General Question

SuperMouse's avatar

(Somebody had to ask) Celebrities die in threes: time proven fact or mere coincidence?

Asked by SuperMouse (30772points) June 25th, 2009

Word of Michael Jackson’s death has prompted many to say “Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, they always die in threes.” Do you buy into this theory or is it just a coincidence?

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68 Answers

Ivan's avatar

Please do not taint the word ‘theory.’

syz's avatar

“they always die in threes” – they who? I only see one example.

gailcalled's avatar

Michael Jackson, at age 50, was pronounced dead 8 minutes ago.

lukiarobecheck's avatar

I don’t believe. Simple reason. Who else died around the time of Anna Nicole Smith? Or what about Heath Ledger? Any one know if anyone else died around the same time as they both met their untimely demise?

cookieman's avatar

It seems that way – but I think it’s coincidence.

SuperMouse's avatar

Here is an article on the subject.

dynamicduo's avatar

Coincidence, of course. There is no evidence to support that theory at all. However, our human brains are programmed to try and detect patterns where there really are none.

Jeruba's avatar

It’s just a perception about on a par with seeing shapes in the clouds.

pats04fan's avatar

Now Fours. =(

chyna's avatar

@pats04fan Are you saying Jeff Goldblum died?

avalmez's avatar

Absolutely coincidence, but it is strange that deaths in general seem to occur in 3’s. I for one breathe a sigh of relief when #3 happens. Btw jackson’s death is quite the surprise

chyna's avatar

Unless you want to count David Carradine too.

pats04fan's avatar

Uhh we should wait on it Chyna.

MacBean's avatar

People die. Humans are pattern-seekers, so we group them.

bythebay's avatar

I’ve also heard people refer to the “3 theory” many times with regard to accidents; more specifically plane crashes.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

People die in thousands. It would not surprise me if a mere three just so happened to be celebrities of some kind.

momo5j7's avatar

I think it’s true. Look at Princess Diana, Versache, and Mother Theresa! I’m sure there are more, but famous celebrity for older generations means “who?” to me.

eponymoushipster's avatar

it’s a rule we have in the Pentaverate…oops. shouldn’t have mentioned them….

slikkest's avatar

Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro and Suzanne Pleshette. Frankie Lane, Ian Richardson, Anna Nicole Smith.

Jack79's avatar

Well you see, I don’t know who Ed McMahon was, and he’s certainly not as famous as Michael Jackson. I could probably look him up and realise he’s that guy from all those films I’ve seen, or the drummer of my favourite band. But the point is, the only reason he’s in this trio is because someone was trying to complete the number three to prove the theory. If Madonna had also died today, you wouldn’t say “famous people die in fours”, you’d just ignore Ed McMahon.

And of course Caradine doesn’t count, that was days ago. It’s not even a coincidence. Would be a coincidence if he had died on the same day, or in the same way.

slikkest's avatar

Ed McMahon is just as famous if not more than Farrah! Ed McMahon was the man who became famous AT FIRST for announcing “HEEEERRRE’S JOHNNY!” On the Johnny Carson show!

pats04fan's avatar

He is really famous, he is old too, so that could be a reason you don’t know him.

slikkest's avatar

Okay, how about the host of Star Search. I’m only 26, and even I can remember Ed McMahon from Star Search. Or the co host of the TV Bloopers show.

chyna's avatar

@slikkest Welcome to Fluther.

pats04fan's avatar

Or how about giving millions of dollars to people by knocking on doors

SuperMouse's avatar

…and wasn’t his home in Malibu foreclosed on fairly recently?

slikkest's avatar

Actually I think Donald Trump bought it and allowed Ed to continue living in it. This was about a year ago.

slikkest's avatar

patss04fan : I figured people would confuse this with Publisher’s Clearing House, considering Ed did this for American Family Publishers forever ago.

