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Do celebrities really die in Threes?

Celebrity Death Rule of Threes: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon

Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon and Michael Jackson

Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon and Michael Jackson


Jun 25th 2009 8:27PM
By Fletch

The world was already sad enough this morning with the death of Farrah Fawcett piled on top of the recent death of Ed McMahon. I had a conversation at lunch about the Celebrity Death Rule of Threes – you know when a famous person dies, they say celebrity deaths always come in threes. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a statistical study, but based on perception, the rule seems real.


Lunch was finished with some casual speculation about who would be the third celebrity to die not really thinking it would happen. I figured if a celebrity died in the next week, that would complete the rule, or maybe David Carradine was the first. Michael Jackson wasn’t mentioned at lunch, but with his death this afternoon, he completed the rule of three.

Twitter has been buzzing (and crashing) since TMZ first broke the story of Michael Jackson’s death. The first 20 minutes or so of the Twitter session was rampant speculation and TMZ bashing noting the LA Times only had Michael Jackson listed in a coma and CNN, criticised for their Iran coverage, only noted the King of Pop was in the hospital.

Once Michael Jackson death confirmations rolled in, speculation and “Jesus Juice” jokes flushed out giving way to general grief from celebrities and regular folk alike. Wyclef and Diddy’s grief tweets seemed genuine while Samantha Ronson bashed the Michael Jackson bashers and Pete Wentz tweeted “I have never felt this before in my life” before getting into a lengthy Twitter debate with Perez Hilton chastising Mario for making fun of Michael Jackson’s death and then changed the post (right) to honor him now that he’s dead. Perez does have some ads to sell and after the controversy, he needs to be kindler and gentler.

I have a user-generated content theory which Twitter keeps proving. Without some editorial curation, the lunatics will run the asylum and instead of getting news and information, you’ll get chaos. Suddenly rumors of Jeff Goldblum dying became rampant sending thousands of people to The Drunk Goldblum.

These rumors wouldn’t be possible without Twitter, but neither would an Iranian Revolution-in-the-making so overall, Twitter fits in with one of my philosophical pillars borrowed from Van Halen, “You got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.”

Kevin Spacey, for the record, set everyone straight about Jeff Goldblum and for the record, I appreciate Michael Jackson’s contribution to music and pop culture. My pre-teen years wouldn’t have been the same without him. However, I’m not too happy about the dial-to-dial 9/11 style coverage of his death, but even worse, the pending legal shitstorm that’s brewing. Between the custody and estate battles that are sure to follow, it’s going to be sick and disgusting and I suspect E!, CNN, BNO, TMZ, CBS, ABC News and Nancy Grace will keep us on the front row.

I wish his children and loved ones well and hope that whatever god they subscribe to, he/she/it keeps them safe.

As I tweeted earlier, “Michael Jackson is not Pearl Harbor or JFK, but you’ll always remember where you were when he died… on Twitter.”

I’m going to start with the man in the mirror…

Fletch is the exectuive editor of Digital City. You can follow Fletch on Twitter or contact him at

Jackson, Fawcett, McMahon: The “Celebrity Death Rule of Three”

By Rebecca Dana
It’s ugly, it’s morbid, but yes, it’s (occasionally) true: There’s an old tabloid saying that celebrities always go in threes. Michael Jackson’s sudden death this afternoon completes this week’s trilogy of tragedies, following the death of style icon and “Charlie’s Angels” star Farrah Fawcett this morning and Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s top banana on the “Tonight Show,” who passed away on Tuesday.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper,” all died together in a plane crash in 1959. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison all died in close succession in late-1970, early-1971. In 2003, Johnny Cash, John Ritter, and Warren Zevon all died within the same week. In 2005, King Fahd, Peter Jennings and Robin Cook died within a week of each other. The following year brought the closely timed deaths of Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver. Heath Ledger, Suzanne Pleshette and  Brad Renfro all died within a week of each other in January, 2008.

Why celebrities don’t really die in threes

Posted by Brian Cubbison / The Post-Standard June 26, 2009 12:25PM

We like to say that celebrities die in threes, like Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon, or like Jim Henson, Sammy Davis Jr. and … Marlon Brando’s daughter’s boyfriend? It’s mostly small talk, like “Hot enough for ya?” It has all the scientific rigor of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” *

Actor David Carradine did not die in a threesome.The Skeptic Shock blog took a serious look at why we do this, after the deaths of Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes and … well that one didn’t happen, although Morgan Freeman suffered a serious automobile accident.

We are pattern-seeking creatures, and we find patterns where there are none.** We can try to stretch the definition of celebrity (Dag Drollet?). We can stretch the timeframe. If we stretch it far enough, we can get Diana, Mother Teresa and Gianni Versace.

NYCO’s Blog points out a remarkable day in 1963 when three famous writers died: C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and the Pulitzer-winning John F. Kennedy.

Meanwhile, celebrities will die like the rest of us, in no pattern other than the ones we imagine. For example, Mark Fydrich died on April 13, Bea Arthur died on April 25, and Munchkin Mickey Carroll died on May 7. That’s three celebrities in a row who died at random intervals. Whoa.


  • Actually, my theory is that Alanis Morissette is a genius who created a masterpiece of Socratic irony, and by that I don’t mean a black fly in your hemlock, but a form of teaching where the professor feigns ignorance so the students might refine their own thinking and find knowledge for themselves. By writing the song “Ironic,” in which none of the examples were, she managed to teach millions of people the true meaning of irony. It’s a brilliant work on a par with M.C. Escher’s drawings of steps that rise until they reach the bottom, or Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” which will reboot your head if you think about it.

** Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon never appeared together on the “Tonight” show, despite some claims on the Internet. Jackson appeared with the Jackson Five on Sept. 19, 1974, and Farrah Fawcett appeared the next night, according to Ed McMahon co-hosted both nights.