I remember the day I read on Facebook that Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist of Linkin Park, had committed suicide. It was July 20, 2017, to be exact, so just over a year ago. This was the first celebrity death that made me feel sad, as if somebody I knew personally had died. So many of my peers deeply related with the music Chester created with Linkin Park, and so many of us shared the same struggles that led him to take his own life. Many Linkin Park songs ended on a positive note, so it was easy to believe that whatever problem Chester sang about was in his past, not the present.
We were wrong.
As a believer, there’s a sense of guilt that comes when a favorite celebrity dies of a preventable cause. Even if there was no way we could have known about this person’s problems, we still think if only….
I once saw a video a man had made in appreciation for his grandmother, who had recently passed away. I don’t remember the names of the grandson or the grandmother, nor do I remember where I had watched the video, but I remember one thing the grandson said: “Until the day she died, my grandmother prayed for Frank Sinatra’s salvation.”
I thought that was so endearing, the image of this sweet old lady sitting at her table early in the morning, reading the Word and praying for her loved ones, and as she reaches the end of her prayers, she says, “And Father, I ask that you please save Frank Sinatra. He is my favorite singer, and I want to hear Him sing your praises for eternity.” This woman didn’t just enjoy Sinatra’s music–she was concerned for him as a human being with a soul.
This kind of thinking is lost on our society. We worship the artist, not the Creator who made the artist and gave them their gifts. As we worship the artist, we become voracious consumers, asking them to give us more. More new music. More new movies. More social media posts to pore over with our friends. We want to know everything about them–but we wouldn’t care to actually know them, not as the real living, breathing, normal human beings that they are. We turn them into caricatures and icons, and in turn, many artists embrace the reality that they are an image, not an actual person. They become a brand to be sold and manipulated and exploited at the will of the powerful people around them, who fund their “art” and pull their strings behind-the-scenes. Threats are made. Money becomes a god. The thought of becoming an irrelevant “nobody” seems like a fate worse than death. The pressure to always put forth this carefully cultivated image takes its toll. Soon the artist, who has few, if any, friends they can confide in, turns to other things to cope with the overwhelming emotions that accompany this life they’ve chosen. This is not what they wanted when they started out. Many only wanted to simply make art. That good intention quickly became corrupted by fame–and a desire for more of it. The artist became a celebrity.
Then one day, when we least expect it, we open Facebook and find that the top article is about the death of our favorite celebrity. We didn’t see it coming. We write a post about how that person’s art affected our lives. We post on Twitter with a sheepish #RIP next to their name. We join a Facebook group to collectively mourn with other fans and share our favorite works and moments from that celebrity’s life. The news cycle takes full advantage of this death, knowing that channel surfers will tune in once they hear “and later, we discuss the tragic death of celebrity so-and-so and the legacy they left behind.” If the circumstances surrounding the death are somewhat ambiguous, we can trust that the media will milk this death for all its worth–at least for about a month or so. Then eventually we all move on, only to repeat the same process when the next celebrity dies.
This is unacceptable.
As believers in Messiah, I believe we have the unique responsibility, or at least the unique opportunity and privilege, to intercede for the celebrities we care about. It is not enough to consume their art–we should care about their souls as well. Beneath the beautiful facade is a soul that’s longing to be set free. Perhaps there is a private struggle that has been hidden for years. Even if it’s out in the open, have we ever cared either way? Why do we only care about what these artists can give us?
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until you read that article about the accident, the overdose, or the suicide that has taken this person’s life. This is not just about salvation–I want to see these people experience the abundant life that Messiah offers to those who live for Him. I want to see them live in freedom from anything that keeps them in bondage, whether it’s an addiction, an eating disorder, or a bad relationship. If you don’t want to see your favorite celebrity struggle with loneliness, addiction, and self-loathing, and if you want to see them spending a joyful eternity with the Lord, then pray for them. I challenge you to do it the next time you see that person’s name pop up on your newsfeed.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)