SuperMouse's avatar

@slikkest Tuesday night’s “Moment of Zen” on The Daily Show was an old clip of Jon Stewart mistakenly talking about McMahon working for Publishers Clearing House, in return McMahon called Stewart “Craig.”

slikkest's avatar

That’s hilarious! I did not know that, but I am going to youtube it to see it.

irocktheworld's avatar

That’s confusing…who are all those people besides michael?

aprilsimnel's avatar

@slikkest – There’s a lot of people here on Fluther who live outside the US and Canada who have never seen Ed McMahon or any of the shows he was on, and thus have no idea who he is. I know, but I’m an American. Just letting you know. Welcome!

Bluefreedom's avatar

Wouldn’t it have been 4 this time around?

Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, David Carradine.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

This is the same false sort of thinking that talks about how more people end up in the ER during a full moon. I’ve had nurses tell me this is true, when in fact, when you check the hospital records, there is no truth to it at all. It’s pattern seeking, nothing more.

Jack79's avatar

yes, ended up looking him up. Of course he’s famous, if you’re an American who watches TV. He’s almost as famous as Stefan Rabb, whom most of you have never heard of. Perhaps even as famous as Cilla Black. Though not as famous as Reeves or Mortimer or of course Jenny Eclaire. I guess someone of course could go on and argue that there are people in this world who’ve never heard of Michael Jackson either. And they’d be right. Because actually the key word here (if we’re looking for a statistical anomaly) would be “famous” and we’d have to define the group of famous people before going on to check when they die.

In that case, Michael Jackson is someone known to at least 3 billion people worldwide, perhaps more. Farrah Fawcett was probably known to over 1b at some point in her life, though as older people die and younger generations watch newer films that number has been steadily falling since. I was only vaguely aware of her and I’m 37. And Ed McMahon was probably well-known to 250m Americans, but nobody else.

But what about the presenter of the evening news in China? 1.5 billion people watch that show every night, because there’s only one TV channel in the country. Isn’t he also a famous person? Shouldn’t his suicide last night also be added to our list? Ok I just made that up, but imagine if such a person did exist (and I’m sure there’s Bollywood actors with a billion fans we’ve never heard of here in the West), would we really take notice? I guess “famous” simply means that you are fairly well-known within a given group of people. Being “very famous” in the US for example means everyone has at least heard of you, whereas being “relatively famous” could mean that perhaps half the people in the country have heard of you, and some have seen your film/bought your album/read your book.

It doesn’t change the fact that the “pattern” is only imaginary, I’m just pointing out that by redifining “famous” we come up with the explanation of why it is so easy to tamper with the evidence, since our pool of nominees is arbitrary and can be altered at will. Thus a relatively famous person (Neil Young’s base player for example) can be in or out of our list, depending on our needs.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@Jack79 if all 1.5billion had tvs…or electricity.

knitfroggy's avatar

Just because you’re from another country and don’t know who Ed McMahon was doesn’t mean he wasn’t very famous in America. He’s a household name. I remember watching him on Johnny Carson, The Jerry Lewis Telethon, Star Search and TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark. Dick Clark probably isn’t famous either because you’ve never heard of him :)

dalepetrie's avatar

Well, since Walter Cronkite is supposedly on his way out as well, assuming we get news of his passing in a few days, one of two things will happen, either people will start saying “Farah, Michael and Walter…they always go in threes”, or if 2 more people go, then it will be Cronkite and whomever the other two are. No one ever says what the timeframe of the three is, and what are the qualifications to make you one of the three. I mean, did Las Vegas performer Danny Gans achieve enough notoriety that he could be one of the “threes” in popular folklore when he died on May 1, and if so, how long is it fair to look before and/or after to make him one of the three? Do we add Dom DeLuise who died 3 days later AND Bea Arthur who died 6 days before? I mean, that’s 10 freakin’ days AND stretches the definition of “celebrity”. So let’s say Danny Gans doesn’t count…do you look 13 days before Bea Arthur and include Marilyn Chambers, or do you look 30 days later to David Carradine? And between Dom DeLuise and David Carradine, NO ONE of note died…that’s 30 days. And between David Carradine and Ed McMahon, NO ONE of note died…that’s 20 more days.

No, that’s just plain retarded.

