Celebrity Suicide and our Hope of Glory

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Celebrities. We mock them. Mimic them. And hope that a little of their glory will rub off on us.

Then we read the headlines.

On Tuesday, June 5, as I was getting ready for Day 2 of our church’s Vacation Bible School, Kate Spade, creator of her self-named designer handbag line, was preparing to end her life. On Friday June 8, as the VBS week was ending, American chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain also ended his. Two Americans, both middle aged, both famous for their accomplishments, hanged themselves.

Because of their fame, we heard about it. Because of their success, we wondered why.

Celebrity suicide gets our attention. The sudden end of their glory wakes us up.

Not Just for Celebrities

Robin Williams. Marilyn Monroe. Sylvia Plath. David Foster Wallace. We’re shocked by their final famous action. We feel compassion for the pain that drove them to it. We’re grieved for the family members left behind to cope with it. The shocking news breaks and then the family asks for privacy so they can begin to heal.

The media gives them space and moves on to analyze the bigger picture of suicide in America. It’s not just the celebrities who are at risk. They tell us about the sharp rise in suicide rates among white, middle aged Americans since 1999, ordinary people like you and me.  Middle aged celebrities and middle aged high school dropouts suffer from the same malaise. Hopelessness. The situations may vary, but it is the loss of hope, the conclusion that no matter what you try, it won’t help, that is driving these deaths from despair.

That’s the media interpretation, but here’s my personal take on it. I get the despair of the ordinary citizen, but why are these people who have everything I’ve ever wanted taking their lives in despair? Weren’t they hoping for glory?

Why weren’t they happy when they got it?

Our Hopes for Glory

Who among us doesn’t want to be successful? Recognized by our peers for our achievements? Even famous?

I remember being bitten by the desire for applause when I was given a small part in a local children’s theater production. I loved every part of that experience—the rehearsals, learning my lines, applying makeup and waiting in the wings for my cue. But the curtain call put it over the top. Years later I took my first trip to New York to see Broadway shows. The very air made me heady with longing for success, New York style.

That’s why the celebrity suicide doesn’t just get my attention, it amazes and dismays me. It makes me ponder.

They seem to have arrived, to have it all, to be at the top of their game, but it’s not enough. The glory that we all want, they seem to wear with ease. Yet, their despair shouts that this glory isn’t enough. There is something more they need. If success doesn’t satisfy, what does?

My Glory

There is a glory we’re supposed to pursue. King David did. When he was on the run from his renegade son Absalom, he prayed for it. He prayed for God to save not just his life, but his reputation.

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

The crown had been David’s glory. But now he sees clearly that the Lord is. That is the hope that he carried into his exile. That hope sustained him in the night.

What is it that you hope for? And, if you got it, would you be happy?

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