Mourning Ledger: Good Grief or Morbid Obsession?

Where were you when Heath Ledger died?

OK, it's not the same thing as where were you when John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King were assassinated, but there are many people who wouldn't hesitate and would volunteer exactly where they were when the 28-year-old actor was found dead of an apparent overdose of prescription medicine.

Which raises the questions, what's the deal with grieving for someone you don't know?

Is leaving flowers outside Ledger's apartment or staying cooped up in your home watching "10 Things I Hate About You" a healthy way to deal with the untimely death of a young talent or is it simply a morbid fixation?

A week after Ledger died in his Soho apartment Wednesday, flowers and bromide-laced letters still form a makeshift shrine outside his home. People flocked to his apartment last Tuesday just to watch his body being removed by the police, snapping photos on their cell phones and calling friends to prove just how close they were to the action.

"People want to be close to major events, no matter how tragic," said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology. "They want to feel like they are participating. They want to create that memory of 'I was there when.' People say, 'I'm a fan and this is how I show my concern for him.' The media makes people more honorable and salient and so we keep hearing outpourings about Ledger from celebrities and regular people want a piece of the action. There is point you have to say, 'Wait a minute, this was not that kind of luminary."

But more than just wanting to be a part of history, some people find that grieving for a celebrity makes them feel better about themselves.

"There are people with histrionic personalities, who like the attention they receive when they're upset," said J. William Worden, a professor of psychology at the Rosemead School of Psychology in California. "People are drawn to tragedy and if they get reenforcement for something, it can escalate and they become more hysterical with the more attention they receive. They like the attention and the hugs, so they might stretch the truth of their involvement or concern."

Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis has twice emotially eulogized Ledger, despite never actually having met him.

In accepting the best actor award for his performance in "There Will Be Blood," Day-Lewis said Ledger was "unique, he was perfect."

Backstage, Day-Lewis told The Associated Press that though he'd never met Ledger, the actor's death was all he had been thinking about recently.

"I thought he was beautiful. I just had a very strong feeling I would have liked him very much as a man," he told the AP. "I admired him very much. I'm absolutely certain he would have done many wonderful things in his life."

In an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show Friday, Day-Lewis said, "I feel very unsettled at the moment, and I suppose it's because I only just saw the news about Heath Ledger's death. … It seems somehow strange to be talking about anything else. Not that there's anything to say really except to express one's regret and to say from the bottom of one's heart to his family and to his friends that I'm sorry for their trouble."

Bloggers debated the appropriateness of Day-Lewis' comments much the way they have discussed coverage of Ledger's death, some emotionally involved and others wondering what all the fuss is about.

On the media blog, one commenter said, "I was very moved by Day-Lewis's words," while another slammed him for invoking Ledger's passing yet again. "Rudy [Giuliani] is to 9/11 as Day-Lewis is to Heath Ledger."

For some people, however, mourning celebrities, is an important way of dealing with grief in their own lives, psychologists told ABC

Venting with strangers about grief on the Internet and grieving for celebrities we never met are both related to a thoroughly modern sense of alienation, psychologists said.

"As people move around and have less family locally, there is a tendency to want to identify with people we don't know," said Worden. "In the global community, we crave affiliations and attachments and that binds to people we don't know personally. It is very human to want to attach yourself to and identify with another person."

Identifying with a celebrity like Ledger is a key reason people become emotional over their deaths, grief counselors told

Mourning the death of a celebrity retriggers suppressed feelings of loss for an actual loved one, said professor Sherri McCarthy, a psychologist and a grief counselor at Northern Arizona University.

"People are vulnerable because these events retrigger memories of losing someone else. If an individual has unresolved, suppressed feeling of grief they may use this opportunity to express those feelings. If a child didn't grieve a parent properly, they can displace that grief on someone in the media."

According to Linda Goldman, a psychologist and author of "Children Also Grieve," we recognize in our celebrities characteristics we value and it is sad to see those peoples' lives cut short.

"When someone dies young and tragically, like Princess Diana or John Kennedy Jr., people are shocked," she said. "It confronts us with our own mortality. We think, 'How can someone that young and promising die?'"