By many measures, 2016 was a pretty sucky year. The problem is that many people measure suckiness by how many of their favorite celebrities died during the year.
Unfortunately, there’s a flaw in that ointment. Let me explain.
There’s no doubt that we lost some brilliant and beloved celebrities in 2016. It started in January with the loss of David Bowie and ended with the deaths of Princess Leia, Kathy Selden, and Father Francis John Patrick Mulcahy.
In between, we lost athletes, authors, astronauts, and politicians. And one astronaut/politician.
Not to minimize those loses, but were they really greater in 2016 than an average year? Statistics say nay, and I can prove it.
First, we need to provide a measurable definition of “celebrity”. Somebody isn’t famous just because I’m a fan of theirs; they are famous because, well, they are famous.
Fortunately, there is an accepted definition of “celebrity”, accepted by dead pools everywhere, and absolutely measurable.
A person is a celebrity if there is a unique Wikipedia article written about that person. No wiki, no celeb. It’s that simple.
Using that definition, it’s very easy to count the number of celebrities that have perished in each year in this and the previous century:
According to these statistics, the number of celebrity deaths has been exponentially increasing every year. It seems like there’s a whole lot of dyin’ goin’ on.
Actually, the celebrity deaths for 2016 are pretty much on average with the other years. The difference is that “death” has a much larger pool of celebrities to pick from.
A hundred years ago, there really weren’t many celebrities. Politicians and war heroes were about all we had. Actors and athletes and weren’t famous in their own right until around the time of Rudolph Valentino and Babe Ruth. It took a long time for pop musicians to attain celebrity status. Even longer for rappers.
So yeah, 2016 sucked. We lost Zsa Zsa, who was famous for being famous; and Fidel, who was famous for being mean; and Prince, who was famous for having one name.
But we also continued the tradition of lowering the bar for what qualifies to be famous by making more people famous than ever before. And the more people we choose to love, the more there are to lose.