Robert Byrd died today. You can check his scrawny old ass off you death pool now. And if anyone ever kept a death pool, the list of candidates could now go on for miles.
I was thinking about celebrity death the other day because it was the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson dying and because I was reading about Gary Coleman while taking a shit. They always say celebrity deaths happen in threes. But that's a lie now, because the number of famous people on Earth appears to be growing, and there's no sign of it abating. Thus, we're getting a constant flow of celebrities dying now, and that's a nice thing to have, especially during a month this painfully fucking slow.
Doing a census of famous people isn't a definitive task. After all, who is famous to me may not be famous to you, and vice versa. For example, let's say you watch "Mad Men." If you saw John Slattery walking down the street, you'd probably say to yourself, HOLY FUCKING SHIT THAT'S ROGER STERLING! SAY SOMETHING CUTTING, ROGER! But if you didn't watch that show or read about it, you'd pass right by.
And fame itself isn't easy to define. The Google definition is "widely known and esteemed." I think we can leave out the "esteemed" part in this day and age. No one would argue that Paris Hilton is famous. And no one would argue that she is esteemed by precisely no one, given that's she a worthless cum dumpster. Ditto Perez Hilton. The widely known part makes sense. But even if you set the rule at, I dunno, a million people knowing you to make you officially famous, there's no way to know how many people know who the hell you are.
Regardless, I do know this: the number of overall famous people on Earth is far higher than it was, say, fifty years ago. Back in 1960, the way you heard about famous people was through movies, TV, books, and print journalism. Those avenues to fame have all multiplied several times over since then. There are four hundred times more TV channels to plaster someone's mug on. There are more movies. There is a more widely covered sports world. And then there is the Internet, which amplifies everything exponentially.
If I apply the rule someone famous is someone who I pass by on the street and makes me think OH SHIT, THAT'S THAT PERSON, the NFL alone could supply thousands of people. Not only are there players, there are coaches, owners, broadcasters, retired players, and God knows who else. That little universe to itself provides a huge stock of famous people for my consciousness. And that's just pro football. I haven't even considered college ball, which is its own other little universe. Now, consider how many little circles like that exist within sports alone:
Olympians, Retired and Active
Okay, that's just sports. That's potentially, I'd say, at least 3,000 people. Probably more. Now, consider these other arenas of fame:
Actors (huge number)
Actresses (also a huge number)
Famous Executives (Steve Jobs, etc.)
Porn stars (Consider how many porn stars you know of, then multiply it by 78,000 for Cockeye Jones)
Reality Show Stars
Relations Of Famous People (Roger Clinton, etc.)
It doesn't take much for you to add to the number of famous people in your consciousness as you go along through life. I've never seen a Twilight movie, but I know exactly who Robert Pattinson is, along with a handful of his dipshit vampire co-stars. Before the 2008 election, I didn't know who Sarah Palin was. Now I know who she is, AND I could easily spot at least three of her relatives in a crowd. They pop in my head and stay there just like that, and get added to the collective pile in my head of random people like Dan Rather, Anita Blonde, Slash, Ozzie Guillen, and God knows who the fuck else. I could try and do an exercise where I list every conceivable famous person I know of. However, I won't do it because 1) I'm fucking lazy, and 2) It would not be fun.
I asked a handful of people to try and guess at the number of jelly beans in this particular jar. Will Leitch said 30,000. Daulerio said 15,000. Spencer Hall said it had to be in the "hundreds," which does not bode well for Spencer's chance of staving off dimentia later in life. Fatsis said less than 10,000. I asked Chuck Klosterman (who is himself famous). He did not reply (as of yet), largely because it's a retarded question.
UPDATE: Klosterman says, "My answer to the question (i.e. "How many strangers could I immediately recognize without any prior introduction?") is 13,800."
I want you kids to smoke a J tonight and think about that number. Think about if your brain had a physical Rolodex with a picture card of every famous person you knew of. I can't remember my own age half the time. Yet, inside my head is a database of at least 10,000 people (my guess) who have tackled or fucked or biked to fame. And that number grows every year by a lot. In the future, it's possible I could have a new celebrity death every day, just because I know of so many goddamn famous people.
That's fucking crazy shit, man. I can't wait.