There’s been much hand-wringing about 2016 killing off so many of our beloved celebrities: Bowie. Ali. Prince. Carrie. Yes, it was bad. But was it really the deadliest year for famous people? There’s no scientific way to measure this, but we took a crack at it anyway.
We started by looking at the deaths of Oscar nominees in acting categories– maybe the biggest measure of movie stardom – going back to 2006. By this yardstick, 2016 was a pretty average year. We lost Debbie Reynolds and Gene Wilder and a few others, but the death toll was nothing like 2014, when 10 Oscar nominees – including Lauren Bacall, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams – died. (In fairness, this year’s count excludes Carrie Fisher, who was never nominated for an Oscar.)
For this category, we looked at deaths of Grammy winners in the performing categories only (no technical awards). And yes, 2016 really was a brutal year for our musical heroes. We said goodbye to 13 Grammy winners, including such giants as Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey and Maurice White. It wasn’t as grim as 2006, when 15 Grammy honorees died, including Lou Rawls, Freddy Fender and Billy Preston. But departed-star wattage this year – OMG, Prince! – was much higher.
For this, we counted Emmy winners and nominees in the biggest acting categories – drama and comedy series only – over the last 11 years. We lost eight of these Emmy winners in 2016, including everyone’s favorite neurotic talk-show host, Garry Shandling. When it comes to TV-star deaths that only ties 2014 as the deadliest year of the past decade. That cruel year, we said farewell to Sid Caesar, James Garner and – no, not Alice! – “The Brady Bunch’s” Ann B. Davis.
Sports Illustrated has been naming its Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year – a worthy yardstick of sports excellence and fame – since 1954. In 2016, we lost three of them – boxer Muhammad Ali, golfer Arnold Palmer and hoops coach Pat Summitt. No other year in the last decade has seen the death of more than one.
Walk of Fame
Some celebrities, such as TV’s Florence Henderson, achieved huge fame without winning an Emmy, Oscar or Grammy. So we also took a look at stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll see lots of recently departed names immortalized in the sidewalk – 15 of them from this year, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was famous for … being famous. But 2016 is only the third-deadliest year for Walk of Fame recipients, behind 2012 and 2006. In 2006 alone, we lost 18 stars, among them comedian Red Buttons, talk-show host Mike Douglas and Don Knotts, better known as bumbling Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Yep, 2016 was indeed one Grim Reaper of a year. We lost at least 34 celebrities by our admittedly unscientific count, which factor in such Oscar- and Grammy-winning celebs such as Debbie Reynolds who appear in multiple categories. But it’s not quite the worst ever. (In 2009, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died on the SAME DAY!)
When it comes to sheer numbers, this year is edged out by 2006, when some 36 celebs died – including “City Slickers’” Jack Palance and James Brown, the Hardest-Working man in Show Business, who for all we know may still be playing gigs in heaven. So the next time someone complains about 2016 killing all our heroes, tell them it could be worse. It has been worse.