Have you ever thought when a celebrity dies that there will likely be more to come? You wouldn’t be the only one. In fact, many believe that there is a rule of threes that surrounds celebrity deaths. It may be a mere coincidence but there is certainly some compelling and extensive evidence that when someone famous dies there will usually be two more that follow shortly after.
‘The Summer of Death’
The summer of 2009 was given the nickname “The Summer of Death” due to the sheer number of celebrities who ended up in the obituary section. While there were many big stars who died, perhaps the most surprising were Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett, whose deaths were extremely close together – the first on June 23 and the latter two both on June 25.
It’s thought that McMahon died from old age at 86, as his health had been slowly declining and he’d had frequent hospitalizations. Fawcett had also been sick for some time before her death at age 62 when she lost her fight with cancer. Jackson’s death at age 50 was undoubtedly the most unexpected. He overdosed on medication, largely at the fault of his doctor who was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
While these deaths certainly had a profound effect on the public, the entire list of celebs who died shows just how the summer of 2009 earned its morbid nickname.
And (not) a happy New Year
For many, New Year 2016 was anything but happy after three well-known celebrities lost their battles with cancer within the same week. First, David Bowie died on January 10, only three months after learning his cancer was terminal. As he decided not to share this news with the public, it came as a shock to the world when they saw the headline that he had lost his fight. Yet the devastation was far from over.
On January 14, Alan Rickman, best known and loved as Professor Severus Snape from the Harry Potter films, also died from cancer. His death prompted an outpouring of love and remembrance from former cast members, many of whom said he was one of the greatest actors and people they knew. On the same day, Céline Dion announced that her husband René Angélil, a music producer, manager, and singer, had died from throat cancer.
Another memorable set of threes
The year 2016 also saw another sad trilogy of prominent celebrity deaths. Actor Alan Thicke, singer George Michael, and actress Carrie Fisher all passed away unexpectedly in December. Thicke, best known for his work on the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains, collapsed on December 13 while playing ice hockey with his son. He died later that day from an aortic dissection at the age of 69.
Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher experienced a medical emergency aboard a flight on December 23 and died four days later at the age of 70. And George Michael, who was 53 years old, died at home on December 25. Oddly, one of his most beloved songs was “Last Christmas.”
Harry Potter heartbreak
Most recently, the rule of three tragically seems to have come into play with some beloved actors from the UK, including two from the Harry Potter franchise – as if losing the on-screen Severus Snape years earlier wasn’t enough. Within the span of a month in late 2022, the world lost The Sorting Hat and Hagrid, played by Leslie Phillips and Robbie Coltrane. In addition, Angela Lansbury, the highly acclaimed British actress, also died.
Lansbury died on October 11 from what appeared to be natural causes, followed three days later by Coltrane on October 14 after he experienced multiple organ failure. Both were fondly remembered for their acting careers and their beloved personalities.
November 22, 1963
One of the most prominent death trilogies in modern history took place on November 22, 1963. On that day, the celebrated writers C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) both passed away. However, the news of their deaths was overshadowed by another tragedy: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
There’s a novel about the day, entitled Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley. Peter Kreeft wrote the book about the three men meeting in Purgatory and having a discussion about faith.
A New York Times study
Despite these compelling examples, there’s no rule that celebrity deaths happen in threes. In fact, the New York Times examined extensive data from their obituary archives in 2014 in an effort to “bust” this myth.
They found 449 celebrity deaths (defined by obituary length) since 1990. In 75 of these cases, two celebrities had died within three days of each other. But there were only seven times that three famous people had passed away within a five-day period, or “what you’d expect by random chance.”
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Their conclusion? “Despite the all-too-human desire to find patterns in life, there really are none here.”