EVERY death diminishes us. It’s the sort of truism that one can query with some scepticism but it surely is crudely valid. The impact of a particular death, of course, usually has a direct relationship with proximity of contact over the years.

The phenomenon of severe, enduring emotional pain over the loss of someone who one has never met, has never spoken to even a passing conversation, is worthy of consideration.

This strain of grief is frowned upon by many commentators. It falls under the heading of “incontinent mourning”. Princess Diana and the emotional aftermath of her death is held as the exemplar of this trend that has been categorised as modern.

It is only held as contemporary, of course, because social media and old media is there to record it. There is evidence to suggest celebrity death and subsequent largely inexplicable mourning has always existed.

It is an individual matter. For example, my sadness at the death of Sarah Harding, the Girls Aloud singer, is piqued by its premature aspect at the age of 39. My daughter, however, will lament a personality who fuelled her party moods, a character who blithely went her own way with an irresistible energy.

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Recent deaths of people I have never met have forced me to confront what it is that has caused me discernible anguish.

Why did I feel such pain at the death of Robin Williams, a genius certainly, but one whose brilliance was best served in small doses for me?

Why did a fog of sadness descend on me at the news that Michael K Williams, a man I have only encountered on the television screen, was found dead in his Brooklyn flat?

Yes, there is obviously the matter of shared humanity. Yes, there is the reminder of a shared mortality.

But there is something else, too. It is difficult to divine. Here is my attempt. Both Williams (Robin) and Williams (Michael) revealed something of the human condition, its fragility and its greatness. This vulnerability and the ability to frame it collided to catastrophic effect.

Robin was found in his home in California seven years ago. 

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But the pain of both actors was visible, at least to me. I never found Robin more brittle, more deserving of concern as when he was embarking on one of those extraordinary comedic raps on some late-night chat show. Above the smile, above the lips rattling out a series of one-liners, was a set of eyes that betrayed a pain that was otherwise disguised.

This was a personality who was delivering joy, perhaps not experiencing it. I did not know him. But this was my feeling. He apparently, and perhaps obviously, had moments of great fulfilment in his life. However, I sensed turmoil. This emotional wave is felt by most but we believe it will pass. It normally does. So far, it has for me. But for Robin?

It is why I felt so sad when the news drifted though of his death. He was a victim of so much -and he had succumbed. There is grief in all of that.

Michael K Williams had a further dimension. He inherited the grievous burden of being black in the US.

He was an extraordinary actor, illuminating every production he graced. He remains inmutably Omar to me. The idea of television as art was once resisted. No longer. The Wire was and is in the vanguard of a benign cultural evolution where the small screen muscled its way into the hierarchy of art.

Michael and Omar were touchstones in this process. They not only spoke the truth, they lived it. It was messy, violent, entertaining, distressing but, above all, revelatory.

Omar, of course, was the exemplar of ambiguity. He was both an icon of macho heterosexuality and queer culture. He was, too, a thief with a moral code.

He was, crucially, a product of his environment but one who was determined to walk his own path, to understand the past but not let it corrupt his view of the present or the future. Omar held a shotgun and his fate in his own hands.

Michael had more than elements of this assumed personality. His facial scar was the sign of a New York brawl and a razor wielded. His life was a struggle, marked by addiction. His career was studded with roles that testified to the plight of the black man in America but carried the potential of the less welcome weight of stereotyping.

His talent avoided that pitfall. There was never anything traditional or routine about a Michael K Williams performance.

There was always something of him and his experience in the words he delivered. This was not a strategy or even a result of method acting or any other process of acting. This was him, defiant and authentic.

Michael and Robin brought their very selves into their performances. This sensitivity to imperatives of lines and role can sometimes be missed in the clamour of punchlines or in the clatter of a shotgun.

But I felt it. Their performances produced a glimpse into someone else’s life. It reflected part of mine.

This is art. This is greatness. It is also fragility. I share the latter, of course. I mourn the former that illuminated life and cast a merciless light on the dark areas that we can all inhabit, blessedly only temporarily.

May they rest in peace.