BBC News

Fame may 'lead to a shorter life'

image captionThe researchers found that performers such as actors were among those who died the youngest

Having a glittering career in the public eye may come at the cost of a shorter life, an analysis of obituaries in a US newspaper suggests.

It showed performers and sports stars tended to die a few years younger than people successful in other careers.

The researchers acknowledge the study does not provide any conclusive answers, but said it asked interesting questions about the cost of fame.

The data was published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

Researchers in Australia looked at 1,000 obituaries in the New York Times between 2009 and 2011.

They showed that performers, such as actors, singers and musicians, as well those who made a career in sport died the youngest - at an average age of 77.

Writers, composers and artists died at 79. Those classed as academics, including historians and economists, survived until 82 on average while those in business or politics made 83.

The researchers, at the University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales, said cancer, particularly tumours in the lungs, was more common in performers.


Professor Richard Epstein said: "A one-off retrospective analysis like this can't prove anything, but it raises some interesting questions.

"First, if it is true that successful performers and sports players tend to enjoy shorter lives, does this imply that fame at younger ages predisposes to poor health behaviours in later life after success has faded?

"Or that psychological and family pressures favouring unusually high public achievement lead to self-destructive tendencies throughout life?

"Or that risk-taking personality traits maximise one's chances of success, with the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs improving one's performance output in the short term?"

He added that, whatever the reason, the findings should be considered as a "health warning to young people aspiring to become stars".

Honey Langcaster-James, a psychologist who specialises in celebrity behaviour, said so few people achieved star status that it made it difficult to scientifically study the effect on people's lives.

She said: "The results are interesting of themselves as they suggest an inherent hazard of a public career and that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

"They may be paying a high price for their career."

However she said it was not easy to come up with a scientific explanation.

On the one hand she said such a career "has unique stressors" such as "the pressure to live up to a public image, which can lead to risky behaviours".

Yet she suspected that "particular personal characteristics predispose people to wanting a career in the public arena", which may also lead to lifestyle choices affecting health.

More on this story

  • Heath Ledger is found dead in US