Luke Perry, a talented actor and a generation-crossing heartthrob, died Monday. And as these things usually go, there is a great outpouring of grief across the media -- especially social media. Here, the reaction to his death is tinged with a particular kind of discomfort.
Perry was just 52, not much older than those fans who watched his '90s breakout show, "Beverly Hills, 90210," in their teens and early 20s. Despite his bad boy persona, Perry didn't die from driving too fast or overdosing on drugs or living too hard. He just -- died, as so many humans do, from a seemingly indiscriminate failure of the body. A massive stroke, his publicist said.
For Perry's older fans, his death is a reminder of a youth that is receding in the rearview mirror, even as mortality is approaching way too fast.
Those same girls (and a few boys) who stormed malls in the early '90s (some even getting injured in the rush), are now nearing 50 themselves. Given that the average American woman lives to be 81 and the average man 76, Perry's death comes, culturally and statistically, far too soon -- and closer to the current ages of his then-teenage fans than to the national average.
Perhaps that's part of what is so jarring. If only the good die young, and many of the young die from the wildness of youth, we at least want to believe that those who die in the in-between of middle age did something to speed it all along. When someone vibrant, prosperous and beautiful dies simply because of a corporeal malfunction, it becomes painfully clear that while we can and should take care of ourselves, much of how we exit this life is beyond our control.
It is also a reminder that many of us are tipping into the middle of -- or second half of -- life's ledger. Luke Perry was a flesh-and-blood human whose passing forces us to face that we are now at an age where our teen idols' bodies give out -- which is, inconveniently, also an age where our bodies could do the same.
There is no positive spin on death, nothing that is made better by the passing of a talented, charismatic, and by all accounts thoroughly decent man. And these middle-aged celebrity deaths, arms-length as they are, may shock and sadden us, but they do not utterly level us or fundamentally change our lives like the deaths of close loved ones.
They do offer unique moments for sincere reflection on our own choices, and our own paths.
We may not end up walking as far as we would like. Are we happy with the trail we have left behind us?
(abbreviated from CNN)