Prince, the influential singer, songwriter and performer with a career that spanned nearly 40 years, died at his home, Paisley Park, near Minneapolis at the age of 57. The news spread around the world and garnered tributes to the pop icon from fellow musicians, celebrities and fans.
Prince's passing is the latest in a seemingly constant stream of celebrity deaths hitting the headlines since the year began. In less than five months, the world has lost musician David Bowie, actor Alan Rickman, author Harper Lee, singer Maurice White, actress Doris Roberts and dozens of others. The BBC noted that twice as many obituaries were written in the first quarter of this year as compared with same period last year and nearly five times as many were published in 2012.
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Why is it that so many celebrities are facing their final acts in 2016? While there is no single explanation behind the unusually high number of losses this year, there are a number of factors that contribute to this tragic trend. (Hint: It's not a curse.)
Demographics Baby boomers are aging. In the United States, there are 76.4 million people, or 24 percent of the total population, belonging to the generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2016, those individuals range in age from 52 to 70. Prince is a part of a that generation, as are U.K.-born Bowie, Rickman and many others of this year's notable losses.
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Looking at the 10 leading causes of death by age group as provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data (PDF), from ages 1 through 45, the primary causes of death tend to be "unintentional injury," "homicide" and "suicide." Beginning at 45, "malignant neoplasms," or cancer, and "heart disease" top the list. The number of lives lost only increases with the higher the age group.
A generation as large as the baby boomers would naturally have its own proportional contingent of famous faces, who are now falling to the same conditions claiming their contemporaries.
Social Media Social media greatly accelerates and amplifies the pace with which celebrity news travels, and an emotional experience like the death of a well-known personality is bound to have even more impact.
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The variety of media channels available to consumers also means a greater access to current events that might not have been carried in the pre-digital media days when local, regional and national print, radio and television were the gatekeepers of information.
Celebrity Culture Expanded As consumers have expanded and diversified their sources of entertainment and information, the galaxy of notable names that fit the mold of a star has broadened. Here, too, social and digital media play a role in carrying news of celebrity death beyond what might have been a niche audience.
Prince had an international following, and his name was no doubt familiar to most people who encountered news of his death. But other notables who died this year include Tony Dyson, special effects expert who built R2D2, and Douglas Slocombe, the British cinematographer on the original Indiana Jones trilogy.
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Not to diminish the accomplishments of these two men or the enormous popularity of the series they worked on, but they both worked largely behind the scenes. The news of each of their passings might not have spread beyond the film industry trade press were it not for the ubiquity of the Internet and social media.
Putting it all together suggests that the grim news in the entertainment section of the newspaper might be the new normal. With the year not halfway over, waves of more bad news in the months to come seems tragically unavoidable.