Bowie and Rickman showed us how it’s cool to be weird

They made us better people


First David Bowie, now Alan Rickman – it’s been a rough month. Two great holes have been left in our lives. If Bowie’s death made us numb, then Rickman’s left us desolate. The world has lost two of its greatest talents in the space of a few days. They were both 69 and died of cancer with little public awareness they were even ill. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is all some sick joke.

We grew up with these geniuses. They were part of our childhood and will be forever linked with happy times. Bowie might have been part of an older generation but he was always there: in your parent’s CD collection, at school discos, on pre-drink playlists, on nights out. Alan Rickman was more prominent. His role as Professor Snape in Harry Potter was so convincing that you still hope he’ll conjure up one last spell and resurrect himself (and maybe Bowie while he’s at it).

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But the real magic of both talents might be something greater than their routine brilliance on stage or screen. Through their art they helped us become better people by showing how it was OK to be different, odd, unconventional and all the other things we mean when we call something “weird”. They showed us it was OK to be gay, bisexual, transgender – or even that lonely kid daydreaming of slaying a dark overlord in a magical world. They made us identify with people we’d normally see as different or tease – from oddball teachers to the transgender community. They made us more accepting of ourselves and others. They reminded us that deep down everyone is a bit weird and, through their own quirks and performances, made being weird cool.

But if Bowie and Rickman were flamboyant shape-shifters in public they were also quiet, understated pioneers. They both endured frustrating and unsuccessful starts to their careers, but never bent to someone else’s will or sold out. When Jonathan Ross told Bowie in a 2002 interview “you were gay for a while”, Bowie interrupted and replied: “No, I was just happy”. This subtle comment neatly sums up the approach that shaped his life and music. He didn’t need someone else to tell him who he was or how he felt – just as Rickman didn’t need an Oscar to validate his immense talent: “Parts win prizes, not actors,” he once said.

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It was this intense dedication to their craft and commitment to something greater than superficial recognition that made these outstanding entertainers heroes on earth and now legends in our hearts. They explored the outermost reaches of their alien talents on their own terms and, fortunately, took us along for the ride. But wherever they went the message seem to remain the same: don’t worry about whatever anyone else thinks, be whoever you want to be and do whatever makes you happy. Be warm, be funny, be accepting, be different and embrace your weirdness because, when it comes down to it, no one really knows what they’re doing.