[This is my column in the April 10 issue of The Commercial Review.]
I once thought I could never comprehend how the general public can get worked up over the death of a celebrity or former professional athlete.
They’re entertainers, and when their careers come to an end, someone else will step in to replace them. Yes, they provided us with a memorable movie, song or sporting event, but when it comes down to it the impact they have on our lives is minuscule.
So it always baffled me when people got worked up over celebrity deaths, such as the passing of actors Paul Walker and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and athletes Junior Seau and Dale Earnhardt.
It puzzled me that people could be so distraught over the death of someone they never met — that is, until I heard of the passing of “Princess” Lacey Holsworth.
Holsworth, an 8-year-old from St. John’s, Mich., suffered from neuroblastoma, a fetal-nerve cell cancer that was discovered when she complained of back pain while dancing in 2011.
A short time later, she met Michigan State basketball player Adreian Payne when the Spartans visited a local hospital, and the two immediately formed a bond.
The 6-foot, 10-inch Payne, whose Jefferson Township team beat Fort Recovery in the 2010 regional championship game, and Holsworth treated one another like they were siblings. The Spartans fed off of her strength and how she battled her affliction, and as the story caught media attention it tugged at the heartstrings of anyone who took the time to follow their story.
Holsworth was a staple at Michigan State basketball games, traveling to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament and the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament. She was even at the College Slam Dunk Championship in Dallas during the Final Four weekend.
Her story was a touching one, especially for ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who was very adamant he would not follow anyone on Twitter. But as he caught wind of Holsworth, her struggle and what she meant to Payne and the Spartans, he decided to follow her alone.
“I was really moved by it,” he said. “No kid should have to go through this kind of thing, but to see the smile on her face … she’s an example of what real courage is, real toughness is, real fight is.
“If this is the kind of thing that can bring more attention to her fight, I’m all for it,” he added.
And her fight continued to receive attention, as other athletes — college and professional alike — supported her until her death Wednesday morning.
There was an outpouring on Twitter as news of her passing spread, and no reaction was anticipated more than that of her “brother,” Payne.
“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey. She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life,” his statement said. “She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I’m a better man because of her.
“She said she first liked me because of my smile, but it’s her smile that made America fall in love with her.
“I know she’s smiling and dancing in heaven now. My princess is now and angel.”
It was indeed her smile that was addicting, seeing her happy with the basketball star near her side despite the never-ending battle in front of her.
Prior to Wednesday, I was never affected by the death of someone I didn’t know. I never thought an 8-year-old girl could change my perspective on life, but she did.
I hope she knew how much she meant to others, including those of us who never got to meet her. Even from a distance, her smile, her spirit and her courage were an inspiration.