Many celebrities who I have been a fan of have passed away too soon; increasingly so in the last few years. None have hit me so hard as the death of River Phoenix in 1993 – when I was 15-years-old, and Michael Jackson in 2009. I fully mourned both, even though I had never met either of them.
After I lost my Dad suddenly last February, two days after his 65th birthday, I thought that the passing of a celebrity may not affect me ever again. As much as I cried when River Phoenix and Michael Jackson died, it didn't come close to the pain of losing my father.
Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by all of the celebrity deaths in 2016. I was a big fan of both Prince and George Michael. Carrie Fisher was a fantastic woman who I'd met just three months before she passed away. But I had distanced myself from the grief. Every time I saw someone post about how much 2016 sucks for taking all of these great celebrities from us, all I could think was, “Worst of all, it took my Dad,” who I still grieve for and probably always will.
Last week when I saw Tommy Page's name trending on the side of my Facebook feed, I felt my heart drop. I don't know why, but I knew that when I clicked on his name it would tell me that he'd passed away.
I hadn't been an active fan for some time, but his Paintings in My Mind had been one of the all-time most listened to albums in my music collection. I always found it to be very calming and beautiful, his angelic voice so soothing.
In the days since he's passed I've been reading about his post-nineties life and appreciating his music with tears in my eyes, wishing I had spent more time listening to it beyond my teen years while he was still alive. The more I learned about Tommy, the more heartbroken I became over this tragic loss.
By all accounts of those who knew him well, or even had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice, he was a beautiful person. He was gentle and kind and very giving of what mattered most – his time and heart. A Shoulder to Cry On wasn't just a random song he wrote; it was a song that spoke about his true character. In all of the interviews and live performances I've watched, his amazing personality shines through.
After Tommy's success in the early nineties with his #1 hit, I'll Be Your Everything, and a memorable appearance on Full House, he completed his Bachelor at NYU Stern School of Business. He went on to hold executive positions at Warner Brothers Records, Billboard, Pandora, Cumulus Media and Village Voice. Meanwhile, he recorded a total of seven studio albums and his music remained popular in Asia, where he often returned to perform concerts.
Tommy also had a family. He had a husband who he'd been with for twenty-three years, and three children – two sons and a daughter – between the ages of eight and thirteen. In a concert from 2013 I watched online he gushed about “the most special thing in [his] life” – his children. With a lovely photo of the three of them on the screen behind him, he told the audience about his children, and then he dedicated a song to them.
With all of this knowledge, something inside me keeps asking, “Why would someone with all of this want to take his life?” Even though I am fully aware that depression is an awful disease that does not discriminate. Depression is not a mere feeling or series of thoughts; it is a chemical imbalance, an illness as real and as physical as cancer or diabetes.
It breaks my heart to know that this person with such a sincere smile and gentle spirit, a person who encouraged others to never give up on their dreams, had so much pain inside of himself.
If you have never been suicidal, I'm not sure I could adequately put into words what it is like, but I will try. It is not just an idea; it consumes you. It is dark, painful, and unbelievably strong. Although death takes over your mind (you see yourself dying over and over again), it is more than just thoughts – it's like a physical force pulling at you. Just writing about it now, I vividly remember how it took over my entire body, not just my mind. I remember how strong it was, and how weak and helpless I felt. I remember trying to escape myself, like I was clawing from the inside trying to get out. I remember consciously not wanting to die, but not being able to fight the feeling that I had to die.
I wish I'd known Tommy Page. Not because he was a famous singer, but because my life would have been enriched by his positive energy, which is evident in every video I see of him. And because in my grief I illogically think that because I've lived through depression I could have somehow helped him. I keep feeling like I failed him as a fan. But then I snap back to reality and realize how absurd it is to think that I, of all of the people in the world, could have saved him. Still, I wish I'd known him.