Frequent contributor, Michelle Carter, writes:

Hi Tim,

  I thought I’d put a bug in your ear about this to see what you think about it. We FDs tend to get a bit starstruck and pour over every detail of the funeral of say, a former president. But how many of us paid close attention to Heath Ledger’s funeral? On the flip side, how many of his fans did?

  I think there’s a perception that the Hollywood types ‘just get cremated’, but Heath was embalmed, casketed, and had services in NY, LA and Australia.

What caught my eye was reading the captions under the photos on the site TMZ.com that said things like, “Michelle Williams shows courage during a celebration” and “The real tribute took place when Heath’s friends took a dip in the ocean.”

  Your thoughts?

I was also interested in how younger people reacted to his death.  Well, any unexpected death of a young icon, for that matter. 

And while we could argue the merits of Mr. Ledger’s career or whether he ranks up there with James Dean or Marilyn Monroe when it comes to untimely demises, we can’t ignore the fact that so many of his young fans may have experienced his funeral as their first.

How many of us actually paid attention to Heath’s funeral?  “But I don’t have time to pay attention to celebrity funerals!” you claim. 

But even I made time in my busy schedule to watch President Reagan’s funeral (I actually have six hours of it on videotape!).  A big part of me was fascinated by the all the details that a state funeral required.  I’m sure many funeral professionals were similarly engaged by the television coverage.

You may protest, but I know many of us paid attention, even though it’s unlikely any of us will be called upon to carry out a service even half as detailed or involved.  Likewise, I’m sure most of us felt comfortable ignoring Mr. Ledger’s services.  Surely, a celebrity funeral won’t change much in the world, right?  Not like a big state funeral will.

But while big ornate funerals (Princess Diana, Presidents Reagan and Ford, Pope John Paul II) may tug at a nation’s heartstrings, but they do little to influence the funeral customs of the viewer. 

At least not the way of a close friend or close “celebrity friend” might. 

Why?  Because actors, singers and other media darlings endear themselves to their fans by forging personal connections.  Why do you think so many celebrities share their personal lives with tabloids?  Sure, some get hounded without their permission, but a great number of them employ teams of publicists to make sure they get into the paper.

Have a favorite singer?  Find his/her personal website.  I bet you 10-1 that it’s filled with personal stuff.  Some celebrities even publish their own blog where they spout opinions about everything from politics to positive body image.

And because they get so “close” to their fans, the way they lead their lives (and their deaths) can strongly affect their followers.  If Bono (lead singer of U2) says to buy a red cellphone to benefit AIDS charities in Africa, a whole lotta people are going to buy one.

So yes, Melissa, I noticed the funeral for Heath Ledger and I was also struck by the way it was portrayed by some of the media.  I think we’d all benefit by paying attention to the way younger folks talk about death and how death is presented to them by news sources.

Former fiancee Michelle Williams enjoys the water during a wake for Heath Ledger at Cottesloe Beach in Perth.
At the wake, Ledger’s friends frolick at his favorite surf spot.

You can read the full TMZ article here.

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