, 1925 – August 14, 1958) – Elvis Presley’s beloved Mother.
- Ritchie Valens (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959) – Mexican American rock and roll pioneer.
- J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959) – Best known for his recording of the still popular song “Chantilly Lace.”
- Buddy Holly (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959) – American singer and songwriter’ whose short career so influenced the early rock and roll music, he was among the first inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- George Reeves (January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959) – The original Superman.
- Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) – A pioneer in American Jazz.
- Errol Flynn (June 20, 1909 – October 14, 1959) – One of Hollywood’s first action hero.