Performers, sports stars die younger, global study says

Reuters, LONDON

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 - Page 7

The price of fame can be high, with an international study yesterday finding that people who enjoy successful entertainment or sporting careers tend to die younger.

Researchers Richard Epstein and Catherine Epstein said the study, based on analyzing 1,000 New York Times obituaries from 2009 to 2011, found that film, music, stage performers and sports people died at an average age of 77.2 years.

This compared with an average lifespan of 78.5 years for creative workers, 81.7 for professionals and academics, and 83 for people in business, military and political careers.

The Australian-based researchers said these earlier deaths could indicate that performers and sports stars took more risks in life, either to reach their goals or due to their success.

“Fame and achievement in performance-related careers may be earned at the cost of a shorter life expectancy,” the researchers wrote in their study published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

“In such careers, smoking and other risk behaviors may be either causes or effects of success and/or early death,” they said.

Britain’s most high-profile celebrity publicist, Max Clifford, said the pressure that celebrities and sports stars put on themselves to succeed had to play a part, and even at the top they were always worried about who could replace them.

“People assume that fame and success is all about riches and happiness, but as someone who has worked with famous people for 45 years I know that is not the case,” Clifford said.

“The success becomes like a drug to them that they have to have and they are always worried about losing it so they push and push and work harder and harder. You have to be competitive in these fields otherwise it will not work,” he said.

For the study the researchers separated the obituaries by gender, age and cause of death as well as by occupation, with anyone involved in sports, acting, singing, music or dance put into a performance category.

Others were split into creative roles, such as writing and visual arts, into a business, military and political category, or a group of professional, academic and religious careers.

The study found that the list was heavily skewed toward men, who accounted for 813 of the obituaries and the main causes of earlier deaths were linked to accidents, infections including HIV, and cancer.

Lung cancer deaths — which the authors considered a sign of chronic smoking — were most common in performers.

Richard Epstein, a director at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, acknowledged that the one-off analysis could not prove anything, but raised interesting questions.

“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 behaviors in later life after success has faded?” he asked.

He suggested maybe psychological and family pressures favoring high public achievement could lead to self-destructive tendencies or that risk-taking personality traits maximized the chances of success, with the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs improving performance output in the short-term.

“Any of these hypotheses could be viewed as a health warning to young people aspiring to become stars,” he said.