Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Isn’t it funny that famous people die at Christmas?

2009 was notable for the fact that nobody particularly famous died over the Christmas period.  Every year, there seems to be an expectation that at least one or two famous people will die during the Christmas holidays.  That got me thinking.  I’m pretty sure that people die every day of the year, but statistically, just how many famous people would you expect to die during the Christmas holidays?

According to the figures I found online, around 1% of the world’s population die every year.  Let’s presume that figure is the same for celebrities as for the population in general.

Secondly, we need to know how many famous people are there.  There are around 30,000 entries in Who's Who. If we presume that a quarter of them are “famous” but that we can think of the same number again of people who are “famous” but aren’t in “Who’s Who” – the kind of people who are on Celebrity Big Brother, for instance, then we end up with around 15,000 famous people. Feels about right to me.

So, combining those two, we would expect around 150 famous people to die each year.  That’s around one every two and a half days.

If we presume that “The Christmas Holidays” last around a week, then we’d expect two or three famous people to die in that period every year.

And that’s what we get every year…

So, maybe those people who’ve been saying that it’s unusual that no famous people died over Christmas is “unusual” are right.  A quite bit of statistical fiddling tells me that the chance of no famous people dying in any given week is around 5% and so only around once every twenty years would we expect every famous person to survive Christmas unscathed – and that sounds pretty rare to me.

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