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Death Stats 2017: Celebrities Update #2

Getty Images / AFP / Robyn Beck

Amid a lot of worrisome news this year, here's some good.

With Glen Campbell’s recent death, we’re adding another name to the list of major celebrities who have died in 2017.

It’s a list that’s nowhere near as long as I expected it to be.

When I wrapped up my year-long project of tracking the large number of celebrity deaths in 2016, I concluded that we were seeing the beginning of an upward trend – that celebrities would continue dying in greater numbers than they had in the recent past.

The root of the theory goes back to the Baby Boomers and the way they clamored for celebrities as they came of age in the 1960s. More celebrities were created by the Boomers than by any previous generation, and we paid more attention to them than we had before technological advances put them in the forefronts of our lives. So now, as those Boomers age, we’re beginning to see the early deaths of the leading outliers from that generation, perhaps a decade ahead of the point when that population boom will see predictably large numbers approaching the U.S. average age of death.

The conclusion was that if you thought 2016 was bad, you needed to hold on to your hat for 2017 and beyond.

But statistical trends don't always unfold smoothly. So far in 2017, what has actually happened is that we’re seeing a rate of celebrity death that looks more like what was happening in 2010 or 2011, years when celebrity deaths were fewer and we only lost a handful of true icons.

That's not to say we haven't lost several beloved major celebrities this year. In addition to Campbell, I tagged (using the same methodology as last year) seven others as major celebrity deaths through mid-August of 2017: Mary Tyler Moore, Joseph Wapner, Chuck Berry, Don Rickles, Chris Cornell, Roger Moore, and Adam West.* A couple dozen more not-quite-major celebrities have died, bringing us to a total so far of 37 celebrity deaths in 2017.

It’s a lot, to be sure, but when you compare it to 2016, it’s noticeably low. By August 10 of 2016, we had seen 57 celebrity deaths, 18 of them major. Twenty-two percent of the 2017-to-date celebrity deaths have been of major celebrities, compared to 32 percent by this date in 2016. Even when compared to the other years I included in my study last year (2010 through 2015), 2017 skews a little low.  

Even better than an absence of bad news is genuine good news, and we’ve had that this year, too. There are quite a few celebrities who fans have worried about in 2017, only to see them rally and improve. Elton John scared us with a bacterial infection in the spring, but he’s doing better. Loretta Lynn is reportedly recovering in rehab after a severe stroke. Britain’s Prince Philip carries on even after two separate newspapers, on two separate dates in 2017, prematurely published obituaries for him.

All this is a welcome reprieve, one less type of bad news in a year that’s been heavy on worrisome headlines.

* In the photo above, the city of Los Angeles paid tribute to Adam West by projecting the Bat-Signal onto City Hall during a large public memorial service.