Why are so many celebrities dying in 2016?

It has been a tragic year – but we may be in for many more of them

Andrew Griffin
Friday 22 April 2016 17:51
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This year appears to have been a terrible one so far: a range of celebrities from across the arts world have died. And it seems set to continue.

After the death of Prince, as with so many other celebrities in 2016, numerous people posted on social networks that the year appeared to be seeing an unusual amount of deaths.

And that appears to be true. But it isn’t entirely clear why it is happening.

The BBC seems to have proven that 2016 has been a particularly bad year for celebrity deaths. It found that it has published far more obituaries this year than any before.

In 2012, it published just five in the first three months of the year. In 2016, it published 24 in the same period - and that doesn’t include the deaths of Merle Haggard, Victoria Wood and Prince in April.

In the wake of that apparent huge rise in the amount of people dying, two main explanations have surfaced.

One says that such a rise in deaths was inevitable, given the fact that many of our celebrities came to fame around the 70s and are so approaching older age. The other says that many more people are famous, now, and we are more likely to hear about them - since the number of potential people is much higher, so will be the number of deaths.

There is also probably a degree of confirmation bias: the narrative about 2016 deaths now appears to have caught on, and so each death becomes a part of it, when previously it might have been little reported or ignored. But as shown through the BBC's study, the numbers genuinely do seem to point to something happening this year.

All are sensible explanations, and likely to account for some of the increase, which as a result will probably continue throughout this year and beyond. But they can’t fully account for the sheer number of celebrity deaths this year.

The number has been gradually rising - but notable deaths in 2016 are more than twice what they were in 2015, after only slowly increasing in the years before.

There’s nothing really linking any of the deaths: the people who died this year were all very different ages, and though cancer seemed especially prevalent they did happen for a range of different reasons. It seems that the two explanations that have been advanced probably account for some of the rise - and sheer bad luck has contributed to the rest.

It’s true that this year has been unusual in the sheer number of celebrities who have died since it began. But it might be about to become far more normal.

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