2016 was an unkind year. Marked by violence, tragedy, mistrust, dreadful attacks, and political upheaval, the year delivered one final, deadly blow: it deprived us of some of our most beloved celebrities, our final rays of light. Even in the last month, let alone days,
of the year, as we all looked hopefully towards the bright light of 2017, 2016 decided to hurt us just a little bit more.
While these terrible disappearances tore our hearts apart, however, they also brought us closer together. Friends gathered, crowds developed, and the internet rallied to bring comfort to all the grief-stricken individuals of the world.
On Dec. 8, the world lost a hero. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. In 1962, the astronaut made history and captured the hearts of an entire generation. Along with NASA, he proved that with enough hard work, strength, and hope, even the seemingly impossible can be accomplished. But there is a secondary aspect of the astronaut’s career that many fail to take into consideration: his work with his wife, Annie, to help raise awareness for the stigma associated with speech impediments. Annie herself dealt with a severe stutter for most of her life, but she eventually managed to overcome it thanks to a special program. Together, husband and wife worked hard to support similar programs in the hope that others suffering from similar conditions might also find a way to move beyond their impediment. Their work led to Annie’s inclusion of the National Stuttering Association’s Hall of Fame. John Glenn’s career thus serves as a source of inspiration in every way: he was a hero, a role model simply by virtue of his role in space exploration, and he saw that status confirmed with the work he and his wife accomplished regarding the acceptance of people with speech impediments in our society.
On Dec. 25, George Michael, beloved singer, passed away. The music he created as a member of Wham! and then during his solo career left an indelible trace on modern pop music, accompanying us through times of joy, sadness, anger, and heartbreak. The hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” remains a timeless classic, a staple of any respectable party playlist. Following the band’s breakup, Michael truly came to his own and provided us with deeper, more insightful songs like “Freedom ‘90,” giving us a deeper look into the singer’s struggle with fame. While Michael’s artistry and music will be sorely missed, many fans have, in fact, evoked another aspect of the singer’s lifestyle
that touched them more profoundly: his homosexuality. Indeed, as a respected personality of the musical world, Michael ultimately acted as a leading figure of the LGBTQ community. His own story inspired many to feel comfortable expressing their own sexual identities, a task that remained difficult in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
A mere two days later, the world had to deal with the loss of our beautiful Princess Leia, dear Carrie Fisher. The actress took on many iconic roles, but she was remembered fondly by the public for her début as the courageous Star Wars princess in the original trilogy. The role of the Princess itself propelled Fisher to unprecedented fame, as she incarnated a new kind of damsel: not one to sit idly by while waiting for a prince to come rescue her, but rather a brave, smart, independent leader. Fisher put her character on par with her male counterparts; Princess Leia was crucial to the development of the plot, a key actor in the evolution of action, rather than a mere goal at the end of the quest. Fisher also gained popularity amongst her fans for her advocacy on mental health issues. She was extremely open about her struggles with bipolar disorder and taught people not to be ashamed of their own illnesses. Mental health remains one of the most highly stigmatised issues in contemporary society, making Fisher’s attitude all the more remarkable: she fought back against the hate, inspiring many others to learn how to accept themselves as they are. On Dec. 27, the public thus not only mourned the death of a feminist icon, but also that of a champion of mental illness.