The exact cause of death of the star of the famous series “Friends”, Matthew Perry, has not yet been revealed. However, the latest research into the link between an individual’s premature death and celebrity reveals that the tragic deaths of talented, young showbiz people are probably part of a recurring pattern, which could only get worse in the future.
Untimely deaths like that of the beloved actor suggest that fame itself may be a risk factor. After all, the similarities in the circumstances of celebrity deaths are striking.
Let’s remember the tragic end of pop star Whitney Houston, who was found unconscious in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel in 2012, at the age of 48.
The medical examiner’s report concluded that she drowned accidentally with heart disease and drug use playing a role.
Houston, like Perry, struggled with addiction for many years. Likewise the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment in 2014 aged just 46.
The fatal games of fame according to research
The study, titled: ‘From Elvis to Eminem: Assessing the cost of fame for European and North American rock and pop stars’, revealed that music stars had almost double the mortality rates compared to the ‘ordinary’ world, 3 to 25 years after they became famous.
While the study focused on individuals’ increased levels of stress, depression and substance use as causes of death, the fact that the highest death rates occur up to 25 years after first recognition suggests that the “bad” may start earlier unhealthy habits of celebrities that put them at long-term risks, such as cardiovascular disease.
Is it reputational anxiety or the person’s experiences?
An alternative theory holds that danger may lie in the past of individuals who seek fame.
Notably, an earlier study concluded that celebrities were more likely to suffer from adverse childhood experiences.
The study showed that for stars who die prematurely, the cause of death was more likely to be substance use for those who had a traumatic childhood. Scholars argue that it is not uncommon for people with deprived or sad childhoods to seek fame as a way to escape from it.
In his memoirs, Matthew Perry confessed how convinced he was that fame would make all his problems go away:
“I craved celebrity more than any other person on the planet. I needed her. It was the only thing that would define me. The only thing that could make me well. I was absolutely sure of that.”
Perry seems to have simultaneously identified his insecurities and comedic talent early on when his parents divorced and he felt a sense of abandonment by both, spending, he admitted, too much time alone as a child.
The “Curse” of “Club 27”
When music stars Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died at the age of 27 between 1969 and 1971, the term “The 27 Club” was born, which in Greek can be translated as “The club of twenty-seven-year-olds” or “The Immortal Youths.”
In practice, the “club” is about a list of music legends who died in the prime of their lives. The term became more widely known after the loss of Kurt Cobain in 1994, who committed suicide at the age of 27.
Later, Amy Winehouse died at the same age in 2011.
The study, titled: ‘Is 27 a dangerous age for famous musicians?’, compared the death rates of 1,046 musicians with the general UK population between 1956 and 2007.
While the study did not find a peak in risk around age 27, the risk of early death for famous musicians in their 20s and 30s was two to three times higher than for the general population.
The researchers emphasized that 27 years is not a… cursed age for artists.
Fame itself can increase artists’ risk of premature death, a risk that is not limited to this age alone.
Could it be getting more dangerous to be famous?
A study looked at drug-related celebrity deaths between 1970 and 2015 and revealed 220 celebrities who died with a clear indication of drugs involved. Their average age of death was 38.6 years.
Most celebrities died between the ages of 25 and 40, and 75% of the dead were men.
The authors concluded that compared to the 20th century, the total number of celebrities who died from drugs in the 21st increased.
After all, it seems that being famous does not mean that one “has it all” as we might imagine. Celebrity carries serious risks and requires careful management.