It all adds up to being a really bad next couple of years …

Death is never a fun topic to discuss, especially so close to the start of a new year wrought with feelings about the birth of new beginnings, or whatever. But it happens, death, and it always will.

So let’s get the bad news out of the way first: More people are going to die next year, and some of them are going to be celebrities.

But maybe, just maybe, last year wasn’t so bad.

In the final days of 2016, a deluge of opinion pieces, look-backs and whimsical memes handed the news cycle its own ass in the unending search to place blame on the world’s most notable loses. It seemed cruel, for so many bad things to happen in one calendar cycle, seemingly ripping apart the threads of humanity, person by person, memory by memory.

What was 2016 doing to America?

First went Bowie, then Rickman, followed by Frey, Phife, Prince, Ali, Wilder, Leonard, Jones, Florence, Thicke, George, and of course, Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie.

Let’s say we leave this all up to chance, that 2016 really did take a proportionally large amount of celebrities from the earth because it just somehow worked out that way. For comparison’s sake, we didn’t have quite as many online tributes packing our newsfeeds in years past. Does this mean that 2016 was a statistical fluke? Or are we headed in a direction where it’ll be more common than anyone hopes?

In 2014 (the most recent year of which final data is available), there were 2,626,418 deaths in the United States. Some of them were celebrities, too — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Maya Angelou, Casey Kasem, Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, to name a few. That was also a bad year for Hollywood, for entertainment.

But that was two years ago, eons in Internet time. And while the whole Robin Williams thing seemed to go on forever, times then were arguably different than they are now, with major media outlets currently focusing on celebrity deaths more than ever. Because now, those deaths are found to go viral, and often garner easy engagement for outlets looking to cash in on the now.

You see those spikes in Google’s data on ‘interest over time’? Each one of those trends correlate exactly to when news of each artists’ passing was announced online (and a little spike for ‘Phife Dawg’ when A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service, came out). Media pushers pay close attention to these types of trends, and schedule writers accordingly. If Carrie Fisher and George Michael are going to continue trending into 2017 (and they have, for the most part), more and more stories are going to be fleshed out, shared, and ultimately beaten to death until there’s no stone left to kick over.

But do you remember Rob Ford, the crack-toking former mayor of Toronto who loved the Denver Broncos? He died in 2016, too, but the event didn’t gain near the amount of online engagement because, seemingly, nobody cared. His story was over in mere hours.

Which is another pillar in the strange construct of how and why people use the Internet to grieve over something lost. Some experts suggest that people share these types of stories because they’re piggy-backing on the artist’s successes, a call to the mob to say, “I’m as good as Bowie was because I understood him, and you didn’t.”

Not many people could relate to Rob Ford, and he didn’t do much for humanity, either.

Or maybe such a deep focus on death is a way to (possibly subconsciously) assert a compassionate lifestyle. Publicly mourning the loss of George Michael — an openly gay man — to a circle of acquaintances says a lot to people. It’s building an online personality, molding others’ perceptions of who they really are (or really want to be).

People also really, truly love some of the celebrities that passed. To them, it was like losing a mentor.

“Posting about Leonard Cohen says something about your personality and demeanor … something that's near impossible to verbalize without the auspice of a celebrity death to give the feeling words,” says Rooster writer Isabelle Kohn, a self-professed student of the late musician. “It's one thing to like Leonard Cohen and respect his work, but it's another thing when you've studied him intensely every day and worked him into the fabric of your personality.”

Though it can be all about context and perception, too. Many of the artists that passed recently were big in overlapping subcultures, having gained a massive push to their status by compounding consumerism and the prevalence (and profitability) of making art for entertainment. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, people connected to big names in media as if they were the ones raising them — and in some cases, they actually were. Television is a great babysitter.

Remember, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that television really became popular in America. Even then, having one was reserved for those well off, and programming was minimal — most stations even cut off completely after a certain hour to let people sleep. The ‘idea’ of being a celebrity was reserved for a few dozen Hollywood stars in movies, or a handful of musicians that were able to secure radio play.

Now, there’s just simply more celebrities, a lot of them coming to an age where things like health and lifestyle matters. Prince didn’t die because a lot of other celebrities did; he died because he overdosed on fentanyl. Bowie had cancer. Muhammad Ali got punched in the head thousands of times when he was younger. These aren’t coincidences, they’re sad dangers of life, something we’re all going to deal with until the whole shithouse goes up in flames.

With an increase in access to information, a desire for media outlets to push emotionally connective stories, more golden-age celebrities coming of age and a person’s willingness to attach to an artist, expect more years like 2016 in the very near future. It’s inevitable.

It’s like Benjamin Franklin — a man who is also dead — once said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Happy New Year.

[Cover Photo: Gage Skidmore]