Speed Reads

Things that make you go hmmmm

Was 2016 really unusually deadly for celebrities?

"It's easy to think 2016 was unusually deadly for celebrities," says The Wall Street Journal's Tanya Rivero, and she isn't kidding. David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael — you can probably name a dozen more. "But was 2016 really the particularly cruel year it appeared to be?" she asked, and to answer, she brought on MarketWatch editor Quentin Fottrell, who recently wrote an article on the subject. Objectively, he said, there were maybe some more celebrity deaths than usual, but not by much — and part of the problem is that there are just more celebrities and types of celebrities, plus more ways to mourn them.

The BBC said it published more obituaries in 2016 than in 2015, but when CNN looked at celebrities with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grammy awards, or Sports Illustrated covers, they counted 34 A-list deaths, a big jump from the previous year but a decline from 36 in 2006. If you don't remember 2006 as a particularly brutal year for stars, remember, "Facebook had just a few million users back in 2006, the last time there were this many so-called A-list celebrity deaths in one year," Fottrell said. "Now it's nearly 2 billion." Focusing on the deaths of celebrities isn't frivolous, especially in a year when a reality TV star won the presidency, he added. "Celebrities reflect, in many ways, our values."

Whether or not 2016 was cursed for celebrities, Fottrell says 2017 probably won't be much better, given the rising mortality among baby boomers and the expansion of fame — and social media will make the deaths more visible. "To put it in its crudest, simplest terms: There are just more famous people around and more of them are going to die," said sociologist Ellis Cashmore at Aston University in Birmingham, England. Aram Sinnreich at American University notes that even if 2016 wasn't exceptionally deadly for the stars, "it definitely felt like a reaping." Part of that is the caliber of the celebrities we lost. "We don't have a new David Bowie, Prince, or Carrie Fisher," all of whom were trailblazers, Sinnreich said. "It's not just about losing these individuals. It's about coming to grips with the fact that we haven't replaced them." You can read Fottrell's article at MarketWatch.