Famous People Die Young Unscientific Study Finds

Famous people may die sooner than the rest of us. Then again, they may not.

Famous people may die sooner than the rest of us. Then again, they may not.

Reuters (“Price of fame: Performers and sports stars die younger“)

The price of fame can be high with an international study on Thursday finding that people who enjoy successful entertainment or sporting careers tend to die younger.

Researchers Richard Epstein and Catherine Epstein said the study, based on analysing 1,000 New York Times obituaries from 2009-2011, found film, music, stage performers and sports people died at an average age of 77.2 years.

This compared to an average lifespan of 78.5 years for creative workers, 81.7 for professionals and academics, and 83 years for people in business, military and political careers.

The Australian-based researchers said these earlier deaths could indicate that performers and sports stars took more risks in life, either to reach their goals or due to their success.

“Fame and achievement in performance-related careers may be earned at the cost of a shorter life expectancy,” the researchers wrote in their study published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

“In such careers, smoking and other risk behaviors may be either causes of effects of success and/or early death.”

Either that or a survey of the NYT obituaries makes for a poor research design. Just off the top of my head, I’m guessing soldiers killed in combat and training accidents—or, indeed, military personnel who don’t achieve national fame of some sort—don’t get NYT obits. That’s gonna skew the results, folks.

FILED UNDER: Health, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This is kind of like using the NYT’s Wedding Announcements to survey the most popular venue’s for receptions.

  2. wr says:

    Yes, entertainers definitely take more risks in their life than people in the military…

    This may be the dumbest “study” in history.

  3. John Peabody says:

    Yes, well, a young person who dies near the top of their career would get an obit. A person who would have rated an obit when they were hot 50 years ago might not get an obit today. So, this ‘old’ pop star would not have counted, either. Stupid study.

  4. Katy says:

    It is an interesting perspective. I can’t think of another way to collect data such as this on such a specific subset of ‘famous’ or ‘successful’ people. Analysing obituaries seems like the best way to obtain data on age, cause of death and profession.

    The study isn’t trying to say that people in the military don’t take risks – merely that military figures who are high enough achievers to earn an obituary in the New York Times are, statistically speaking, likely to live longer than certain other professions.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Katy: First, no, the study authors are trying to claim that this represents the average death of military personnel, not just the subset that get NYT obits. And you know what kind of military folk get NYT obits? Generally speaking, former four-star generals and admirals. Which means they have to reach age 60 or so just to qualify.

    Also @John Peabody makes an interesting point: A River Phoenix gets a NYT obit because he’s at the height of his fame when he goes. But lots of actors who are that famous in their 20s fall off the map by the time they’re 30; it’s a fickle business. They NYT isn’t doing obits on them unless they’re still noteworthy decades later.