On October 14, it seemed that almost the entire internet mourned the death of Robbie Coltrane. Most of the people affected by the news of his passing wouldn’t have known of him outside of his profession, and yet, despite the internet never knowing or even meeting Coltrane, they mourned for him. This poses the question: why is it that a complete stranger could have such an impact on our lives?
Something similar happened just a few years back with the passing of Chadwick Boseman. News of his death spread through the internet in August 2020 after his fight with cancer. He had made quite a name for himself in his role as the Black Panther in several Marvel movies. When he died, fans of Boseman around the world mourned, all affected by his work and equally affected by his death.
Acting is an important profession, as a good actor can make or break a movie, and a good movie can impact millions of people. This was the case with Boseman. In Black Panther (2018), Boseman was able to show the world what he could do in a lead role, rather than in the role of a side character. Through a combination of his acting and the brilliance of the film as a whole, Black Panther soon became a household name. The image of Boseman was forever linked to the character, and so the attachment that people had to the character was transferred to the actor himself. Despite never knowing him personally, he became an important part of people’s lives and as a result, his death affected far more than those who were close to him.
I believe that youth plays a huge part in someone’s attachment to an actor. While I wasn’t young around the time of Black Panther, I did grow up with the Harry Potter franchise. Speaking personally, I would’ve been roughly six or seven years old when I first saw a Harry Potter film, which would have been my first exposure to Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. For 10 years after the release of the first film in 2001, Warner Bros. Pictures would release a Harry Potter movie almost every year. As a result, children growing up would see these characters and actors consistently for a decade. Being attached to a character for that long, especially in the early stages of development, can cause a child to develop a strong emotional attachment to the character.
I know this was the case for myself and many of my friends who grew up watching the Harry Potter films. As we grew older, so did the actors, and Coltrane’s death has also brought the death of a beloved character whom we have spent most of our childhood watching and admiring. With this comes the sudden realization that we are no longer kids, and the people who shaped our childhood are slowly becoming people of the past.
That being said, these actors are not gone completely. Their films remain, and thereby, the impact they have made on people lingers long after they’ve passed. Through the Harry Potter films, Coltrane will be immortalized as Hagrid and as a result, he will never really be gone.
Sometimes the immortalization of actors can be taken too far, as was the case, in my opinion, of the Star Wars franchise continuing to use the likeness of Carrie Fisher in the films shot after her passing. This sense of ‘keeping the character alive’ doesn’t sit right with me and many other fans of the movies. Someone can still be remembered and immortalized without the use of CGI to mimic the actor on set. I think there is something inherently wrong about not allowing the dead to remain dead, and somewhat disturbing the peace they would otherwise deserve.
It is always disheartening to hear of the passing of someone you looked up to as a child, however, thanks to their work, they will never be gone completely. The impact that these actors have doesn’t end with their death. While working in the art industry, everything you do will have a lasting impact, and will almost always outlive you.
Rest in peace, Robbie Coltrane, and everyone else mentioned in this article.