Public figures and the average person alike all have one thing in common: death. It’s a universal truth that we all have to face at some point in our lives. When it comes to famous individuals who live their lives in the public eye, however, there are special considerations that must be made when discussing their deaths. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more obituaries for public figures who have died from suicide or drug overdoses. In some cases, such as with rapper Mac Miller, the details surrounding the death are still being revealed. Other notable figures who recently died include Avicii, XXXTentacion, and Anthony Bourdain. These articles discuss these celebrities and explore how journalists handle reporting on someone’s death when so much of their life is already known by the general public.
On April 30, 2003, world-famous chef and TV host, Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in France, where he was filming an episode of his show, No Reservations. He was just 61 years old. What many people don’t know, however, is that Bourdain died from an overdose. While the official cause of death was ruled to be an accidental overdose due to a combination of painkillers, sedatives, and alcohol, many outlets chose to focus on his history of mental illness and previous suicide attempts. These obituaries made sure to note that Bourdain had struggled with depression and had been in therapy since he was 9 years old. Some even mentioned that he had written about his mental health struggles in his book, Kitchen Confidential. Because Bourdain had been so open about his struggles, many obituaries stressed that his death was not surprising and that it should not be sensationalized.
On June 18, 2018, rapper Mac Miller was found unresponsive in his house in California. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and an autopsy later revealed that he had overdosed on fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol. Like with Bourdain, many obituaries chose to focus on his mental health, noting that he had struggled with substance abuse and had been open about his use of antidepressants. Some also noted that Miller had been criticized for glamorizing drug use, with many outlets writing that his music could be seen as a negative influence on his young fans. While these details are important when discussing death, many obituaries stressed that Miller’s death was not surprising and that it should not be sensationalized.
On June 7, 1989, President Ronald Reagan was shot while leaving a speech. He died on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93. On August 8, 2018, actress Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. On March 8, 1994, author and poet T.S. Eliot died at the age of 76. These obituaries provide a stark contrast to those of the celebrities who died from a drug overdose or suicide. These obituaries are markedly different from those found in the categories above. Instead of focusing on the causes of death, these obituaries focused on the celebrities’ legacies and what they meant to their fans. While the deaths of these famous people were mourned, their obituaries did not sensationalize their deaths.
When writing about someone’s death, it’s important to focus on the person’s life as opposed to their cause of death. This is especially true when discussing a public figure who has been very open about their struggles with mental health or substance abuse. Doing so can help bring awareness to these issues and can help others who may be going through a similar situation. With that being said, it’s important to discuss these issues in a sensitive way to try and prevent the obituary like Danville Register and Bee obituaries from being used as clickbait and to avoid stigmatizing people with mental health issues.