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When Celebrities Die

When singer Whitney Houston died, expressions of grief and solidarity surfaced quickly on Facebook and Twitter. Similar results occurred with the deaths of Michael Jackson and television host Dick Clark, among others. Why are people so upset about a person they've never met?

Psychologist Richard Harris says that many people develop relationships with media characters in a similar manner to how they do so in real life. This one-sided relationship is most commonly observed between celebrities and their fans.

Harris says, "Somebody's real upset that their favorite soap opera character was killed off yesterday and they tell someone about that and they laugh. It's a very different reaction than if their grandmother had died."

According to Harris, "Many people have probably spent more time with the characters on (movies and in TV series) than they have with most of their real-life friends. Of course they haven't interacted with them--it's very one-sided. People can, if drama is particularly well acted and written, identify with the characters. That's a significant relationship."

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