The Myth of Celebrity "Deaths in Threes"

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Myth of Celebrity Death in ThreesIt's been said that celebrity deaths always happen in threes. If one famous person dies, two more high-profile deaths are bound to follow. There may be a couple days in between deaths, but there are people who swear that the "deaths in threes" rule is a hard and fast one. The most famous example of this in recent memory is probably the 2009 Summer of Death when the world lost Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, all within a two-day period. Earlier this year, Russell Johnson (the professor on Gilligan's Island), Dave Madden (of The Partridge Family) and Ruth Robinson Duccini (one of the last surviving munchkins from The Wizard of Oz) all died on the same day.

Fact or Fiction?

So, why does this happen? Is there some cosmic rule that says that famous people have to die in threes? There are billions of people on this planet, with more being born all the time. It would stand to reason that at least a handful of people die every day—there are no doubt at least a few people dying as you're reading this sentence—yet these deaths are in no way related. Celebrities are no exception to mortality, but simply being in the public eye doesn't make them more likely to die immediately following another famous person's death. Famous people die just like everybody else, and the fact that we can name a few instances when three celebrities have passed away within a small time frame does not lend the rule of three any legitimacy. It's all coincidental.

Death and Superstition

And yet, that kind of coincidental death is really eerie and compelling. There really does seem to be some truth behind the rule of three, even if our rational brains tell us there couldn't be. In the end, it really comes down to superstition. Since the beginning of human history, people have tried to come up with explanations for things they don't understand, even things that are beyond explanation. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the world is a chaotic place. Things happen completely at random and without rhyme or reason, yet our brains are constantly looking for patterns. We've been trained to try and figure out why certain things happen the way they do, so when something like a triple celebrity death happens people tend to think there's a reason and a pattern behind it. In fact it's just the inevitable result of a world full of mortals—death. People just die, and some of these people happen to be famous. The fact that three famous people die around the same time ultimately means nothing.

Like other myths and superstitions, the myth of "deaths in threes" is an attempt to try to understand how the world works. Death is scary, and the truth is that it just happens. There is no real way to know exactly when someone will die, but we don't like to face that fact. There is a sense of comfort in declaring that there's a rule governing the deaths of public figures. Ultimately, the myth of "deaths in threes" is just that—a myth.