Why demographics is behind this alarming spate of celebrity deaths

30 April 2016

The popular BBC Radio 4 programme, More or Less, recently reported that between January and March 2016, the BBC had written 24 obituaries.

Spate of celebrity deaths

The popular BBC Radio 4 programme, More or Less, recently reported that between January and March 2016, the BBC had written 24 obituaries. Prince, David Bowie, Ronnie Corbett, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee and Victoria Wood are just a few of the names on that list.  

That number, when compared to the same period in 2015 (12) and 2014 (11), must make worrying reading for ageing rockers and TV stars. Funeral directors naturally expect a spike in funeral services in the winter months, but it’s hard to imagine these wildly famous and fabulously wealthy icons of society were even affected by a lack of natural light during one of the mildest winters in British history. Actually, the answer seems far more likely to be down to demography rather than meteorology.

Arguably influencing our behaviour more than anything since, the introduction of television as mainstream entertainment created opportunities for thousands of people to become household names. Forget Facebook; the 50s was the original age of new media through the medium of TV.

BBC Obituaries Editor, Nick Serpell said: “We are beginning to see people reach their 70’s and 80’s who came to fame during the 50’s and 60’s. When you look back the only really famous people that people came across were movie stars as they went to the cinema.

“But, through the 50’s we had television which brought more famous people into people’s rooms, music in particular, we had the growth of rock and roll and if you remember The Who sang about (their single) My Generation, ‘I hope I die before I get old’, and while some of them did the majority of them didn’t.

“All these people during the growth of celebrity are reaching their 70’s and 80’s where they are going to start to die and I think that’s what causing this.”

But as the rise of celebrity has accelerated since the 1950s, there are now more celebrities than ever before, which will come as no consolation to pop culture fans who can only expect the number of celebrity deaths to increase. Worth remembering however, is Leonardo Da Vinci's apt take on death before his end, which certainly applies to so many of those we have lost this year: “Just as a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”