We humans do hate randomness, don't we? It's what's at the heart, I believe, of conspiracy theories; it's too difficult for many people to believe that a lone gunman could kill a president, or that a small group of men armed with boxcutters could take over airplanes and change the way we all see the world. It's understandable that so many people tend to believe conspiracy theories. It's also nonsense.
Likewise, the old superstition that famous people die in threes (some "research" indicates this particular wives tale dates back to the 1960's). Believers have their "proof" this month after the departures of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson in quick succession. Three celebrities! Game, set, match for the urban legend!
Except that celebrities also die in twos. And fours. In fact, if we add David Carradine and pitchman Billy Mays to our June list, that brings the celebrity death toll to five. Then again, Carradine died a few weeks before the others. So depending on what the exact time frame is for the "coming in threes" rule, we might have to exclude him. And Billy Mays... well, he wasn't really a celebrity in the usual sense. He did commercials. Then again, so did Ed McMahon. Hmmm. This so-called rule seems quite unruly.
And that's because it is. To even begin to apply a scientific measurement to this, we need to get a few things straight: how long is the period of time within which the celebrities have to die to say that it happened in threes? And exactly how is "celebrity" defined? Be loose enough with your standards, and I think you can find that notable people die in threes every day. I would volunteer to be the person who establishes these time/fame standards for examining the rule of threes.... But I'm kinda busy.
The threes rule is really just another conspiracy theory, just another way that people deal with death and randomness. Here's one website that looked into the question (you'd be surprised how many people think about this--google "celebrities dying in threes" and join the party!) that has an accurate take on it, I think:
We remember the names we recognize and forget the rest. When people with bigger names die in groups, that's evidence of randomness at work in the universe, not a law of threes. People see patterns where there is no pattern.
It's more proof that humans are pattern-seeking creatures. The rule of threes is a way to deal with loss, not to mention a way to keep the wolf -- the ultimate randomness of death -- outside our own door.
So, to sum up: yes, celebrities die in threes. So do opthamologists and people who have bowled 300-games. Except when they don't.
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