There are only a few days left in 2016. Thank goodness, goes the prevailing wisdom on social media, because this has been the worst year ever. There’s been a steady stream of bad news and celebrity deaths, as well as a feeling of general unease about the future.
In other words, it’s just like any other year.
The news hasn’t been all *that* bad in 2016. Sure, we had a presidential election with two immensely unpopular candidates, that may have been hacked by the Russians, and no one is really sure what Trump is going to do.
I’ll take that over the Cuban Missile Crisis, where, for a few days, everyone was pretty sure we were about to have nuclear war with Russia. That was 1962, a year where Marilyn Monroe, ee cummings, Eleanor Roosevelt and William Falkner died. Advantage 1962.
Then there was the year after that, when we lost Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Pope John XXIII … and the president of the United States was assassinated. Advantage 1963.
I’d also take Brexit and the 2016 election over terrorists crashing planes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon, as well as an anthrax mail scare. Advantage 2001, a year that also featured the deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker), Beatle George Harrison, Lack Lemmon, Dale Evans, John Lee Hooker and Aaliyah.
But we lost Prince, argue the 2016 fatalists. He was a generation-defining artist. Kind of like John Lennon, who was shot in 1980, a year when Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Durante, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, Henry Miller and Jesse Owens died.
Kind of like Tupac, who was killed in 1996, when we also saw the deaths of George Burns, Gene Kelly, Carl Sagan, Ella Fitzgerald, Erma Bombeck, former VP Spiro Agnew, former French prime minister Francois Mitterand and former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
But, argues 2016, look at the sheer number of greats that we lost. There was Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia. We’d put that top five up against anyone.
How about Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Shirley Temple, Maya Angelou and Lauren Bacall—2014.
Steve Jobs, Liz Taylor, Amy Winehouse, Peter Falk, Betty Ford—2011.
George Steinbrenner, Leslie Nielsen, John Wooden, Tony Curtis, Dnenis Hopper—2010.
Heath Ledger, Charlton Heston, Estelle Getty, George Carlin, Paul Newman—2008.
Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, Peter Jennings, Pope John Paul II, Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist—2005.
Ronald Reagan, Ray Charles, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando and Rodney Dangerfield—2004.
Johnny Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Bob Hope, Fred “Mr.” Rogers—2003.
Virtually every year has a top five celebrity death list that can compare with 2016’s.
But the sheer depth of this year’s losses makes it the worst year ever. Take away the top five and we still lost Alan Rickman, John Glenn, Merle Haggard, Harper Lee and Arnold Palmer, not to mention Gene Wilder, George Michael, Nancy Reagan, Gordie Howe … we could keep going.
Two years ago, in addition to Robin Williams and Shirley Temple, the death montage would include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harold Ramis, Pete Seeger, Mickey Rooney, James Garner, Joe Cocker and Casey Kasem.
In 2005 (Johnny Carson and the Pope), we also lost Arthur Miller, Anne Bancroft, Rosa Parks, Johnnie Cochran, Don Adams, Eddie Albert, Bob Denver and Pat Morita.
Not only doesn’t 2016 seem significantly out of the ordinary, it would have a hard time cracking the top five worst years for celebrity deaths
5. 2011 (Liz Taylor/Amy Winehouse/Steve Jobs): Jack Kervorkian, Joe Frazier, Geraldine Ferraro, Betty Ford, Jack LaLanne, Clarence Clemons (Springsteen’s E Street Band), Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz, Nate Dogg, Randy Savage, Phoebe Snow, Heavy D, Family Circus comic strip artist Bill Keane, MASH star Harry Morgan, Jack Kervorkian, Mohammar Qadafi, Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il. For sheer diversity, that year may take the prize.
4. 2004 (Reagan and Ray Charles): Julia Child, Tony Randall, Jack Paar, Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan and Yasser Arafat died, and Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
3. 1977: Freddie Prinze, who was the title character of the sitcom Chico and the Man committed suicide. Peter Finch, star of the movie Network, became the first actor to earn an Oscar after his death. Novelist Vladimir Nabokov and actor Zero Mostel died, but the top five is tough to top: Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford.
2. 1997: Chris Farley died far too young, as did INXS’s Michael Hutchence. Legends Burgess Meredith and Red Skelton died. Newsman Charles Kuralt and novelist James Michener died. And the top five deaths were probably the most heartbreaking group of any year ever: Princess Di (limo crash in a tunnel), Mother Teresa, John Denver (plane crash), Jimmy Stewart and Jacques Cousteau.
1. 2009: How soon we forget. Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died in the same week. Rounding out the top five, we have Patrick Swayze, Ed McMahon and Walter Cronkite. Then there’s Dom Deluise, Oral Roberts, Karl Malden, Ted Kennedy, Bea Arthur, creator of the legendary Brat Pack movies John Hughes and radio legend Paul Harvey. Presidential Medal of Freedom winning painter Andrew Wyeth died, as did Pulitzer winning writer Frank McCourt. There was also early TV childrens show legend Soupy Sales, guitar designer Les Paul and former leader of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino.
Don’t get us wrong: We miss Prince too, and we’ll be happy to see 2016 end. But it wasn’t the worst year ever, or even the worst in the last decade.