PROBLEM: "Her fame was greater than her contributions as an actress," notes the 1962 New York Times obituary titled "Marilyn Monroe Dead, Pills Near." The idea that stars die young is almost a cliché, although it may make more sense to think of Marilyn as the exception rather than the rule. A 2001 study concluded that Academy Award winners live longer than less famous performers, a fact, researchers concluded, that could be partially attributed to their success. Looking at the lives and deaths of people renowned for their contributions in other fields could help get at the distinction between success and fame, and the health risks/benefits of each.
- Volunteering May Improve Cardiovascular Health
- Eating Organic Food Associated With Longer Lives (in Flies)
- There Seems to Be a Universal Brain Response to Music
METHODOLOGY: Researchers in Sydney looked at the age and cause of death reported in 1,000 consecutive New York Times obituaries published from 2009 to 2011. "Success," by their measure, was defined as having lived a life that merited an obit in the paper of record. Some of these people were considered to be both successful and famous, like those in performance and sports, and, to a lesser degree, writers and composers, while others -- categorized as business/military/political or professional/academic/religious -- were mostly just successful.
RESULTS: People who were both successful and famous died earliest. The average age at death of performers and athletes, 77.2 years, wasn't exactly young, but it was younger than those who had achieved success in other fields. Businesspeople and their ilk lived longest. In fact, their average age at death, 83 years, was higher than the national average for 2010 of 78.7 years.