Third Time’s a Charm

by M-Gillies

Dennis Hopper died at the age of 74, due to complications from prostate cancer. He is shown with his wife Victoria Duffy who he divorced just before he died saying that she was "insane, inhuman and volatile".

There’s a rule in literature that states things written in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying and more effective.

Another rule of three is the axiom for survival skills, which points out, three seconds without blood flow, three minutes without air, three hours without heat, three days without water, three weeks without food are all contributors to death.

In Hollywood, they have their own rule. It’s that folkloric axiom which states celebrity deaths come in threes. Whether it’s just coincidence or our innate instinct to find patterns in the things we cannot fathom, the rule of celebrity deaths happening in threes has been a phenomenon occurring for over half a century.

Originating back in 1959, actually, Feb. 3, 1959, it started when a small plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing its three American rock and roll pioneers, known as Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. It was after this tragic death that the term the Day the Music Died was conceived and subsequently became the first of the celebrity deaths happening in threes.

Most people will recognize November 22, 1963 as the day author and 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy died. While his death came as a shock to the world, the death of two other well-known scribes that day, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis completed the Tinseltown hat trick.

Less than a decade later, the return of the celebrity death curse struck again, when counterculture musicians Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison each died of drug overdoses within a two year span of one another. While this moment became recognized as the 27 Club’s origin, it also reinforced the belief that celebrity deaths occurred in threes.

With deaths occurring daily, there has been a method of elegant symmetry used when looking over the rules of which triad of celebrity deaths fit within the curse. These requirements see that the celebrities should have fame of similar magnitude, in some way be relatable to one another (musician, actor, author) and their deaths should occur within a close time span of the others.

While the superstition of threes being unlucky has no set origins in history, in Vietnam, it is consider bad luck to take a photo with three people in it. The omen states that the person in the middle will soon meet their death.

Another superstition considering three to be unlucky was the belief that if a third person lights a cigarette from the same match as the previous two, that person will have bad luck. The superstition has been attributed to soldiers in the trenches of the first World War, who believed that snipers would first see the light, take aim on the second and fire on the third.

Notable celebrity deaths by selected years:

1959: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson;

1963: John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, C. S. Lewis;

1970-71: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison;

1997: Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, Joseph-Desire Mobutu;

2003: Johnny Cash, Warren Zevon, John Ritter;

2006: Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver;

2008: Heath Ledger, Suzanne Pleshette, Brad Renfro

2009: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon

2010: Dennis Hopper, Gary Coleman, Art Linkletter

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