With so many celebrities who have died in 2016, many assume this was the worst year ever for celebrity deaths. But is that indeed the case? And why did so many celebrities die in 2016? The numbers don’t lie, so before 2016 finally leaves us for good, it’s time for some data crunching.
David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Anton Yelchin, Prince… the list of celebrity deaths in 2016 is staggering, so the BBC obituaries editor, Nick Serpell, sat down to look at the numbers and see whether more celebrities have actually died in 2016, in comparison to past years.
This is the second time this year Serpell was assigned with this morbid task of looking at the numbers of dead celebrities – the first time was back in April when 2016 already looked like a bad year for celebrity deaths.
The BBC, like many other news outlets, pre-prepare obituaries, so when a celebrity dies, they already have a prepared text about the person. That way, their news anchors on radio and TV can instantly explain who the deceased was and tell their life story.
Nick Serpell’s assumption was that people who were famous enough to have had pre-prepared obituaries at the BBC, can be considered “celebrities.” Keep in mind that his list is slanted towards those who were considered celebrities in the U.K., but many on the list were known worldwide, so the numbers still hold.
In April, weeks after the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, among others, Serpell’s numbers showed frightening results. Checking the celebrity deaths count between January and March alone, 2016’s numbers were much higher than those of years past.
In 2012, there were only five celebrity deaths (according to Serpell’s definitions) between January and March – it was the year Whitney Houston died. In 2013, there were eight celebrity deaths. Then 11 celebrity deaths in 2014, 12 in 2015 – that was the year Leonard Nimoy died, and then we get to 2016.
Only three months into 2016, the number of celebrity deaths was 24. That’s almost five times more than 2012, and double that of 2015. So at least at the beginning of the year, 2016 was definitely a very dangerous year for celebrities.
But what happened since? Now that 2016 is almost over, Serpell sat down to look at the numbers again, and see if the celebrity deaths count remained the same.
The good news? It hasn’t. 2016 still has the highest number of dead celebrities (42 according to the BBC’s count, as opposed to 32 in 2015 and only 16 in 2012), but the majority of those celebrity deaths occurred at the beginning of 2016, as Serpell explains.
“Well over half those deaths occurred in the first four months of the year,” he says. “Then the rest of the year went back to a figure we considered normal over the past four or five years.”
So if it’s any comfort, celebrities were at a greater risk between January and April, and then the death toll went back to normal.
Which still leaves us with the question – why were there so many celebrity deaths in 2016? (This week alone, we said goodbye to Alan Thicke.) Was 2016 just a fluke, or will this trend of celebrity deaths continue into 2017?
The Guardian suggests an explanation: more celebrities are dying, simply because there are more celebrities than ever before. Think about our current entertainment world – you have movie stars, and TV stars, and reality TV stars, not to mention celebrities whose job it is to simply be celebrities, with YouTube channels and super popular Instagram accounts.
While many of these new-world celebrities are young, the fact that we have so many of them raises the odds of accidental and tragic deaths of people that we’ve heard of.
As for the older celebrities, we have more of those as well, since the baby-boomer generation (those who were born following World War II), that brought us the celebrities of the 60’s and 70’s, is now becoming progressively older, reaching the age of 60 and beyond. And as more celebrities get older, they have, sadly, a higher chance of getting ill.
So looking back at 2016, even though the number of celebrity deaths evened out during the year, the total number is still higher than ever – and there’s a good chance it’ll get worse year after year.
All we can do now is, perhaps, sing about it – as Stephen Colbert did on his show this week, in a surprising collaboration with Michael Stipe and James Franco. Indeed, it’s the end of 2016 as we know it – but we can still hope for a better 2017.
[Featured Image by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images]