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Outliers: Paying the price for fame

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: April 27, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

The price of fame may include a better chance of landing in an early grave, at least according to a new study that Outliers ran across.

After all, there's Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, John Belushi, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Amy Winehouse, Bix Beiderbecke, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Lennon …

An analysis of 1,000 obituaries in the New York Times seems to confirm that professional athletes and other pop culture icons die at significantly younger ages than their equally accomplished counterparts who have more staid occupations.

Writing in the peer-reviewed QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, researchers at the University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales speculated that a life lived in the fast lane might be more likely to come to a screeching halt.

The Australian researchers tracked obituaries in the paper of record from 2009 to 2011 and assigned the articles' subjects into five groups: performance/sport, nonperforming creative, business/military/political, professional/academic/religious and other. They also tracked cause of death.

They found that performers and athletes had the youngest average age of death, while military, business and political leaders had the oldest. Performers and creative-types were also more likely to die from cancer or an accident.

Critics of the study say drawing data from only New York Times obits means the results have an innate bias. And then there's Keith Richards' unlikely survival to the age of 69. It's only rock 'n' roll, indeed.

Follow Outliers on Twitter: @MHOutliers

James Dean, who died at age 24 at the wheel of his Porsche Spyder, has come to typify the “live fast, die young” adage.
Photo credit: AP PHOTO

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