Our Celebrities Are Getting Old.


As someone on my Facebook wrote,”2016: The Year Everybody Died.”

And the list of celebrities and other famous-type persons who have passed away in 2016 seems quite oppressive: David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Prince, John Glenn…even Abe Vigoda! Think about it, the guy who is the iconic “actor who we thought was dead who is really alive”…really died.

Yes, it certainly feels like the Celebrity Apocalypse.

But—not to lessen the impact or sadness of these passings—we do have to keep in mind that many of our favorite celebrities, in general, are getting old. There are more celebrities than there has ever been, and they are, on average, living longer. In fact, most of the celebrities I remember from my childhood are aged anywhere now from 100+ (living or posthumously) to 50s (Brat Packers).


Every once in a while, to gain perspective (and to feel the crushing weight of my own age even more acutely), I look up the ages of many of the best-known celebrities of the 80s:

Cher: 70

Jack Nicholson: 79

Sylvester Stallone: 70

Michelle Pfeiffer: 58

Bruce Willis: 61

Arnold Schwarzenegger: 69

Clint Eastwood: 86

Harrison Ford: 74

Paul McCartney: 74 (maybe)

Mick Jagger: 73

Mel Gibson: 60

Oprah Winfrey: 62

Tom Cruise: 54

Robert Redford: 80

Eddie Murphy: 55

Michael Douglas: 72

Jane Fonda: 78


Now let’s do the Brat Packers (technically, Tom Cruise should be in here but he never seems to get looped in with them):

Molly Ringwald: 48

Robert Downey Jr.: 51

Emilio Estevez: 54

Charlie Sheen: 51

Ally Sheedy: 54

Rob Lowe: 52

Judd Nelson: 57

Anthony Michael Hall: 48


Now stars of the 90s:

Samuel L. Jackson: 67

Christian Bale: 42

Denzel Washington: 61

Brad Pitt: 52

Julia Roberts: 49

George Clooney: 55

Leonardo DiCaprio: 42


Now to finish this off, let’s loop around to some of the oldest celebrities:

Kirk Douglas: 100

Zsa Zsa Gabor: 99

Olivia de Havilland: 100

Jerry Lewis: 90

Doris Day: 92

Don Rickles: 90

Dick Van Dyke: 90

In that last list are many celebrities who I remember, as a child, viewing on TV as spry middle-aged folks. Many of those other middle-aged celebrities, from Leslie Nielsen to Bea Arthur to Sherman Helmsley, are now deceased.


And do you ever notice how many celebrities don’t look their age, to the point where when you read their age you’re shocked? Denzel Washington doesn’t look like any 61-year-old I know. When I think “54” I don’t think Tom Cruise. And it’s hard to imagine Michelle Pfeiffer as pushing 60.

I think sometimes we live in this bubble—assisted by the fantasy nature of the entertainment industry—that these stars are going to live forever. And if not “live forever,” certainly not age. We see them year after year, and they don’t look like they age at all. We watch them on Netflix and listen to them on iTunes and it all feels new and vibrant, the sense of “time” passing gently obliterated.

And then our Facebook and Twitter feeds start getting filled up with celebrity obits, and we freak out. I didn’t know Bowie or Rickman was almost 70; I was shocked. I probably shouldn’t have been shocked. They just didn’t seem like almost-70-year-olds I have known.

You know who else is pushing 70? My mom.

You know who else is getting old? Me.

That’s the thing—outside of a few celebrities who have touched us very personally with their art and personality, a lot of this “celebrity death panic” ends up looping around to us and our own mortality.

Closely related to all this is the idea of celebrities who supposedly die in threes: that’s a fascinating subject that needs its own post.

At any rate…there will, most likely, be a number of other celebrity passings crossing our news feeds over 2017. Statistically, it’s pretty likely. And that…really sucks.