It seems that in 2016 the Grim Reaper is working overtime, especially when it comes to taking celebrities. The year began with the shock death of David Bowie and continued yesterday with the latest loss, that of Prince. Social media is alive with individuals querying whether the death rate among celebrities is greater than in previous years. The simple answer is yes. The question though still remains as to why.

Nick Serpell, the BBC’s obituaries editor has seen a 5 fold increase compared to last year for the period from January the 1st to March the 31st. This increase is based on measuring the number of obituaries used by BBC outlets from the main store (where obituaries are pre-written). The increase isn’t due to the store having more pre-prepared obituaries and hence greater usage. Also when you look at other media organisations, they observe the same sharp rise. The Telegraph’s culture obituary gallery has seen a rise by 45 deaths when compared to the same time last year.

There maybe several explanations as to why the rise has occurred. Most notably the celebrities passing away currently, are in the main from the baby boomer generation; individuals born between 1946 and 1964. This was the period when the population in the Western Hemisphere grew suddenly as post war constraints began to ease and economies boomed. Conceivably this growth in the population might have meant the proportion of artists of all varieties grew as well coupled with the beginnings of what we would call a modern celebrity, due to the increase in global modes of communication.

The ‘Bay Boomers’ also experienced huge shifts in social attitudes, making vocations such as singing, performing comedy and dancing more acceptable as a career aspiration. Also the outlets for performers increased, it was no longer limited to the big screen and music halls. In the 1950s in the USA television ownership sky rocketed by 77% among households. The 50s also saw the emergence of ‘sensational media’ and the sensationalized celebrity with Hugh Hefner launching Playboy in 1953. All of these changes led to the number of individuals we recognized as a celebrity increasing.

Ironically the proportional population increase in those above 65 (this group make up 18% of the UK population, a rise of 47% compared to 1976) due to improved medical treatment, economic wealth and advances in agriculture means we will see more deaths. Death rate goes up steeply in those above 65. In England and Wales 14.2 per 1,000 men in the age bracket of 65 to 69 died in 2014, compared with 9.4 per 1,000 in the 60 to 64 age bracket.

The current bewilderment with death of so many talented individuals maybe explained by the above, however it doesn’t change the grief we feel or what now feels like a constant reminder of our own mortality. I have lost many of my heroes and heroines now and I’m only 44, hopefully a new generation will step in to fill the vast cultural void created by these deaths. Guess it is time to turn and face the change.

 

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