Jack79's avatar

@knitfroggy that was not the point. Of course he was. I’m just pointing out the flaw in the argument, not saying he was not famous within a particular country. I bet you can’t name Stefan Rabb’s TV show though, and he probably had just as many viewers. But it’s not a “who is more famous” competition, just a discussion of “how famous you need to be in order to be included in this pattern theory”. My problem with the theory is that the borders are stretched at will, not whether a particular individual was inluded or not.

knitfroggy's avatar

@Jack79 I was just shittin’ with you! I don’t believe in the pattern really either. I don’t care who had died though, Michael Jackson’s death is going to overshadow it. I was only 2 at the time, but it’s got to be something like when Elvis died, I’m guessing.

avalmez's avatar

Speaking of fame being relative, Johnny Carson used to say Europe was one his favorite places in the world because he could walk the streets there freely as opposed to getting mobbed anywhere he might go in the USA.

slikkest's avatar

David Carradine was actually the first in his group of 3. John Houghtaling (the inventer of the coin operated vibrating bed) died, then Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald who is a famous doctor because she performed a breast biopsy on herself in Antarctica, and later wrote a book on it, died the same day as Ed McMahon, who begun another series of threes.

slikkest's avatar

dalepetrie: to answer your question though, Marilyn French (writer) goes with Dom DeLuise (comic) and David Eddings (writer). Bea Arthur (actress) is in the middle with Danny Gans (comic) and J.G. Ballard (author). Marilyn Chambers (model) is also in the middle with Jack Wrangler (porn) and Mark Fidrych (baseball). I think these examples including the one prior, stretches over a lot of different types of “famous”.

irocktheworld's avatar

They do???????

slikkest's avatar

Yes! Doctor, Inventor, Porn Star, Baseball Player, Actor, Writer of movies, Author of books, Singer, Model, and Announcer. Thats a lot of types of famous in two months of dead celebs.

slikkest's avatar

okay lets go back a little more: Andy Hallett (actor), Jody McRea (actor). Dave Arneson (co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons). Then theres Dan Seals (singer), Irving LeVine (Newscaster), and Maurice Jarre (composer). Next we have Betsy Blair, Ron Silver, and Natasha Richardson (all actors) but prior theres Horton Foote (writer), Jimmy Boyd (actor), and Lenore Annenberg (Philanthropist). Philip Farmer (writer), Wendy Richard (actor), Paul Harvey (Radio Broadcaster. John McGlinn (conductor), Dr. Eugenia Calle (epidemiologist), Howard Zieff (director).... it keeps going!

eponymoushipster's avatar

…and probably several million other dead people as well. yet everyone’s shitting themselves over a kid diddler. next topic.

knitfroggy's avatar

he was never convicted of “kid diddling”

eponymoushipster's avatar

@knitfroggy and oj wasnt convicted of killing his ex-wife and her friend ron goldman.

knitfroggy's avatar

@eponymoushipster You have a point there about OJ, but I never thought MJ was a child molester and apparently neither did the jurors

dalepetrie's avatar

@slikkest – OK, first off, yo uhave to define celebrity. I see you went to dead people server just like I did, but you know what? I don’t consider the guy who invent the magic fingers bed to be a celebrity. I don’t think inventing something that becomes ubiquitous qualifies you to be part of the “set of three”. So first off, set up some parameters. I’ll suggest one…how bout this…1% of the world’s population, 60 million people, have to know who you were. Jackson, Fawcett and McMahon qualify, none of these other people do. Because think about it, if you don’t narrow the number of potential candidates for the “goes in threes” superstition, then your pool of people is too damn big, and that’s not coincidence then, it’s simply law of averages. If we’re going to include anyone who’s ever had any notoriety beyond his or her own neighborhood, well that’s probably 10% of the planet right there, so of COURSE they’re going to go in 3s, just do the math to see how many people die every day. So, that alone blows the 3s thing out of the water, unless you want to put NO time limit, or a very lax one on the rule. Basically you have examples of times when no one who meets the definition I set forth (or perhaps an even more lax one, let’s say HALF of a percent of the people on the planet or 30M) dies for 2 or 3 weeks in either directions. Well yeah, if you keep the whole thing open for a month, then again, it’s just simple MATH that dictates in any given 30 day period, 3 people of acclaim are going to pass away. I mean just the number of candidates divided by the number of people on the planet, vs. the percentage of people on the planet who die every day, and it’s a mathematical certainty, not some spooky coincidence. The whole thing is superstitious nonsense which can be disproven with a 3rd grade education in basic math.

