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With the loss of its celebrities, Gen X ponders mortality

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/28/2016 By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
FILE - In this April 22, 2016 file photo, flowers lie on a T-shirt signed by fans at a makeshift memorial for musician Prince outside the Apollo Theater in New York. The singer died April 21, 2016, at the age of 57. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this April 22, 2016 file photo, flowers lie on a T-shirt signed by fans at a makeshift memorial for musician Prince outside the Apollo Theater in New York. The singer died April 21, 2016, at the age of 57. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki, File)

Princess Leia was our first girl movie heroine, and we made our moms braid brunette yarn so we'd have earmuff buns for Halloween. Carol Brady of "The Brady Bunch" was the ideal mother we probably didn't have, because our moms had to work and left us latchkey kids home alone, with TV and processed food our only companions.

FILE - In this Friday, July 10, 2015 file photo, from left, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford attend a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif. On Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, a family publicist said Fisher died at the age of 60. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Friday, July 10, 2015 file photo, from left, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford attend a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif. On Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, a family publicist said Fisher died at the age of 60. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Carrie Fisher and Florence Henderson — and other icons of Generation X's youth — are now gone, stolen by the cruel thief that is 2016. The year has left the generation born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1989 file photo, musician George Michael holds his trophy after winning the 1989 Video "Vanguard Award" for his "Father Figure" video during the MTV Music Awards at the Universal Ampitheatre in Universal City, Calf. Michael, who rocketed to stardom with WHAM! and went on to enjoy a long and celebrated solo career lined with controversies, has died, his publicist said Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. He was 53. (AP Photo/Alan Greth) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1989 file photo, musician George Michael holds his trophy after winning the 1989 Video "Vanguard Award" for his "Father Figure" video during the MTV Music Awards at the Universal Ampitheatre in Universal City, Calf. Michael, who rocketed to stardom with WHAM! and went on to enjoy a long and celebrated solo career lined with controversies, has died, his publicist said Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. He was 53. (AP Photo/Alan Greth)

"It's a very melancholy time," sighed Shelly Ransom, a 47-year-old speech-language pathologist in Darien, Connecticut. "This is really bringing back a lot of teen angsty feelings. These people are supposed to still be the voices of my generation. It's sad to see these artists not there to be our voice."

FILE - This Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 file photo shows tributes left outside the home of British musician George Michael in London. Michael, who rocketed to stardom with WHAM! and went on to enjoy a long and celebrated solo career lined with controversies, has died, his publicist said Sunday. He was 53. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland) © The Associated Press FILE - This Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 file photo shows tributes left outside the home of British musician George Michael in London. Michael, who rocketed to stardom with WHAM! and went on to enjoy a long and celebrated solo career lined with controversies, has died, his publicist said Sunday. He was 53. With the loss of several icons of Generation X’s youth, the year 2016 has left the generation born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, wallowing in memories and contemplating its own mortality. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Or, as weary, 51-year-old Lawrence Feeney, a filmmaker from New Port Richey, Florida, put it: "You lose George Michael and Carrie Fisher in a three-day span, you feel like you've gotten a couple of daggers thrown at you."

FILE - In this Saturday, April 14, 2007 file photo, Florence Henderson, center, speaks, as she and, from left, Ann B. Davis, Maureen McCormick, Mike Lookinland, Lloyd Schwartz, Susan Olsen and Barry Williams of the television show "The Brandy Bunch" accept the Pop Culture Award during the 5th Annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. Henderson, who went from Broadway star to become one of America's most beloved television moms, died on Nov. 24, 2016. She was 82. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Saturday, April 14, 2007 file photo, Florence Henderson, center, speaks, as she and, from left, Ann B. Davis, Maureen McCormick, Mike Lookinland, Lloyd Schwartz, Susan Olsen and Barry Williams of the television show "The Brandy Bunch" accept the Pop Culture Award during the 5th Annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. Henderson, who went from Broadway star to become one of America's most beloved television moms, died on Nov. 24, 2016. She was 82. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Throughout the year, office conversations, dinner party discussions and social media have exploded with incredulity, sadness and fear, as one '80s celebrity after another died, starting in January with David Bowie.

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 file photo people gather next to tributes placed near a mural of British musician David Bowie by artist Jimmy C, in Brixton, south London. Bowie, the other-worldly musician who broke pop and rock boundaries with his creative musicianship, nonconformity, striking visuals and a genre-spanning persona he christened Ziggy Stardust, died Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 file photo people gather next to tributes placed near a mural of British musician David Bowie by artist Jimmy C, in Brixton, south London. Bowie, the other-worldly musician who broke pop and rock boundaries with his creative musicianship, nonconformity, striking visuals and a genre-spanning persona he christened Ziggy Stardust, died Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)

The feelings have been particularly acute for Gen X, whose members came of age when many of these cultural figures were popular.

We adored Bowie in the movie "Labyrinth" and danced to "Modern Love" at prom. We remember reading the words "Purple Rain" on the theater marquee and wondered why that little guy in high heels was so sexy. We made out fervently in cars in high school as George Michael crooned on the FM dial (Remember radio? It came decades before Spotify, and you couldn't pick your music).

"We were the generation that was going to change the world. When I was a young man, I watched people my age stand in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square and tear down the Berlin Wall. Now I find myself complaining about arthritis in my hands and taking care of my aging parents," lamented Rob Withrow, a 43-year-old landscape business owner in Palm Bay, Florida.

He added: "The musicians I admired growing up are now dying off. Hopefully, I still have quite a few more decades left in me, but the reality of dying is much clearer to see."

Of course, this happens to every generation: Our idols die off, and we suddenly feel our youth slipping away.

But Lou Manza, a professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, said baby boomers and older generations weren't as invested in or connected to their celebrities. Gen X had MTV, which put pop stars like Prince and Bowie into our homes in heavy rotation.

That, combined with the immediacy and intimacy of 21st-century social media — we knew when platinum-haired punk rocker Billy Idol turned 61 because Facebook informed us, for instance — amplifies the sadness.

"Our parents in the '70s would hear about a celebrity death on the nightly news, or the next day in the newspaper," Manza said. "Now, there's more and more of an immediacy with every successive generation."

Sarah McBride Wagner, a 37-year-old writer in Weirton, West Virginia, said social media has created a place for collective mourning.

"We've never met these people. Yet we're all so affected by it," she said. "Being a shared grief both makes it bigger and easier."

For some, the death of beloved childhood figures reminds us of the passing of people closer to us and of the march of time, which seems more like a fast jog.

"We're at the age now when we really start to see ourselves in our parents. My son just turned 10, and it occurred to me as he hung out with my parents that it's really not going to be too many more years before my husband and I are my parents, and he is us," said Amanda Forman, a 38-year-old mother of three and a writer from Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

"The celebrity deaths of people we've admired exacerbate those feelings. I think in the case of those who passed who are slightly older, it makes us feel like we are that much closer, that our generation is next. And it makes us feel like our childhood is that much further behind us."

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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