Princess Joins Ranks of the Youthful Dead

Article excerpt

There's a sad and persistent cachet about those who die young.

Gone forever. Dead before a line furrows their brows.

As the world sorts out the reactions to the death of everyone's golden princess, appalling and poignant in the endless details no one seems to get enough of, she joins the ranks of those who left us before their time.

The roster is a long one.

Elvis, Marilyn - who was, like Princess Diana, 36 at the time of her death - John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Tupac Shakur, James Dean, Rudolph Valentino, Jean Harlow, Lou Gehrig, Bruce Lee, Sylvia Plath, Jim Morrison, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Kurt Cobain, Gianni Versace, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, John Belushi. Among them Jeb Stuart and the Gallant Pelham, to name the two most romantic heroes from our most romantic war.

Their deaths inspire reactions both noble and tacky, whether it's A.E. Housman's poem "To an Athlete Dying Young," the 1981 Rolling Stone magazine cover which read, "Jim Morrison: He's hot, he's sexy and he's dead." Or Harrod's, putting photographs of Dodi and Diane in a display window, linking them by a spray of flowers, as if they had been joined in life by more than a holiday of the rich and famous.

The Jim Morrison cover line was written 10 years after the rock star was discovered dead of a drug overdose in a Paris bathtub.

"In theory, young celebrities shouldn't, and don't die," says Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who counts celebrities among her clientele. "The public believes they are above the law, and above natural law as well." And when one of them dies, the public is shocked, sad, outraged and nervous - because if a celebrity who was young and famous can die, so can everyone else.

"All of us have our reactions when confronting mortality," she says. "We have many modes of mourning, and many ways to help ourselves cope with it all."

This week's media maelstrom, while supplying the facts in enormous detail, also analyzed the cross-section of public reaction. …