This article belongs to Australia - Land of the Free? column.

We read with sadness and watch on television endless stories about the tragic death of the Australian actor Heath Ledger. While I sympathise with his family I am seeing a part of society that bothers me.


Everywhere you go, the supermarket, on the bus, in the workplace people are discussing the tragedy of this man's death. People dying in conflicts, famine, and road trauma hardly get a mention yet the death of an actor causes such grief around the world.


Why we ask? The answer is Heath Ledger was a celebrity. Filmgoers knew his name his photo appeared regularly in newspapers and on television. He seemed to be a nice man whose acting talent was prodigious but does that mean he should be mourned by so many around the world?


Everyday we see celebrities being harassed by photographers. Brittany Spears, Nicole Kidman, Prince William, Prince Harry, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie all have suffered from the paparazzi trying to get that unforgettable shot that can sell for a fortune. Heath Ledger enjoyed his privacy. Remember those scenes in Sydney where photographers squirted him with water pistols.


The paparazzi can make so much money because we have an insatiable desire to see and know what celebrities are doing, saying, and sleeping with. That can be fair enough because celebrities make millions from our unhealthy interest in them. All by not doing very much and just being who they are.


But why are we like that? Why do we want to know about the beautiful people?


Is it because we see them as some kind of extended family member because they are so familiar to us? Maybe it's all based on envy and they are doing what we would all like to be doing. Perhaps it's about sex and we dream about the ultimate union. Or maybe we want them to fail. Then we can be holier than thou.


Pity poor Brittany Spears in her drug induced behaviour that has resulted in her children being taken away from her. Hands up those who haven't said she deserves it. Yet we still want to read and see everything about this poor girl. Why?


It reinforces our feelings of superiority. She might be a celebrity but she still has a miserable life.


No the real story is not about our grief about Heath Ledger but it's why we worship people we don't know. We have no idea about their morals or lifestyle. Why do we do that is the real question?