The year the music died

Those musicians who left us in 2016 created the soundtrack to many people’s lives

George Michael has died at the age of 53. Ade Johnson / EPA
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The death of British pop superstar George Michael has, according to some of the pundits on social media, “confirmed” the theory that 2016 was somehow cursed. This is, of course, nonsense. While it is true that a large number of celebrities have passed away this year, it is not unusual that people of a certain age, from a certain era – and, in the case of some, celebrities who had excessive lifestyles – would die around the same time.

Michael’s death at 53 was untimely, but people die all the time, at all ages, and the vast majority of deaths go unreported. What is exceptional about the passing of celebrities is that many of us have a strong emotional connection to them. We feel the loss in almost the same way we feel the death of a family member.

We believe we know these people because their creative work has framed our lives. Michael's death struck a chord with a generation of people who bopped to Wham! hits such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and I'm Your Man in the 1980s, and then followed as his career as a songwriter and singer matured into producing such hits as Careless Whisper, Faith and the seasonal classic, Last Christmas. His death – on Christmas Day – affected many people deeply, including fellow musicians Sir Elton John, Robbie Williams and Bryan Adams, but also political figures. They included Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon – who referred to herself as an "80s teen" and tweeted a picture of the George Michael album she was listening to – and London mayor Sadiq Khan. Others noted his work for charities and political and social causes.

The story was the same with the others we lost this year – Prince, David Bowie, Beatles producer George Martin, Leonard Cohen and, just last week, Rick Parfitt, whose band Status Quo was first on the bill at the massive Live Aid concert. These artists spoke to their own generation and beyond. Their works endure thanks to reissues, remixes and cover versions, such as Jeff Buckley's haunting rendition of Cohen's Hallelujah. Their songs crossed the boundaries of age and cultural diferences, and became the soundtrack to the lives of million of others.