Was 2016 the Worst Year for Celebrity Deaths?
“The internet has made celebrity kind of meaningless” -Bret Easton Ellis
We’ll get back to this quote in a moment. For now, let’s take a look at some of the notable celebrity deaths of 2016.
Pat Harrington Jr.
Angela “Big Ang” Raiola
Frank Sinatra Jr
Mother Mary Angelica
Afeni Shakur Davis
Rev. Tim LaHaye
Greta Zimmer Friedman
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Quite a cast of names. While you may not recognize them all, each achieved a level of celebrity-hood in fields of acting, music, politics, or music. 2016 certainly felt like a bad year for celebrity deaths. With the definition of “celebrity” being so broad, it seems we don’t go too long before we see another beloved famous person’s death being reported.
While I tried to list as many of the notable deaths as possible, I’m sure I missed a handful. On the opposite side, many of you would probably leave off some people on the list, as your definition of celebrity differs from mine. Media outlets are the same and operate under different guidelines. The Los Angeles Times reported 91 “leaders, stars and other notable figures who died in 2016,” while CBS News listed more than 150.
But was 2016 really the worst year on record? Looking at this chart, it doesn’t look like it. But numbers can be deceiving.
The reporting of celebrity deaths has become big business for the media. It gets viewers and hits. The bigger the celebrity, the bigger the attention news outlets receive. Take a look at social media when someone famous dies. This past week my timeline was filled with articles on George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds.
We also have to take into account the prominent deaths 2016 had. Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher…a large number of beloved and influential people were lost.
When it comes to the level of fame itself, the BBC reported on the topic back in April after the deaths of Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman, obituary editor Nick Serpell pointed out that today’s audiences are more aware of a larger number of celebrities. “There are also more famous people than there used to be,” he says. “In my father or grandfather’s generation, the only famous people really were from cinema — there was no television. Then, if anybody wasn’t on TV, they weren’t famous.”
Which is true. Since the 1970s, the celebrity news machine has broken away from being controlled by the studio system and become a money maker for celebrity tabloids. People Magazine was launched in 1974 and we’ve never looked back.
“As the celebrity industry got more and more decentralized and there were more and more outlets for celebrity information, there were more avenues for people to be visible and be talked about,” said Joshua Gamson, a sociologist of celebrity culture at the University of San Francisco. “If there’s a sense of more famous people dying, that’s partly because there’s a phenomenon of more celebrity supply from a certain period of time that is now reaching middle age and late middle age.”
At the end of the day, statistics and quotes from experts are just numbers and words. We mourn celebrity deaths because of what they mean to us; for the memories they’ve given us through their talent. They are a piece of our childhood and adulthood; they’ve made us laugh and cry. They influenced us and entertained us. Everyone dies and while it might seem trivial to some to mourn a celebrity, it’s quite natural.
A big thank you to those who passed in 2016; for their work, their light,and talent. Have a safe and Happy New Year!