Sydney researchers, professor Richard Epstein – Director of the Clinical Informatics & Research Centre at The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney – and Catherine Epstein, analyzed 1,000 obituaries published in the New York Times between 2009 and 2011 for their research titled, “Death in the New York Times: the Price of Fame is a Faster Flame.”
Technically 999 records were reviewed, as an inadvertent duplicate was found and removed.
The deceased were categorized in terms of gender, age, profession, and cause of death. Subjects were then assigned to four general occupational categories.
Performers included actors, singers, musicians, dancers, and athletes. The non-performing creative workers encapsulated writers, composers, and visual artists. Linguists, historians, philosophers, and economists were dubbed academics.
Occupational subgroups further consolidated the subjects to four key categories: performance/sports, creative/writing, business/military/political, and professional/academic/religious.
The frequency of disease and mean age was determined for each group. Deaths 85 and older were deemed “died of old age” regardless of the illness or circumstance.
The results, published in QJM: International Journal of Medicine, suggested fame and achievement in performance-related careers may have a price after all – resulting in shorter life expectancy. People who were both successful and famous died earliest overall.
The Epstein’s found obituaries for men outnumbered women 813 to 186, and men appeared to have a slightly higher mean age. Men died on average around 80, women 78.8. Substantial differences were apparent between males and females in the occupational category performance/sports, 18.4 percent of males versus 38 percent females, as well as those who were professional/academic/religious at 26.7 percent versus 12.3 percent.
Old age was more common for philanthropists, academics, and doctors and less often for sportsmen, performers, and creative types. The youngest of premature deaths were seen in those who were categorized as performers and sports – citing accident and misadventure as the primary cause (66 percent).
Professor Epstein queried the odd findings of occupational mortality, curious if fame at a younger age predisposes one to poorer health behaviors, or if the psychological pressure of those who are especially high-achieving ultimately leads to self-destructive tendencies.
It was suggested risk-taking traits that could enhance one’s ability to achieve fame may also drive the same people to smoke, drink excessively, and use illicit drugs – all life-shortening habits.
The research failed to include the most notable deaths of 2012, which included the likes of performers and personalities Whitney Houston, 48, Davy Jones, 66, Dick Clark, 82, Donna Summer, 63, Richard Dawson, 79, and Larry Hagman 81.
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