SuperMouse's avatar

Well, maybe we need to consider that fact that they actually die in fours. Either that or two more are going in the next couple of days. But then again was Billy Mays really a celebrity?

chyna's avatar

@SuperMouse At least in his own mind.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I turned off the TV yesterday the moment that Don Lemon and Jesse Jackson started asking about where MJ’s doctor was during the whole thing. I remembered that old Eddie Murphy sketch on SNL where Buckwheat dies, and then his killer, John David Stutts (also played by Murphy) gets shot (“Ouch. I’ve been shot.”) and it’s all played out on Nightline. It was a snarky commentary on the media’s actions in both the Kennedy/Oswald and Lennon/Chapman killings: “The murder of John David Stutts, brought to you by Exxxon. Because you could die tomorrow. Just like John. David. Stutts.”

Watching that mess on CNN yesterday made me complicit in the very machinery that chewed Jackson up. ::sigh::

dalepetrie's avatar

@aprilsimnel – One of my favorite 1980s SNL moments.

“I nub noo, I nub noo.”

“Life goes on, and Texxon is there…because Buckwheat would have wanted it that way.”

And really, it was based more on Reagan’s shooting than anything.

aprilsimnel's avatar

No doubt, but the portrayal and death of Stutts were definitely echoes of Oswald and Chapman.

dalepetrie's avatar

True…wish I could find a YouTube clip.

Because Buckwheat would have wanted it that way.

Aethelwine's avatar

Three “celebrities” died while I was vacationing for 6 days: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Billy Mays. Hmmm.

aprilsimnel's avatar

And Karl Malden died today, as did Mollie Sugden (Mrs Slocombe on Are You Being Served?)

dalepetrie's avatar

@jonsblond – thanks a bajillion.

dalepetrie's avatar

@aprilsimnel – here’s the 2nd part of that Buckwheat thing, the part about John David Stutts

Yeah, you can really see how in the first one it was essentially 3 things…one was that it was completely based on Reagan’s shooting…they had the angles down the same and everything, two was about the incessant replaying of the clip, which is EXACTLY what they did, and three was the crass commercialization of even THIS.

Then the second clip, the vigil was exactly what you saw with Lennon, then the things Stutts was saying were like Mark David Chapman, thinking he’d become famous by killing someone famous. Then of course there was a HUGE dig at the media when a psychologist called them irresponsible for doing exactly what Stutts wanted and they turn around and do a bio of him. But Stutts walking down the hall was EXACTLY like Oswald, it was perfect. Then of course this one was commercialized by a life insurance company, and add to that the stereotype of the quiet loner, and the abusrdity that everyone knew he was going to do it….that’s so classic.

I hadn’t seen these clips since I was like 12, at the time I didn’t get half of the subtext, I’m so amazed at the quality of the satire they put out in those days in retrospect…now we get sketches about excitable ladies who work at Target. What the hell happened?

Aethelwine's avatar

@dalepetrie Thanks for the second clip. I assumed it was with the clip I linked to. I should have watched the whole thing last night! It was great to watch again.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@dalepetrie & @jonsblond – Holy cow! Well, put me in a TARDIS and call me Sarah Jane, but did that ever bring back memories of when Eddie Murphy was brilliant. Thanks, you two.

gailcalled's avatar

@aprilsimnel: I loved Mollie Sugden and still occasionally watch Are You Being Served and Grace and Favor. Boo Hoo.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

we only look for incidents that prove that right. sure, three celebrities might die at once, but we often disregard any other celebrities that make that 4 or 5, or if it’s 6, then we’re like “OMG TWO GROUPS OF THREE”. it’s just confirming what you already believe. plenty of celebrities have died without there being any other sudden drops in celebrity-populations, but we don’t note those cases…

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