Sunday, June 28, 2009

Celebrity Deaths: No Rule of Threes

I've been guilty of making this statement, "Oh, he died. Well, that's one. Who will be the next two?" But I've never really bought the crazy theory that celebrities die in threes or bad news comes in threes. So when I make comments like who's the third, I'm chit-chatting, not serious, unless I've got a question or two for the universe that day. As I said in my post on Billy Mays's death today, "I'm at first a skeptic."

On the cockeyed rule of threes wives tale, the assertion that celebrities deaths or the deaths of important people happen in threes, I will never be convinced. I also said in my post on Mays's passing:
The recent deaths, David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and now Mays, blows that kooky theory of celebrities dying in threes. (Billy Mays is dead?)
But people love sensationalistic, hokus pokus nonsense. Over at Digital City, this dumbness already has 79 tweets, "Celebrity Death Rule of Threes: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon." I'd bet most of the people didn't even read the full article, but tweeted it anyway because this theory of people dying in threes seems mysterious.

I'm sure if you look around, you'll find others making a similar observation about McMahon, Fawcett, and Jackson's deaths. Each time we have a rash of celebrity deaths, somebody says this.

Like most things, when people want to support a superstition or myth, they conveniently overlook other critical information that invalidates what they want to believe. In this case, the death of David Carradine two weeks ago made it four not three. Going forward, the death of Billy Mays makes it five not three.

The world saw a rash of celebrity deaths in the last two months of 2006. In November 2006, Ed Bradley (Nov. 9), Gerald LeVert (Nov. 10) and Jack Palance (Nov. 10) died. On December 25, 2006, the Godfather of soul, James Brown died, and former President Gerald Ford died the next day, but quite a few other celebrities died in November and December 2006. I had other blogs back then and felt like every time I turned around somebody famous was dying. has a chart for the same phenomena in 2005. We remember the names we recognize and forget the rest. When people with bigger names die in groups, that's evidence of randomness at work in the universe, not a law of threes. People see patterns where there is no pattern.

The Death Tarot card is from the FBI's site article about the DC sniper who left these cards with "Call Me God" written at the top. I thought it was a fitting graphic because people trying to make sense out of death is similar to how people try to define and figure out the mind of God.

Related in celebrity death coverage: "Michael Jackson's Message on a Napkin: Have Mercy"


Marvalus said...

I've always believed that death comes in threes...that is how it always seems to visit my whether or not that applies to celebs, I don't know.

Vérité Parlant said...

Hmm. Interesting. Not in my family or in my group of friends. No rule of threes at work. Couldn't bear that.

msladydeborah said...


If the theory is remotely real who is to say that there is not another death waiting to happen? There have been five deaths already. Two on the same day.

I don't ever recall anyone saying that the three deaths were together. They just said that celebs die in threes.

I'm not supporting or denying that it might not be so. All I'm doing is pointing out that there are 5 dead celebs on your list. The sense of logic that I have denotes that the possibility of the last one has yet to occur.

If it doesn't happen there will be a whole lot of folks who are relieved.

I would count the ball player that Keith Oblermann talked about as a celebrity because of his career story. He was famous among ball fans because of a game that he played in during the World Series.
He died before Ed did.

I'll e-mail the link and you can watch it.

So let's see if the universe works as many people seem to think that it does.

Vérité Parlant said...

It's highly subjective, Deborah, but still an entertaining debate. I considered the points you made before I wrote the opinion, and it goes beyond this but back to what happened in 2006, 2005, etc. In 2006, there was no third to match James Brown and Gerald Ford in world renown, for instance, unless people reach back and grab someone who died in November. That's not playing fair. :-)

If you check the links to celebrity deaths at Wikipedia that I linked to, you may see why I don't buy it.

Also, what criteria do people use when they say "celebrity" are they not counting the famous people who die that they don't know? For instance, there are European stars that some people in the states know but not all people in the states know. There are people we call celebrities here that folks in Japan could care less about.

Mathematic and randomness would indicate it's not a genuine pattern but a pattern we choose to see similar to Gambler's Paradox or something like that. But it's spooky and so I think it's a "theory" that will never go away unless we all become like Star Trek Vulcans. :-)

Anonymous said...

no doubt Oxi-Clean is going to see a 300% increase in sales over the next couple of days

msladydeborah said...

Okay VP,

Let's take it this debate in this direction just for the fun of it.

How long is the acceptable period of the cycle? Does it have to be within a certain period of time?

Or is the death of a third person the earmark for the end? If someone dies within the next two weeks are they the beginning of a new cycle or the end? From my perspective it would be the end. Unless there is an actual time limitation on the cycle.

The notion that death comes in threes is not limited to just celebs. This is how it seems to run in families and social circles. I can think of many sets of trio deaths that have happened over the years.

Being the Scorpio that I am-it is logical to my way of thinking that a cycle could run over a period of time before it closes out. I've never known that there was an actual numbered limitation on death.

Also, when we say celebrity-is that limited to just the entertainment sector? Or does it include people who have attained a high enough profile to be recognized in the public eye?

We are witnessing the death of Governor Sanford's marriage and political aspirations. Wasn't it Shakespeare that noted that a coward would die a thousand times before his death. But a valiant man only dies once? :-)

What say you on this subject my sista?

Vérité Parlant said...

What's this Deborah, you're a Scorpio? Only sign more prone to mystical, spooky directions is Pisces.

O.K. ... I give up. LOL.

And the fact that I give some credence to Astrological natures shows that sometimes I'm not so skeptical.

I'm an air sign, Aquarius, with moon in a water sign, Cancer. I blame my departures from logic on the latter. ;-)

Pop Art Diva! said...

My mother always said people die in threes but if that's the case who were the other 2 who died at the time of David Carradine? If it was Ed and Farrah, then who will be the third with the Jackson, Mays trio?

It's amazing how easy we humans find it to make the world fit our preconceived ideas isn't it?

msladydeborah said...


You say mystical andspooky as if it is a bad thing! LOL!

This is all done just to keep the brain cells flowing!

We'll just have to watch and see what lies ahead.