Our heroes don’t die, so long as they spark passion

So – Prince, a storyteller through music and acting, passed away on Thursday.

WWE female wrestling personality, Chyna, died that same day.

On April 17, Doris Roberts – the grandmother from Everybody Loves Raymond – died. The last few months have been filled with celebrity deaths. Patty Duke, Garry Shandling, Harper Lee, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister, and several others have been lost over the last year.

While most of these deaths were only tabloid blips to me, there were a few that really hit home.

I’m an aspiring writer and proudly proclaim myself to be a geek and a metalhead, so the deaths of Harper Lee, Alan Rickman and Lemmy Kilmister hit me rather hard.

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t one of my favorite authors. In fact, I’ve only read excerpts of her book, but I admired her quite a bit. Lee was everything the aspiring writer wants to be. She won awards, inspired others and found success that included the respect of her peers. She did all of this by doing the simplest things; she followed her passion and allowed the world around her to inspire her stories.

I first became aware of Alan Rickman when he played bad guy, Hans Gruber in the original Die Hard movie in 1988. He was deliciously evil and his voice dripped with malicious intent whenever he spoke. His portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (“Because it’s dull you idiot! It’ll hurt more!”) made the movie a favorite for many years. His portrayal of an older, married man in Love Actually has torn at many a heart. Later, he played the angel Metatron in Dogma, then Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest and topped his geeky portfolio off by playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. His raw talent and passion for his work shined through in everything he did, and he told such wonderful stories through his acting.

Then there’s Lemmy, who we lost December 28 of 2015. For millions of metalheads around the world, he only needs one name. While he had been in other bands during the 1960s, Lemmy first found success in the band Hawkwind in 1971. He performed with them for four years and founded the band Motörhead in 1975. Motörhead was extremely successful with 21 albums and world tours right up to the point that Lemmy became ill. Their most famous song is probably Ace of Spades, with Lemmy’s distinctive and gritty voice perched above a powerful speed metal melody and a powerful bass performance on Lemmy’s Rickenbacker bass guitar.  Lemmy himself collaborated with an enormous variety of musicians, documentarians and other performers during his 56-year career, telling stories through his music.

Thinking of the loss of these talented people always tends to be depressing, but only at first if we take the thought process to its proper end. It isn’t sad that these people burned so brightly and were snuffed out. Their flame was bright because of they did the work they were passionate about. They grabbed ahold of their dreams and used their amazing talents to tell stories that inspire us all. They haven’t burned out; they’ve simply stoked fires for the rest of us.

Last week, VoiceBox Media staff attended the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. The event is one I’ve attended a couple of times now, and I am looking forward to being a regular attendee. The best thing about the event is that it is filled with amazingly inspiring storytellers, just like Lee, Rickman and Lemmy in their own ways.

Kara Swisher, executive editor and host of the Re/code Decode podcast delivers her presentation at ISOJ.

Kara Swisher, executive editor and host of the Re/code Decode podcast delivers her presentation at ISOJ. Photograph by R. Hans Miller.

Perhaps the most important similarity is that they stoke the fires in the storytellers, young and old, that sit in the audience watching their presentations. The symposium isn’t a series of those boring lecture presentations that we all had to sit through in high school when the principal’s buddy from college was trying to brag about some pet project. The event is a gathering of the world’s best and brightest (and bravest, in my opinion) journalists.

We heard from Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban journalist who dares to operate an online newspaper that criticizes the Castro regime. Then there was Trevor Snapp, the director of programs at Nuba Reports – an organization that spreads news through a nation that is filled with civil unrest and government repression of the press when possible.

A little closer to home is the co-founder and CEO of the Texas Tribune, Evan Smith. The Texas Tribune covers issues, especially political, that impact Texas both locally and globally. All of them are passionate about their work as storytellers and I am sure they stoked the fires in their audiences as well.

Yes, we’ve lost a lot of great talent over the last several months. While it is saddening to see those inspirational figures move on to whatever comes after this life, it’s important that we honor them. They created great stories to inspire us to pursue our own passions, and they’re not the only flames in the world. All it takes is looking for the ember they left behind in our own hearts and adding a little fuel.

With that said, I leave you with Motörhead’s Fire, Fire.

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