We are all familiar with the saying “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.” But, perhaps, not so many of us will know the true origin of the quote or realize that it is often misquoted and incorrectly attributed to James Dean. It is actually a famous line said by John Derek in the film, Knock On Any Door. However, this could be the mantra followed today by many of our celebrities.
Pick up any newspaper or magazine and look at the most popular blogs and twitter feeds, and it is clear that millions of us cannot get enough on the lives of celebrities. It seems as if the media is full of stories about rock and pop stars dying prematurely, and there is even an Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars, according to Jeremy Simmonds: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches, describing who had the most bizarre death.
Do rock stars really die earlier compared to the average population? If so, why is this of interest for the insurance industry?
Celebrities are a small group of insurance policy holders, and, because most of them are high net worth, this means underwriting rock and pop stars can be quite challenging.
During the last couple of years, some interesting studies were published giving us good data and a better understanding and ability to assess the mortality risk of these individuals.
One study from the University of Liverpool (is this a coincidence?) published in the British Medical Journal (Bellis MA et al.: “Dying to be famous: retrospective cohort study of rock and pop star mortality and its association with adverse childhood experiences”) looked into the relationship between fame and premature mortality.
The study population was selected carefully, and the authors did not simply choose their own favorite artists. They used a large, established music poll of over 200,000 fans, experts and critics to identify the all-time top 1,000 albums up to the year 1999, and also included the top 30 albums for each year after that up to the year 2006. Overall, 1,489 North American and European artists who had been famous for at least five years, excluding “one hit wonders,” were selected.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the overall mortality in the whole group was 9.2 percent over the period analyzed. Compared to a matched population, the mortality risk of a rock and pop star is considerably higher than the expected mortality rate, and the risk can be differentiated further:
- European music stars die earlier, with a mean age at death of around age 40, compared to age 45 for North Americans.
- Substance abuse and/or risk taking is a strong risk indicator with 44.7 percent of deaths in European stars and 36.4 percent of deaths in North American stars clearly linked to these lifestyle issues.
- Despite dying slightly later, on average, North American stars exhibited the clearest difference in mortality when compared to the matched population, with an even higher mortality than the European ones. This trend got worse over the years post fame in the U.S., whereas European stars’ mortality improved two to three decades after becoming famous and their survival nearly equaled that of the matched UK population.
- Solo artists died roughly twice as often as members of a band, which may be explained by more pressure and less support.
Normally, being wealthy and having a high socioeconomic status has a positive effect on mortality; however the connection of rock and pop fame with risk taking and substance abuse is clearly connected to premature mortality.
The “27 Club”