January has started off as a brutal month for celebrities. Three very famous celebrities passed away. Betty White, Bob Saget, and Meat Loaf. All dead.
It’s frequently pointed out that celebrity deaths, “happen in threes.” Which, of course, is an odd thing to say about a group of people dying independently of each other. But it’s a phenomenon and pattern that is frequently observed by many.
Which got me to thinking, what’s up with that? Why do celebrities seem to die in threes?
The Significance Of The Number “Three”
Throughout human history, the number three has tended to be a special number in our culture.
As far back as the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, pointed out the seemingly “sacred” nature of the number three. For Pythagoras, three was a “perfect number,” symbolizing harmony, wisdom, and understanding.
The number three has been also associated with time, past, present, and future.
It was also tied to the experience of humanity, in our birth, life, and death.
The number three is a common number in the Bible. There are the three patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are three prescribed annual Jewish holidays. Three was the number of days Jonah spent in the whale. Three was the number of years Jesus preached before being crucified. Three was the number of temptations Jesus experienced in the wilderness. Three was the number of times Peter denied Christ. Three was the number of days Jesus was dead before coming back to life. And three is the number of the triune Godhead of Father, Som, and Holy Spirit.
Three is a common number in fair tales and story telling.
Three is seen as a lucky number, “third time’s a charm.” While ironically, bad things like celebrity deaths happen in threes.
In sports the number three has its place. Score three goals in a hockey game and you have a “hat trick,” (including the Gordie Howe variety of an assist, a goal, and a fight). In basketball there’s the three point shot. In football a field goal will get you three points. In baseball, three strikes and you are out!
In film we often see trilogies, such as in Ghostbusters, The Matrix, The Bourne Identity, Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, Back To The Future, The Godfather, and so many more.
Three is a rhetorical device, such as the three point sermon, lists, and…
The use of three is a common sales technique where you offer someone three choices, a cheaper option, and expensive option, and something in between.
“Three” And Our Quest For Understanding
So, I’ve taken a long rabbit trail here.
Let’s circle back to celebrity deaths. I can name Betty White, Bob Saget, and Meat Loaf as three celebrities who recently died. And with all I’ve said about all the things that happen in threes, you’d almost think there might be something magical or mystical about the number.
But what about all the other celebrities who died this past month? Comedian Louie Anderson, actor Sidney Poitier, and football legend John Madden also died. That’s more than three.
And I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we’d find other lesser known celebrities have also recently died. Others who barely made the list of pre-written celebrity obituary files, or simply slipped our attention.
Which of course, besides being creepy, also makes me wonder how big of a celebrity you have to be to qualify for an obituary with local and national news? I mean, not to throw shade, but Loui Anderson made it, so the threshold is clearly very low, or sometimes the news is just really slow. I’ll let you decide where he falls in that respect.
But I digress.
I think when it comes to the number three, or any other famous numbers that we as humans convey all sorts of numerological meaning to, there’s nothing fundamentally special about any of these numbers in and of themselves. Whether it’s three, six, seven, twelve, thirteen, forty, or any other host of numbers, the numbers themselves aren’t really important.
But what is important is to recognize we as humans approach the world with certain filters. We see what we want to see, and discard the things we believe to be unimportant.
And in doing this we often notice patterns. These patterns are the tools by which we filter the world, and I believe come from a place deep inside of us in our quest to understand our significance in this world, as well as to understand the things in this world that can either do us good, or cause is harm.
These patterns we notice, if I can sound a little Dr. Jordan B. Peterson like, help us bring order to a world that often feels like it’s full of nothing but random chaos. Because the world is full of things we don’t understand, things that often frighten us, things that threaten our very existence and being.
And, so we notice things like celebrities dying in threes. It brings us a sense of comfort to know I’m not one of them. So I can go on, mildly amused by their passing, knowing I am going to live to fight another day. Because after all, I read the tea leaves, and they said I’m going to be okay.
In saying all this, however, I can’t help but wonder, what patterns have we noticed that we are cognizant of?
But maybe a better question is, what are we becoming blind to?
What things aren’t we seeing because we haven’t developed a filter or pattern recognition formula for it yet?
What might be something of importance that we are neglecting right before our eyes?
In asking such, I can’t help but be reminded of Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep of the goats, in which Jesus tells about the final judgment of all mankind coming down to how we treated “the least of these.”
The people of no seeming significance, who can be easily overlooked, forgotten, and neglected, simply because they simply didn’t seem to matter all that much. The people who aren’t Betty White, Bob Saget, or Meat Loaf. The people who won’t be worthy of a news headline when they die, but are ultimately of great importance in the eyes of God.