Bowie BBC obituaries celebrity deaths famous 2016

It’s not just you, more famous people really have died in 2016

BBC traced its pre-prepared obituaries and saw that, yes, there was an uptick this year.

- Dec 20, 2016

Did it seem like stars were falling from the sky at an alarming rate this year?

We rang in 2016 mourning David Bowie and basically stayed dressed in our funeral black through the deaths of Prince, Glenn Frey, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Sharon Jones, Bernie Worrell and Leonard Cohen. It wasn't just the music world either: Fidel Castro, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman, Mohammed Ali, Alan Thicke, just to list a few more of the boldfaced names that passed inside this shitty calendar.

"Damn it, 2016!" became a refrain all across the internet. The website DeathList even got 10 of its 50 yearly predictions correct — perhaps its best performance ever. But was it real or just an illusion?

In April, BBC Obituaries Editor Nick Serpell sensed an anomaly. He counted the pre-prepared obituaries the BBC used either online or broadcast on TV or radio from January to the end of March 2016 and found that number way up. For that same period in 2012, for example, the BBC had published five pre-prepared obituaries; by April 2016: 24!

BBC Obituaries 2016

Pre-prepared BBC obituaries that ran on TV, radio and online from January 1 to March 31

This is obviously a pretty crude metric, but how else might you define fame? Those big enough to warrant a pre-prepared obituary seems reasonable, if overly conservative.

Serpell has his theories. "People who started becoming famous in the 1960s are now entering their 70s and are starting to die." Also, with a boom in media platforms, there are just more famous people than there used to be. "In my father or grandfather's generation," he says, "the only famous people really were from cinema - there was no television." There are more obits waiting in BBC's file than when he started, he confirms.

BBC obituaries 2

Pre-prepared BBC obituaries that ran on TV, radio and online

Checking back on the figures in December, Serpell says the numbers have levelled out, matching the monthly average of pre-prepared obits published for years prior.

As of December 15, the BBC has released 42 pre-written remembrances in 2016. That's thirty percent more than last year.

And if Serpell's theory stands, it's all downhill from here.


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