SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Making sense of the stats surrounding Prince's death

NOT another one. If you’re still trying to comprehend the idea that David Bowie was not, in fact, a star man made of star dust, but encased in a biodegradable meat sack like the rest of us, then the news of Prince will have felt like a great big purple slap, writes Suzanne Harrington. 

Whaaaaaaat? Him too? Already?

The cull of 2016 began in late 2015 with Lemmy, and has been fairly relentless in its scything down of those we adored, and of those whom we were quite fond. Lemmy, Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood, and now Prince. Seriously. Prince and Bowie both dead. As someone plaintively howled on Twitter, “2016, stop killing my childhood!”

Meanwhile, it will have come to your attention that Cliff Richard, Donald Trump, Mick Jagger, Rolf Harris and Queen Elizabeth II remain resolutely alive. As does Shane MacGowan, off somewhere mixing himself another brake fluid martini.

So, is the curse of 2016 entirely random, or does it only target those whose music meant absolutely everything to us in our fragile youth, and still does today? Why are the Rolling Stones still touring, but Bowie and Prince no longer breathing?

As ever, an academic is on hand to assist with the seemingly unanswerable. Theadora Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at Sydney University, has analysed the deaths of 12,000 musicians spanning seven decades between 1950 and 2014. Her findings reveal that the famed 27 Club is not really a club at all, because its membership is too low. Janis, Jimi, Kurt and Amy, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones — that’s not a club, it’s a tea party.

No, the most lethal age for a musician is 56. That’s when the death rate peaks, and one which Prince outlived by a year. Professor Kenny discovered that a musician’s lifespan can be upto 25 years shorter than that of the average American; a lot of musicians really do die before they get old. They really do die young and stay pretty.

Helpfully, the research examines causes of death, which is divided into five categories — accident, suicide, homicide, heart-related and cancer. Blues musicians tend to mostly die of heart problems (28%) — so achingly reflected in their broken hearted music —while heavy metallers are the most fatally accident prone (36%). ‘Accident’ is not defined — it could be anything from electrocuting yourself with a guitar lead to crashing the tour bus to indulging in overpure refreshments.

Punks also tend towards deadly accidents (30%), and are also suicide prone (11%), but not as suicidal as metallers (19%); presumably the clue, death metal, is in the name. And a whopping 51% of rappers die by being murdered.

Folk and jazz musicians mostly die of cancer (32% and 30%), but weirdly, rock musicians stay within the statistical norms of each death category.

So it really is random, unless you’re a rapper. Meanwhile, goodbye Prince. FFS.


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