David Bowie. Gene Wilder. Muhammad Ali. Prince. Alan Thicke. George Michael. Carrie Fisher.
If you think 2016 was a bad year for celebrity deaths, just wait until 2017. It’s only getting worse from here on out.
As a media director, I’ve spent my career studying all forms of media in order to determine the best ways to reach consumers. Through the course of my work, I’m reminded daily of the growth and fragmentation of media. My Boomer-generation colleagues love to remind me of the days when there were only three TV stations to watch. According to Nielsen, the average American with a cable subscription now has access to 189 cable TV channels. I love to reminisce with my friends about the days when you had to go to a store to buy an LP or tape of your favorite artist. If you were lucky enough to have a Coconuts music store or f.y.e. in your neighborhood, you had access to maybe a couple thousand artists to choose from. Today, I can instantly listen to more than 30 million different tracks on Spotify, and I can hear and watch more of them on YouTube and other social channels.
As time has passed, all of these extra entertainment and media choices has equated to more “celebrities.” It’s not that we’re producing a higher percentage of talented people than we were, let’s say, 50 years ago. It’s just that there are more outlets, more ways, to be “famous” – more musical artists, more comics, more movie stars, more people famous for being on a reality TV show. More people famous for being famous.
While we may not consider all of these well-known individuals to hold equal celebrity-status, their deaths are nevertheless felt deeply and profoundly by their followers and fans. When 13-year-old YouTube star Caleb Bratayley passed away in 2015, his loss was certainly newsworthy. He was mourned by his family, friends and over 1.5 million YouTube subscribers. Additionally, U.S. adults are now consuming more media per day than ever before – somewhere around 10 hours and 39 minutes, according to Adweek. And more media consumption means more exposure to different celebrities. And eventually, this will equate to more celebrity deaths to mourn.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but will leave you with this: the one thing that all of 2016’s celebrity deaths have in common is that they remind us that our time on earth is finite. Each loss is a reminder to appreciate life, to be grateful for your loved ones, and to live in the present.
Of course, living in the present will be a challenge for all of us, considering we spend nearly half of every day consuming media.