2016: the Year the Stars Went Out?

2016: the Year the Stars Went Out?

No question, there have been many sad losses of celebrities this year. For one thing, mainstream news has reported on several actors who played iconic geek-friendly roles…from Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) to Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to The Man Who Fell to Earth (David Bowie).

People have suggested that this is the worst year to date for celebrity deaths…what we could call “The Year the Stars Went Out”.

Is that the case, though?

Every death matters. It’s not a competition, and each person deserves individual attention.

However, I thought it was worth looking at this idea…I’m always reluctant to frame things in a negative way. Have more celebrities died this year? If that’s not the case, why is that perception there?

My first thought was that there have been other years…and not just recent ones. After all, the In Memoriam segment at the Oscars always takes some time.

The year that immediately occurred to me was 1977. I remembered offhand that Groucho Marx and Zero Mostel had both died in 1977, and that at the time, I noted that there were several other big stars. I speculated then that babies named after celebrities that year might have some odd names (not that I’m someone to speak about the oddness of someone’s name).

To refresh myself, I ran a search for celebrities with a “death year” of 1977 at IMDb:

Most Popular People With Date of Death in 1977 at IMDb

My recollection had been correct. Just from that list:

  • Elvis Presley…arguably, there are no bigger music stars
  • Bing Crosby: an iconic figure, a giant of music, then movies, and TV
  • Charlie Chaplin: a very nostalgic figure at the time
  • Groucho Marx
  • Zero Mostel
  • Joan Crawford
  • Ethel Waters
  • Howard Hawks
  • Andy Devine
  • Eddie “Rochester” Anderson
  • Freddie Prinze: a popular actor of the period, in the category of “dead too young”
  • Of more specifically geek interest were Richard Carlson, Allison Hayes, Jacques Tourneur, William Castle, and Henry Hull

That search returns more than 1,300 names (not all of which will be well-known).

Still, I would say that there was at least a higher public awareness of celebrities who died in 2016 than in 1977.

I think there may be three main reasons for that:

  1. Pop culture now has a much longer “shelf life” than it used to have. Thanks in part to the preservation and distribution enbaled by the internet (following television giving audiences the ability to see older movies, starting especially in the 1950s), people can easily see media which is one hundred years old, which wasn’t the case even twenty-five years ago. Electronic distribution of public domain works is very low cost. There are lots of sources. My own The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project is built on the concept of enjoying older media. When Andy Warhol popularized the idea that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes…” in 1968, the suggestion was that someone would be famous, and then not famous. Now, it’s much more that if you become famous, you will at least continue to be known to the public forever. See also You’re showing your age when you say, “You’re showing your age”.
  2. Geeks honor their own…and the vast majority of famous actors has a geek connection. Now that geeks are the mainstream (look at the most popular movies in any week), this tradition of ours to recognize actors who have had even a single credit or a small recurring role means that geek-friendly actors get a lot more respect than they used to get. Oscar winners always got coverage: that wasn’t the case with non-stars of geek-friendly TV shows, for example, but I’m now likely to see several articles on the passing of someone like that
  3. The multiplicity of media: there are 24 hour news channels, but also blogs and websites which specialize in geek topics…and those may be picked up by the mainstream

So, I do think part of it is perception…and that perception will continue next year. We will hear about the deaths of stars of the 1960s, 1950s, earlier, and also later. The news media will cover the passing of geek-friendly stars, and we will honor their lives.

Over the next few weeks, we will be updating our 2016 Geeky Goody-byes, where you can see more of a list.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


6 Responses to “2016: the Year the Stars Went Out?”

  1. Phink Says:

    For some reason humans have a tendency to always believe that what they are going through at the moment is the worse it has ever been. That seems to be true in all aspects of life. Even if a certain person actually lived through a worse time they seem to forget easily and concentrate on how bad the situation is at the moment.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      Well, I’d amend that and say that “some humans” have that tendency. 🙂 It might even be a majority, and I can see why that would be. It makes you less responsible for your own level of success. If times are bad and you barely survive, you’ve done a great job. If times are good and you thrive, that’s just the nature of the era. 🙂

      Other people, like me, tend to see the time as good and getting better (even if there are big negatives and things to overcome). I remember being very surprised when I was managing a bookstore and asked my employees if they thought the world was getting better. This was largely a group of people in their twenties (and probably young twenties at that). They universally thought it was getting worse. I asked them to imagine what life would have been like for them 100 years ago. Then, a hundred years before that. The team included women and minorities and particularly for those groups, it seemed irrefutable that there was more opportunity and freedom “now” (this was some time ago) than there had been before.

      I’ve seen evidence that being an optimist has a genetic component, so I certainly don’t fault people for being pessimistic…that may be easier for some people than for others, although it obviously also can be overcome.

      If we assume that people can’t be objective in evaluating something like how positive or negative their current situation is, then I think the advantages (in reduced responsibility for personal achievement) in assuming that the situation is bad are…calming.

  2. Phink Says:

    Yeah, I did not mean 100% of humans of course. I guess I should have said that. Anyway, I hear older people sometimes say “I miss the good ol’ days.” then they go into a speech about how much better it used to be. I listen because I love talking to older generations. We can learn so much from them. I do however point out when they are done “the good ol’ days? I see what you mean but did you forget no air-conditioning, chopping wood in order to stay warm in the winter, much less crop yield per acre of land etc.” They usually think and say something like “you are right about that. I would miss air-conditioning.” But sometimes they talk about how it was cooler back then and then talk about how horrible the weather is and the worse it’s ever been in today’s times LOL. I bet it was hot as hades in August in Arkansas back then too. Our humidity is just horrible here. Arkansas is almost unbearable hot because of the humidity in the summer.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I suspect the heat is, in part, that many older people just can’t regulate their body temperatures as well as younger people.


      I tend to go to broader strokes:

      “You mean when polio was a common threat and the flu was a death sentence? When women couldn’t vote and it was illegal to teach African-Americans to read? When only the elite could afford serious books? When you might have three TV networks and one bookstore and a newsstand as your source of news?” I could certainly keep going with a lot of health, social, and technology issues.

      Now, people will point to specific changes in the past five years or twenty years, and that can be legitimate, but that’s a very short timespan for comparisons when we are talking about the world. 🙂

      • Phink Says:

        Very good points. I don’t know about the rest of the nation but I have heard here in my area hundreds of times in my life where an older person longs for the old days. I think in most cases they just have not really thought about what that would mean. They simply remember everyone being a little friendlier and leaving doors unlocked I guess.

  3. Geeky Good-byes January 2017 | The Measured Circle Says:

    […] 2016: the Year the Stars Went Out? […]

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