Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Did more famous people really die in 2016?

There seems to be almost universal agreement that 2016 was, in the scheme of things, a "bad year". What with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the inexorable rise in influence of Vladimir Putin, continuing carnage in the Middle East, and murderous attacks in the West by so-called Muslims, 2016 does seem to have very little to recommend it as it takes its place in the annals of history.
Many people are pointing to an apparent spike in celebrity deaths as just another aspect of the general malaise that was 2016. A flurry of deaths towards the end of the year - George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, etc - seemed to cap a year that saw the deaths of high-profile stars and celebs like David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali and many others.
But was 2016 actually an exceptional year for show biz deaths, or did it just seem that way? As usual, I turned to the BBC to throw some light on the subject and to put it all into perspective.
Basing its analysis on the number of pre-prepared BBC obituaries as a rough-and-ready guide to the number of deaths of famous people, it turns out that 2016 was indeed a bumper year, with a total of 49 compared to just 32 in 2015. In fact, the number has gone up every year recently (it was 29 in 2014, 24 in 2013, and just 16 in 2012), which makes me think that this might just be a reflection of a change in the Beeb's editorial policy in producing pre-prepared obituaries, although the BBC denies that is the case. It may just be that we are now half a century on from the great expansion in TV and pop culture that started in the 1960s, and the drug and alcohol lifestyles that came with them (and, make no mistake, many of these deaths were hastened, and sometimes directly caused, by drugs and alcohol). So it may be there are just more famous people around, of a certain age and with compromised immune systems and weakened bodies, and they are starting to die off.
Perhaps more inexplicable, though, is the finding that, every year, there are a disproportionate number of celebrity deaths in the first three months of the year. I have no explanation for that one, or for the apparent spike at the end of 2016, except to suggest that maybe the weather plays some part.

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