Rule of Three

by Legacy Staff

The idea that celebrities die in groups of three has permeated popular culture. Of course the “Rule of Three” isn’t based on any scientific evidence. There is no set time period or definition for who qualifies as a “celebrity.” However, over the years there have been several occasions where a “Rule of Three” appears to be in effect. For example,  Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, died within a three-day span. Read on to find out where tragedy and coincidence have created famous “Rule of Three” triads.

Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and Glenn Frey (2016)

Getty Images

Three popular celebrities died in January 2016 within 8 days of each other. Versatile actor Alan Rickman who played Severus Snape in the final Harry Potter movie, legendary music icon David Bowie, and popular musician Glenn Frey of classic rock band The Eagles.

See more celebrities who died in 2016


Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (1959)

AP Photo

The idea of the “Rule of Three” in popular culture may have started on Feb. 3, 1959. That’s when three rising rock ‘n’ roll stars — Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) — died in a tragic airplane crash. Pilot Roger Peterson was also killed, and Feb. 3 became known as “The Day the Music Died.”

See more celebrities who died February 3

Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin (1970), and Jim Morrison (1971)

AP Photo | Wikimedia Commons | Wikimedia Commons

First Jimi Hendrix died Sept. 18, 1970. Janis Joplin followed Oct. 4, 1970. Then Jim Morrison died the next summer on July 3, 1971. This trio of deaths reinforced the “Rule of Three” and also started the “27 Club,” as all three popular musicians died at age 27.

See more members of the “27 Club”

Rosa Parks (2005), Coretta Scott King, and Betty Friedan (2006)

AP Photos

An interesting grouping of women leaders died within a few months of each other in late 2005, early 2006. First civil rights activist Rosa Parks died Oct. 24, 2005. Then Coretta Scott King, widow of MLK, died on Jan. 30, 2006. She was followed by National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan on Feb. 4, 2006.

See more Great American Women

Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson (2009)

AP Photos

In 2009 the media went into a frenzy over the “Rule of Three” after “Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon died June 23, followed by “Charlie’s Angels” star Farrah Fawcett and “King of Pop” Michael Jackson on June 25.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Shirley Temple, and Sid Caesar (2014)

Wikimedia Commons | AP Photo | AP Photo

In Feb. 2014 three acclaimed actors — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Shirley Temple, and Sid Caesar — died within 10 days of one another.

Peter Graves, Fess Parker, and Robert Culp (2010)

AP Photo | Wikimedia Commons | AP Photo

A similar thing happened in March 2010, when famous television actors Peter Graves, Fess Parker, and Robert Culp died within 10 days of one another.

Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver, and Darren McGavin (2006)

Wikimedia Commons | Wikimedia Commons | AP Photo

Two famous television deputies died Feb. 24, 2006: Don Knotts of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gunsmoke” deputy Dennis Weaver. The next day Darren McGavin died. He didn’t play a famous deputy, but he starred in television shows like “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and “Riverboat” as well as holiday film favorite, “A Christmas Story.”

Gregory Peck, Hume Cronyn, and Katharine Hepburn (2003)

AP Photos

In June 2003 we lost three Hollywood greats: leading man Gregory Peck on June 12, character actor Hume Cronyn on June 15, and leading lady Katharine Hepburn on June 29.

Charles Bronson, Warren Zevon, and Johnny Cash (2003)

AP Photos

Here’s a tough yet tender trio: Famous movie tough guy Charles Bronson died Aug. 30, 2003. Hard-boiled singer-songwriter Warren Zevon died Sept. 7. And “Man in Black” Johnny Cash died Sept. 12.

John Ritter, Fred Berry, and Art Carney (2003)

AP Photo | Getty Images | AP Photo

Autumn 2003 saw the deaths of three notable sitcom stars: “Three’s Company” star John Ritter on Sept. 11, “What’s Happening!!” costar Fred Berry on Oct. 21, and “The Honeymooners” costar Art Carney on Nov. 9.

More Stories