The Curse of 2016: Why Have So Many Celebrities Died This Year?

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In the comments section for her latest post on the blogging site Medium, a writer named Judy Anne was heavily criticized for her overly-simplistic explanation for why so many beloved celebrities prematurely passed away in 2016.


Like so many of us, Judy Anne is desperate to make somehow make sense of how the entertainment world could be shaken by so many tragedies in a single 12-month span.


Unlike the rest of us, she claims to have the answer.

Muhammad Ali


Judy believes that a rise in the use of illicit substances is to blame for the endless string of famous deaths that marred the past year.


Thankfully, dozens of Medium users were quick to point out the foolishness of her argument.


(The fact that she felt the need to refer to George Michael as “an enthusiastic cannabis user” – as though that habit played any role in his death – certainly didn’t help her case.)


Were some beloved entertainers felled by substance abuse over the past year?

Prince at Coachella


Sadly, yes.


The most obvious example is the death of Prince, who overdosed on the fentanyl, which he had been using to treat chronic pain.


But the celebrities who left us in 2016 did so in myriad ways, ranging from freak accidents to unthinkable acts of violence to old age.


By now, you’ve likely heard the jokes about the awfulness of 2016, joined in the mourning when an entertainer whose work touched your life passed before their time, and wondered aloud why so many celebrities died in such a short period of time.


Of course, despite what Judy Anne would have you believe, there’s no indication that a new addiction epidemic is sweeping Hollywood.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds


No, the real reasons that stars seem to be falling in record numbers are more complex and far less scandalous:


For starters, the number of entertainers, athletes, politicians, and other public figures who could be described as famous exploded in the years after World War II.


As television entered households, entertainment options expanded, and faces were matched with the names of America’s favorite stars.


With each ensuing decade, the number of celebrities increased, sometimes exponentially.


The Internet opened the doors for a new breed of media personality by eliminating the need to follow the traditional paths to fame.

Alan Rickman Photo


In short, there are more celebrities now than ever before, and because the pop cultural landscape we know today began to take shape in the mid-20th Century, many of those stars are getting on in years.


So part of the reason it seems like so many famous people are dying is because we’re feeling the after-effects of the celebrity boom that began in the late ’40s and early ’50s.


Sadly, that means the trend of beloved showbiz icons passing on in astonishing numbers is likely to continue in the years to come.


Of course, the fact remains that some of the stars who left us this year were not baby boomer legends, but young phenoms who had yet to show us what heights they could achieve.

Yelchin, Anton


Anton Yelchin, Christina Grimmie, Joey Feek, Phife Dawg, and Dave Mirra ranged in age from 22 to 45, and they all left this world well before their time in 2016.


There deaths remind us that there’s no way to fully make sense of the tragedies that hit Hollywood this year.


We can point to the increase in the number of celebrities, the proliferation of media that brings our attention to deaths we may not have known about, and plain old horrendous luck, but as anyone who’s ever mourned a loved one knows, attempts to make sense of the loss of a life that touched your own are usually in vain.


Perhaps all we can do for now is be grateful for the stars who are still with us and hope for a better year ahead.

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