Gary Coleman is expected to be laid to rest this weekend, more than a week after his star-crossed life ended at age 42.
While it was unclear whether his memorial service would be open to fans, mourning of the pint-sized, one-time child star has been playing out in public, primarily in cyberspace.
Coleman was a trending topic on Twitter for days after his May 28th death and the subject of celebrity tweets (“I want to remember him as the fun, playful, adorable and affectionate man he was,” Janet Jackson wrote). The requisite "RIP" Facebook pages also have emerged.
And now, Gizmodo reports, there's an Android app saluting the actor, featuring pictures of happier times. So when it comes to mourning celebrities, yes, there's an app – even for that.
Nearly a year after Michael Jackson's death turned the Internet into a virtual remembrance book for bereaved fans, the practice of mourning fallen stars is increasingly falling into the digital realm.
Actor Dennis Hopper, who died a day after Coleman, also is getting the Twitter and Facebook treatment, though there's no sign of an "Easy Rider" app in the offing.
The phenomenon of mass mourning has grown and morphed with changing technology. Abraham Lincoln's funeral train procession drew tens of thousands. The 1926 death of Rudolph Valentino, film's first heartthrob, met with mass hysteria. Princess Diana's 1997 funeral service was broadcast around the world.
Michael Jackson became the first superstar to fall in the full-thrust of the Internet age, a time when the public doesn't need to rely solely traditional media, and can virtually broadcast their condolences, thoughts and memories.
With the first anniversary of his death barely three weeks away, the wall on Jackson's Facebook page gets new posts daily (“We miss u,” one spelling-challenged fan wrote Wednesday), almost like fresh flowers or notes placed on a grave.
In one respect, apps and online tributes celebrating dead celebrities seem a morbid, shallow exercise in an era where star worship too often overshadows more important goings on. But there’s something to be said for people having a forum to share memories related to someone they probably didn’t know, but who represented a source of happiness in their lives.
Whether someone mourns an entertainer by watching old shows or movies, tweeting, posting to Facebook or looking at pictures on a cell phone, we won’t judge. After all, it takes different strokes to move the world.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.