2016 Was Indeed a Year of Surprisingly-Many Celebrity Deaths
January 6, 2017 1:51 PM   Subscribe

It’s become cliché that unusually many prominent people died in 2016. Is this true? Jason Crease says yes, using Science! (well, statistics).
posted by chavenet (27 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Statistics??? I prefer my 2016 analysis to be made up of lies and damn lies.

(No really, this was interesting to read, and interesting research method.)
posted by hippybear at 1:57 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


It's a shame John Lennon's death placed him outside the period of analysis. Would've been nice to determine scientifically whether he or Jesus was the bigger celebrity.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:04 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I'm just glad to have something to toss back in the teeth of the folks who "well, actually..." my every attempt to bitch about that shitty year.
posted by Myca at 2:05 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


Those people. Also we all know 2017 was a casualty of 2016 so theses no need to point out it will be worse.
posted by Artw at 2:17 PM on January 6


Surely you mean 2016 was a casualty of 2017... I mean, 2016 literally expired as soon as 2017 showed up. It was Tarantino-esque.
posted by hippybear at 2:19 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Surely you mean 2016 was a casualty of 2017

Based on the election, I think what happened to 2016 is a shitload of time travelers trying to take out one celebrity but getting it wrong over and over.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:24 PM on January 6 [24 favorites]


That assumes a 2018 and beyond.
posted by Artw at 2:29 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


A great post and a great piece, too, but the takeaway I took away was at the end: "It still looks like an unusually high number of celebrities died, but the number of mega-celebrity deaths was less surprising than the large number of rank-and-file celebrities."
posted by blucevalo at 2:37 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


That assumes a 2018 and beyond.

Sure, everybody will have had stopped using year numbers once the Moon will have had been blown up and the British Isles will have winked out of existence had they ever existed in the first place (which they most certainly did not).
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:38 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Surely you mean 2016 was a casualty of 2017... I mean, 2016 literally expired as soon as 2017 showed up. It was Tarantino-esque.
Wait, wait, have you ever seen both 2016 and 2017 together at the same time? Maybe they're... THE SAME YEAR!
posted by Hal Mumkin at 2:43 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


I have a hard time with the legitimacy of a statistic that puts Hugo Chavez at #4 on a top 30 celebrity list. Or for that matter puts Bobby Fischer over Ted Kennedy.
posted by Mitheral at 2:46 PM on January 6


I'll grant you that 2016 was worse than normal. However, one thing not addressed in this article is the increasing number of celebrities now entering or already in the kill zone, mortality-wise. The definition of "celebrity" expanded with the Boomers, who are now starting to die in droves.
posted by me3dia at 2:49 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


As television and film has increased in size, and the music industry got much bigger in global reach and awareness more people are being considered 'famous' or 'celebrities' every year anyway. It stands to reason that more would die in any given year. It's probably a constant percentage of the number of people considered famous anyway*.

*wildly guessed factoid plucked entirely out of my arse.
posted by Brockles at 2:50 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


It stands to reason that more would die in any given year.

Which they do, but the point of the article was that even more died in 2016 than you'd expect, if you're the kind of person who uses math to determine expectations.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:57 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Right, but Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie... none of those were really within the typical range of what we consider to be "mortality age" these days. Leonard Cohen, well, he was 84... Richard Adams was what? in his late 90s? I mean, some people died that were within reasonable expectations of lifespan, others just sort of disappeared suddenly. Bowie's death is probably the least surprising of the four I mention above, but he was still not even 70. And fuck cancer. But so many just vanished, like a candle being blown out, not burned to its end.
posted by hippybear at 2:58 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


I could forgive all of 2016, if I could have my sister back.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:12 PM on January 6 [28 favorites]


I suspect that as the boomer curve begins to die off we are going to see a lot more celebrity deaths than in previous years. Considering the peak year of the curve was 1946 and those people would now be 70 it only stands to reason. It will be interesting to compare the next few years against that curve but realistically there was a huge birth rate explosion just after world war 2 that lasted until about 1964 so I expect we can anticipate a large number of dying celebrities for the next 20 years or so at minimum, offset by advances in medical technology available to the the wealthy (like most celebrities) but negatively offset by things like cocaine usage (early heart attacks).
posted by metameat at 3:15 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


*hugs CBrachyrhynchos*
posted by hippybear at 3:30 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


To counter the deaths, "the funniest discovery of 2016".
posted by Wordshore at 3:39 PM on January 6


As television and film has increased in size, and the music industry got much bigger in global reach and awareness more people are being considered 'famous' or 'celebrities' every year anyway. It stands to reason that more would die in any given year. It's probably a constant percentage of the number of people considered famous anyway*.

I agree with this-- media has exploded. Every year sine 1960, more celebrities were created than the year before. I think today a new celebrity is created roughly every 15 minutes. How famous they will be at their death remains to be seen...

I share the same asterisk as Brockles.
posted by cell divide at 4:03 PM on January 6


This is neat, and the approach seems reasonable.

But, are either edit counts or length really a good metric for celebrity? I'd naively imagine searches or views would better map onto what I think of as celebrity: essentially, the answer to the question "can the average person tell you something about this figure." Including edits seems to filter for celebrities who are either controversial or have made significant news since the spread of wikipedia. Though, perhaps that's a significant part of what makes one a celebrity today.

All things considered, though, an expectation of 0.01 per year sounds pretty reasonable. Even neglecting some of the assumptions, seeing such a thing once in your lifetime is more likely than not. Taking into account the fact that it is based on a linear fit to data that seems pretty unlikely to remain linear, given the post-WWII boom in both population and media outlets, typical lifetimes, and the ages of wikipedia editors, it's even less unlikely. (Including celebrity counts by birth year in the model might make extrapolation into future years more interesting, if more complicated.) Unusual enough to be noticed, but not unusual enough to require conspiracies. Go statistics!

But, this does remind me of how much I'd enjoy seeing a leak of all the canned obits from the BBC or a similar news organization.
posted by eotvos at 4:03 PM on January 6


They're defining "celebrity" pretty well, and that definition would lead me to expect a death rate in keeping with the trends of previous years.

However, one piece of information I'd like is how this compares to death rates among similarly-aged non-celebrities. Is it possible that there's some general health trend that's kept people in a certain age group living just a bit longer, and for which those extra years are at an end?

Or: is something making _everyone_ in certain groups die faster?

If neither of those questions explain this data, then one has to wonder if some entity is trying to make people sad intentionally...
posted by amtho at 4:34 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a similar study that tracks the shelf life of celebrities, the length of time they stay in the spotlight seems to be shrinking.
posted by Beholder at 5:14 PM on January 6


Eventually it will just be 15 minutes.
posted by hippybear at 5:19 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


That 'funniest thing to happen in 2016' misspells Elrond as Elmond.
posted by freethefeet at 9:31 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I wondered that too, amtho. It seems to me that this is what a spike in the death rate overall would look like while it's happening. We'd only notice the famous people until the statistics for the year came out.
posted by MrVisible at 9:55 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Hah! I used to work with Jason. Delighted to see this made it to the front page.
posted by terretu at 1:55 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


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