Price of fame: Celebrities die younger

LONDON: The price of fame can be high with an international study finding that people who enjoy successful entertainment or sporting careers tend to die younger.

Researchers Richard Epstein and Catherine Epstein said the study, based on analyzing 1,000 New York Times obituaries from 2009-2011, found film, music, stage performers and sports people died at an average age of 77.2 years.

This compared to an average lifespan of 78.5 years for creative workers, 81.7 for professionals and academics, and 83 years for people in business, military and political careers.

The Australian-based researchers said these earlier deaths could indicate that performers and sports stars took more risks in life, either to reach their goals or due to their success.

“Fame and achievement in performance-related careers may be earned at the cost of a shorter life expectancy,” the researchers wrote in their study published Thursday in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

“In such careers, smoking and other risk behaviours may be either causes of effects of success and/or early death.”

Britain’s highest-profile celebrity publicist, Max Clifford, said the pressure that celebrities put on themselves to succeed had to play a part, and even at the top they were always worried about who could replace them.

“People assume that fame and success is all about riches and happiness but as someone who has worked with famous people for 45 years I know that is not the case,” Clifford told Reuters.

“The success becomes like a drug to them that they have to have and they are always worried about losing it so they push and push and work harder and harder. You have to be competitive in these fields otherwise it will not work.”

For the study the researchers separated the obituaries by gender, age, and cause of death as well as by occupation, with anyone involved in sports, acting, singing, music or dance put into a performance category.

Others were split into creative roles such as writing and visual arts, into a business, military and political category, or a group of professional, academic and religious careers.

The study found that the list was heavily skewed towards men who accounted for 813 of the obituaries and the main causes of earlier deaths were linked to accidents, infections including HIV, and cancer.

Lung cancer deaths – which the authors considered a sign of smoking – were most common in performers.

Richard Epstein, a director at the Kinghorn Cancer Center at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, acknowledged that the one-off analysis could not prove anything definitively but raised interesting questions.

“If it is true that successful performers and sports players tend to enjoy shorter lives, does this imply that fame at younger ages predisposes to poor health behaviours in later life after success has faded?” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2013, on page 13.




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