I see a lot of social media posts about the grim reaper that 2016 has been. It certainly seems like it has taken a higher than usual toll on our cherished celebrities. Two days ago, we had to put my dog, Bailey, down. It has been a sad time in our house. To occupy my head, I started thinking about quantifying loss. Is it possible to objectively say this year has been worse than others?
First, let me be clear that the loss of a loved one is devastating to those close to that person…or pet. I am not suggesting one death is a greater loss than another to the friends and family of the deceased. I am exploring how that loss affects us, the general public.
The first criteria I established was level of fame. Here is a list of celebrities who died in 2016. I don’t even know who some of these people are. I researched methods of measuring fame, but they are inexact at best. A rudimentary approach is a simple google search of the person and how many responses come back. This is skewed by the actual death, and it can’t be measured retroactively. I can’t google Natalie Cole in 2015. What I can determine is how famous someone is to me, and I can make assumptions about general public awareness. I doubt many people don’t know who Muhammad Ali is.
Next I added current relevance. While probably every American knows who Nancy Reagan is, making her fame level very high, how many of us have really thought about her in the last twenty years?
There is a marked difference in response to the death of Fidel Castro and say, Gene Wilder. To account for this, I added “belovedness.” For Harry Potter fans, Alan Rickman, who portrayed the ultimately heroic and devoted Snape, was truly cherished.
The unexpected celebrity deaths seem to punch us in the collective gut even more. To at least partially account for this, I indexed age against U.S. life expectancy for men and women. I recognize that not all celebrity deaths are American, but I am exploring American reaction to them. Our life expectancy for a male is 76 years so we respond to the death of a British actor in relation to our frame of reference. So, David Bowie’s death at 69 is 91% of life expectancy.
I ended up with this formula: Response = (Fame + Relevance + Belovedness) +/- Age Index.
So, Abe Vigoda passing away at 94 looks like this: F5 +R2 + B8 – AI 23% = Response of 12. By comparison, George Michael dying at 53, with fame of 8, relevance of 4, belovedness of 8 and an age index of +30% has a response score of 26.
For me, who came of age in the eighties, David Bowie has a score of 29.7. Prince has a 32.5. And, with a resurgent relevance score due to her return as Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher has a punch me right in the feels score of 34.
By comparison, 2015 did not have a single celebrity death with a response score above 28. We lost Leonard Nimoy and B.B. King last year, but they were much older. Maureen O’Hara was certainly beloved, but she was 95 and long out of our collective consciousness.
Robin Williams, in 2014, received a 33 but was far and away the highest score.
I calculated the notable celebrity deaths of other years, and I can say with the exact precision of inexact science and questionable math, to quote my better half, “2016 sucked dick.” I would speculate that the values I applied in each formulation at least approximate a median response.
So, you can calculate for yourself or quote me as an expert. 2016 was, in fact, an epic shithole of a year as far as losses of icons go.
Incidentally, my dog passing away at only 8 years old, gets a response score of 36. So, 2016, fuck you and good riddance.