2016 was indeed a rough year for celebrity deaths. We lost some big names; Bowie; Prince; George Michael; Carrie Fisher; Muhammad Ali; Leonard Cohen.
That said, the number of memorials may not have been out of the ordinary.
A group of researchers at MIT crunched the numbers and put out a study. First they set a baseline for “fame” established by counting the number of language editions of Wikipedia that include entries devoted to a person. Anyone with 20+ editions ranks among the famous. Sure, not a perfect science, but the researchers argue a pretty good case for their methodology.
What did they find? First of all, the number of famous people overall has multiplied as our methods of communication have grown.
“The slope that emerged with the popularization of shorter forms of printing, like journals and newspapers in the late seventeenth century, increased with the introduction of new communication technologies, like film, radio, and television,” notes the study. “So in the twentieth century we produced famous people at a rate we never did before.”
That being said, 2016 actually saw slightly fewer famous deaths than the trend established by previous years indicated, something we may not have noticed because, as the researchers argue, those who died last year tended to be particularly well-known; big names like David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali.
So, what’s the point here? We’ll see even more famous deaths in 2017 than we did last year. The trend will only continue to increase as time goes by as a generation ages and dies.