Update: Is 2016 the Year of the Celebrity Death?
By: Linnea Crowther
1 year ago
Linnea Crowther writes celebrity obituaries for Legacy.com, the global leader in online obituaries. After seeing dozens of Facebook posts early this year asking why so many celebrities were dying all of a sudden, she set out to determine whether 2016 really is "the year of the celebrity death." Her April article found that the public perception was right: An unusual number of celebrities died in the first quarter of 2016, at relatively young ages. As the second quarter of the year drew to a close, she had a hunch that the numbers continued to be bad for the rich and famous. Read on to find out just how right she was.
Q2 Update: The Trend Continues
When I researched and wrote this article in April, I found a seriously anomalous celebrity death rate for the first quarter of 2016. Lots of celebrities died. Many of them were major celebrities, musicians dominated the celebrity death news, and the famous folks who were dying averaged unusually young. But I also noted that the death rate typically bottoms out in spring and summer, suggesting that this trend would slow down and things would, theoretically, get back to normal for subsequent quarters of 2016.
Pretty much simultaneously as I was writing those words back in April, Prince died. Others followed – Morley Safer, Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali. By the time we reached the last day of June, marking the end of the second quarter and the halfway point of the year, it was clear that the trend was continuing. In some ways, it got even worse. Lots of celebrities died in the second quarter of 2016, but not only that – even more of them were major celebrities than in the first quarter (in terms of percentage), and their average age was much younger than the average in the first quarter.
More Major Celebrities
Using the same techniques and criteria I used in April, I identified the pretty famous and really famous folks who died between April 1 and June 30. I came up with 21 total – that's a substantially smaller number than Q1's 32 celebrity deaths. But the drop-off was to be expected, given the foolproof death rate trend – there are always fewer deaths in warmer months. Take a look at a graph of monthly death rates and you will not be surprised that there were 34 percent fewer celebrity deaths in Q2 than in Q1.
But guess what didn't drop off much at all: the number of major celebrities who died. In Q1, I identified nine major celebrities who died, 28 percent of the total. In Q2, that number dropped by just two. There were seven major celebrity deaths, for a percentage uptick to 33 percent of the Q2 total: country music legend Merle Haggard, "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Doris Roberts, pro wrestler Chyna, pop superstar Prince, "60 Minutes" icon Morley Safer, boxing phenomenon Muhammad Ali, and NHL statesman Gordie Howe.
The big numbers – of celebrities, and of major celebrities within their ranks – are unusual compared to the previous six years. The average number of celebrity deaths for those six Q2 periods is 17, and the average number of major celebrities is just 3.5. The average percentage of major celebrity deaths for Q2s past is 21 percent, compared to 33 percent in the second quarter of 2016. That's very nearly double the average this year.
When I crunched the Q1 numbers, I was surprised to see that the average age of death was just 73.5. That's low in comparison to the U.S. average age of death, which is 79.7, and it's low in comparison to the average age of celebrity death in the six previous Q1 periods, which was 77.4.
For the previous six years, the Q2 average age of death comes out a little younger than that of Q1 – the average for those six Q2s is 75.8. I think we can explain the slight drop with the fact that winter deaths are more likely to be a result of disease (so older people are more likely to die than younger ones), while deaths due to accidents trend upward in warmer months (so more deaths at young ages). It explains why the average age of death in the second quarter of 2016 was lower than in Q1, too, but it doesn't prepare us for how much lower it was – just 70.9. That's about five years lower than the Q2 average; the number for the first quarter of 2016 was about four years lower than the Q1 average.
Musicians Dominate the News Again
In Q1, one of the things we couldn't help noticing was the concentration of deaths in the music world – 44 percent of the deaths were musicians. That continued in Q2. Of the Q2 celebrity deaths, 38 percent were musicians – Haggard and Prince, of course, but also P.M. Dawn vocalist Attrell Cordes, "The Voice" contestant Christina Grimmie, bluesman Lonnie Mack, Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, soul singer Billy Paul, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, and P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell.
It's enough that, once again, that concentration felt unusual. And it stands out in comparison to the previous Q2s, in which only 28 percent of the celebrity deaths, on average, come from the music world.
The Rest of the Year
The totals from the first half of 2016 are pretty shocking next to the averages of the previous six years. We're looking back on 36 percent more celebrity deaths than typical in the first half of a year, with 38 percent more of those deaths being major celebrities than typical. What will the rest of the year hold?
2016 as a whole is almost guaranteed to have more celebrity deaths than in a typical year – with 53 in the first half, we're already close to the full-year average of 59 over the past six years. It remains to be seen whether the unusually high rate will continue in the third and fourth quarters, but I'm locking in my prediction now – Q3 will be quieter than Q1 and Q2, following the yearly death rate trend, and I don't think the numbers will be substantially higher than in a typical Q3. I suspect we'll see a pretty big jump back up in Q4, maybe on the level of this year's Q1. Check back in a few months to see if I was right.