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The Student News Site of Hendrick Hudson

The Hendrick Hudson Anchor

The Student News Site of Hendrick Hudson

The Hendrick Hudson Anchor

The Superstition of the Celebrity ‘Rule of Threes’: Patterns, Perceptions, and the Legacy of Icons”

Library of Congress (Transferred by Sven Manguard,, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Redadeg, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Sandra Day O’Conor died earlier this month, December 1st, at the age of 93. O’Conor was an important figure in American history, serving as the first woman on the Supreme Court of the United States. However, a few days prior to her death, on November 29th, Irish singer-songwriter and lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan died at 65. Then, that same day, Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state under President Nixon and Ford, died at age 100.

Celebrities always die in threes. It is an old superstition in pop culture, that often when a celebrity dies, two more will follow. 

This superstition, along with many others, follow typical human behavior of seeking patterns in life. It evolved as a survival skill for early humans, who used this useful passion for pattern seeking to remember which berries are safe or which sounds to be afraid of.

As we evolved, however, this behavior stuck with us. Nowadays, we often find ourselves searching for patterns where they don’t exist. This is what gives us our superstitions and fairy tales, as repeated, easily explainable events that lead to the human mind jumping to conclusions. 

With celebrities in mind, it is easy to find a pattern. When two famous people die, you can’t help but think something is up when one more conveniently passes. 

This superstition falls short often, obviously.

For the most part, celebrity deaths usually happen days, even weeks, apart. Considering around 150,000 people die every day, those times make a difference. Except for rare cases, like the beloved source of the rule of threes — a plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper in 1959, usually the celebs don’t all die at the same time. 

And, when it comes to what the word celebrity can mean, the definition gets loose. In the most recent example, both Sandra Day O’Conor and Henry Kissinger, although famous, were not deemed celebrities in the traditional sense. But, when looking for patterns, the human mind is willing to make exceptions. 

Although it evolved from an interesting little quirk of the human brain, the celebrity “Rule of Threes” is a firmly established superstition in pop culture. And with most recent tragedies, seems to be one that is here to stay. 

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Elaine Clarke, Opinion Desk Editor
Elaine Clarke is a Senior at Hendrick Hudson High School. This is her fourth year writing for the newspaper and first year as editor. Alongside this, Elaine participates in the school musicals and plays, film club, as well as the senior club. In her free time, she likes to hang with her friends, listen to music, or just chill with her cat.
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