Madison, Wisconsin - April Wright loves death. Her sunny two bedroom apartment here in Madison is a veritable shrine to life's last act. This chipper 23-year-old isn't some sort of maudlin freak, she's just one of the growing number of American's who have been bitten by the celebrity death bug.
"I guess for me it started back in 1993. I was eleven or twelve and my mom got totally caught up in a few deaths that year - Bill Bixby and Arthur Ashe," explained Wright. "With Ashe especially you could tell people were moved. I guess it just touched something way down deep for me."
Wright's fascination with celebrity death went into "remission" during her high school years but came back with a vengeance in 2001. "I was nineteen and away at college," Wright continued, "when my mom called to tell me that Dale Earnhardt had died. It was February 18th and I was standing at the sink rinsing some broccoli. They say that there are moments that stay with you forever . . ."
After that, Wright vowed never to be caught off guard by a celebrity death again. She also decided to savor every moment of a famous person's demise and passing. "I really love the false sense of closeness and concern I feel when I read about someone's failing health. I almost think that if I really care about them, somehow they will care about me," she explained with a bright smile on her face.
Nan Enstad, an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who specializes in women's history and popular culture, is familiar with the situation Wright describes. "Many people, but especially younger women in our celebrity-driven society, long for ways to be connected with fame," said Enstad. "If you look at the coverage of celebrity in the popular media, it is largely targeted at women. For many though, the tabloids are not enough. Often, the lead-up and death of a public figure strips away all privacy and allows people to develop a strong sense of concern and connectedness. I think that it is a problem."
When told of Enstad's comments, Wright couldn't have disagreed more. "Oh no, no, that's not how it is. I mean, I don't read all of the magazines or watch the shows. But when a star is dying, how can you not care?"
Walking through her apartment, Wright is happy to show off the various shrines and remembrances she has created over the past four years. Waylon Jennings, Dudley Moore, Stephen Jay Gould, John Entwhistle, Strom Thurmond, Idi Amin, Bob Hope, Estee Lauder, Julia Child, Johnny Ramone and Ronald Reagan are just a few of the hundreds that adorn the walls of her pretty bedroom.
"I arranged them all chronologically once they are dead," she pointed out. In her living room, she maintains her recent and active death watches. Pope John Paul II, Terri Schiavo, Saul Bellows and Prince Rainier are all there. Reading the news of Peter Jennings lung cancer, Wright picked up a pair of scissors and began cutting out the story.
"I didn't see this one coming," she mused, "I hope he gets well soon, but if he doesn't, I hope he gets sick real slow."