Live fast, die (a little bit) young(er)?

redcarpetThe song goes Fame, I wanna live forever. But a new study suggests seeking glory may have just the opposite effect.

Australian Researchers, perhaps because they’d gotten bored injecting lab mice with nicotine, analyzed newspaper obituaries and tallied up the average ages of death in various occupational categories.

It turns out that performers—singers, actors, musicians—died roughly two years earlier than creative people—writers, composers, painters, etc. Business types and politicians lived several years longer still. (How researchers divided “performers” from “creators”—which category would Elton John or Thelonious Monk fall into?—is a bit of a mystery to me, but whatever. Also no word if the political types went to the same hell as the others or had their own, nastier realm.)

The differences in lifespan were not enormous, and researchers admit they’re not sure if other factors contribute to the discrepancy. As someone in the article points out, it’s also not certain if the unhealthy aspects that are believed to cause the deaths come from early fame or from the lifestyles stars lead after their fame has vanished. But the scientists found that, for whatever reason, cancer, especially tumors in the lungs, were far more common for performers and celebrity-types.

Maybe they should go back to torturing mice…

Someone else also pointed out that since an infinitesimally-small percentage of the population is truly famous, it’s hard to make a lot out of such a non-representative statistic.

It’s hard to deny, though, that celebrities tend to have shorter lives, and that often the most intense, flaming, soaring celebs have the shortest. Somehow you just know Meryl Streep is going to live to be 100, but many others…mmmm, doubtful.

The study concludes more research is needed, which is what these things always conclude, because this is how these sorts of people make a living: by telling us they’re onto something really interesting, but they need more grant money to pursue it. Oh, and NASA is going to find life on Mars on that next mission. Honest.

But the work does seem to show that being in the public eye can be risky, while the behind-the-scenes types tend to live longer and be healthier to the end. Whether it’s nature or nurture—whether adrenaline-junkies choose these professions or the professions cause them to lose years—isn’t conclusively known. But the connection is hard to deny.

Lindsay Lohan, take note…

An article on this study can be found here.


4 responses

  1. Interesting, because the examples that come to my mind indicate that it would be the reverse. Take pianists for example: Horozowski, 100; Horowitz, 86; Rubinstein, 95; Cortot, 86. Then composers: Schubert, 31; Mozart: 35; Schumann, 46; Mussorgsky, 41; Chopin, 39. Of course, that’s partly because there’s a time gap (I don’t really know or care about any modern composers) and the old guys were often knocked off by diseases, poor sanitation, etc. But also, all of those composers (with the possible example of Chopin) were pretty profligate while the pianists mentioned had relatively tame habits by comparison (to my knowledge).

    Good point about performing versus creating. To a large extent, I think that distinction is a modern construct. Plato and Aristotle would have voiced similar skepticism. All art, after all, stems from imitation and inculcation; some just do it better or more compellingly than others, which is what talent’s all about. The only real act of creating is performed by the Man Upstairs.


    May 10, 2013 at 6:50 am

    • Though a lot of those composers died early even by 18th- and 19th-century standards, classical music would be an exception to this for many reasons, lifestyle more than anything, but even in the film arts many famous names from the past lived long lives. We’ll see how this current generation fares.


      May 10, 2013 at 9:37 am

  2. Perhaps Meryl will live to be a hundred because she took herself out of the limelight very early on and chooses when to show up. She also seems to use her celeb status to support causes she believes in. Who knows what her secret is, but she seems to have something figured out.


    May 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

    • I think a lot of it is simply she didn’t do drugs/party till 4am/live like so many of today’s crazies. Since longevity runs in Claire Danes’ family I’m expecting a long and healthy life for her too.


      May 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

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