Steve Delo says last year’s celebrity deaths show just how little we know

The last year was a sad one for celebrity deaths, with many of them departing at what look like young ages. Yet we keep talking about life expectancy for current pensioners as being into the mid-80s, with trend lines pushing expectations ever upwards. 

Steve Delo

There’s even the Aubrey du Grey statement that the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born. It’s an audacious claim but on the assumption Aubrey himself is not one of the ones set to last that long, I doubt he’s losing sleep about being proven wrong. 

Even if just one person alive today makes it to a mere age 650 and pops off, will Aubrey du Grey’s great-great-great-great, etc grandchildren be concerned about defending their ancestor’s prognosticatory undershoot? 

Hopefully, by then, the human race will be more interested in our second phase colonisation of sister planets in Alpha Centauri. We might even be finishing off Brexit negotiations. 

And imagine what living for 1,000 years would be like. How out of touch will you look coming out of the 435th Bond movie claiming leading man, Artiz L Brixton, who’s been in the role for the past 90 years, is not as good as Roger Moore? 

Just consider somebody from the deep British past having reached age 300 today and joining you at a dinner party? Would you really want to debate how Theresa May matches up to Sir Robert Walpole? Or whether Nicola Sturgeon shows the same passion for Scotland as Bonnie Prince Charlie? 

Many of last year’s celebrity passings were shocking and tragic. In the music world alone we said goodbye to David Bowie (69), Prince (57), Greg Lake (69), Glenn Frey (67), Rick Parfitt (68), Pete Burns (57) and, of course, George Michael (53). 

Over the festive period, someone suggested to me these were evidence of exaggerated estimates of life expectancy. While it’s a flimsy argument, curiosity drove me to an online list of notable celebrity deaths in 2016. The average age of death worked out at 75.33 years. It did look a bit low. Plus nobody in the list had reached 100 (Zsa Zsa Gabor was the oldest). 

I then looked at the 2006 list and the average was around 70. A decent improvement in a decade – though each sample size was fewer than 200 people so it won’t sway many actuaries. 

But who really knows? We’re just speculating. 

Indeed, I am starting to think that trustee business is all about waffling around issues where the ultimate outcome is determined by stuff we don’t yet know so can’t predict (the so-called black swan, that only looks predictable in retrospect). 

Black swans came up in another debate I had about the famous accumulator bet on Leicester City, Brexit and Trump that would have turned £1.00 into £4m. This chap seemed to think this combination would have been readily predictable at the time whereas I suggested anyone backing it would have looked like a crackpot. 

He disagreed. So I threw out something for 2018 – Brighton win the Premier League, Tyson Fury is back as heavyweight champion and Tony Blair as leader of the opposition. “But that’s not comparable – it won’t happen!” he cried. 

I don’t think he got the point.

Steve Delo is chief executive of Pan Governance