Time of death, fame, and the internet: a hypothesis

If you were somewhat known, but not very super-duper famous to begin with, it was bad for your reputation to have died right before the internet became “a thing.”

You will have relatively few traces on the internet itself, and right after your death people all of a sudden had this new medium for chatting with others about all sorts of other fascinating things, most of them not you.


Tyler clearly has too much time on his hands (or in his head).

According to physics, there's no such thing as universal time, only velocity is invariant. TC's observation is good, that's why on YouTube the famous classic rock songs only have a few million views, while the latest pop song, no matter how trite, has close to a billion or more views.

Oppa Gangnam Style! Wonder how many views it has now, has it crossed 3B? I should check (and add to the views).

This seems a very sad thing to think, care, or be aware of. How empty one’s life must be if your greatest hopes are a small blurb on wikipedia

Re. Elvis, Marilyn or Howard Hughes...

With the caveat that you weren't already a major subject of conversation or conspiracy theories when the internet began.

Can you think of examples? Are they de facto underrated?

Paul Feyerabend?

Good question, and a good possible answer.

I think McMike's comment below gives a better hypothesis than Tyler's, indeed I might go so far as to say that as in many other matters, the web hasn't so much changed human relationships as amplified them.

Some people were obscure and will stay obscure. Some will have or gain fame, and these inequalities are amplified by the web, social media, etc.

So Kim Kardashian gains notoriety that is arguably unearned. But so did say Zsa Zsa Gabor, just on a smaller pre-internet scale. Tesla rises, Feyerabend arguably does not.

If Feyerabend had passed away 5 or 10 years later, would he be better known now?

I recently visited Dublin and got to see the "bog bodies" and other trinkets and remains from millennia ago in the Irish National Archaeological museum.

It was odd to think that those people and the owners of other artifacts had zero conception that one day thousands of people from around the world would gaze on their bodies or handiwork. It makes me wonder what people or artifacts from our time will someday wind up in a museum due to complete happenstance. How many of us will be known one day in the future because our blog happened to be restored from an excavated server, or our coffin uncovered while building the foundation for a space elevator?

Plastination curatorships, anyone?

On the other hand, the internet has helped reintroduce N Tesla to the world, along with countless marginal and/or mostly forgotten people who managed to retain a meat world fan base that survived their death.

In fact i would argue the internet has brought more dead people to fame than could possibly happened without.

I'm involved with the dance world, and it's certainly interesting to see how social media has affected the ability of dancers to achieve fame. It's a lot easier now to know more about individual dancers in a company's corps de ballet while they wouldn't have been able to crack into even the cognoscenti's awareness without first becoming a principal.

Is it also true that, for example, recording artists who peaked right before the internet are less famous than their peers before or after that time? Does the same result hold for great athletes of the early to mid 90's?

I'd definitely say there are some great people who died in the 1980's who are severely underappreciated today: Tunde King, Nikola Geshev, Lennie Hibbert, James Dean Pruner, George Ryley Scott, Paul Frederick Ernst, Sidney Maiden....for some reason not coming up with any women.

Jessica Savitch, ???

The great Austrian Catholic poet Christine Busta. The great Swedish pacifist feminist Catholic Barbro Alving. The great artist Lygia Clark from Belo Horizonte.

You just made up all those names.

lol - no - real interesting people
King: father of juju music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R9QPsZTCKg
Geshev: anti-communist martyr (possibly - mysterious dissapearance)
Hibbert: Jamaican vibraphone player - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7UWEESeTO8
Pruner: great artist from Kansas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JgqFWPKfJ4
Scott: " prolific British author of books about sexual intercourse"
Ernst: Wrote the original Avenger books
Maiden: mean blues harp blower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tABvMTG00E

I was thinking something similar about that this morning regarding Marc Bolan and T. Rex. His most popular songs on Spotify outside of 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)' are solely connected to their appearance on movie soundtracks and disconnected from the quality and long-term popularity of the work.

Would T.Rex have even "happened" in an internet age though? I don't know.

Also underrated : I think one day Thin Lizzy will have a resurgence. Unsure what role the internet might play in that

Except before the internet there existed videos which may now be on the internet. The not super-popular comedian Bill Hicks died right before the internet took off in the 90s, yet he's now legendary.

There's a number of examples of the Internet combined with Netflix making a bigger deal of what was less of a deal before: the band Big Star comes to mind.

What are the examples of *dying at the right time* according to this hypothesis?

"all of a sudden had this new medium for chatting with others about all sorts of other fascinating things, most of them not you."

From the beginning, people used the Internet to chat about what they were already most interested in. Music people chatted about music, finance people about finance...

"Hicks died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994, in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the age of 32. In subsequent years his work gained a significant measure of acclaim in creative circles—particularly after a series of posthumous album releases—and he developed a substantial cult following. In 2007 he was voted sixth on Britain's Channel 4 list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comics,[3] and rose to number four on the 2010 list.[4] In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him thirteenth on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time."


I presume that you will save my cherished comments on this site after my demise, and that these literary and philosophical gems will be the source of wisdom and humor for generations to come.

It seems to me that Jerry Garcia is a good candidate to test this (August 1995).

Oh, to be blissfully content, to live and die with those who actually knew you, hugged you, to be remembered as you were, rather than from a Tweet or a blog post. That, was the best of times!

I can't believe the effect is significant, after-all "traditional media" didn't disappear the day the internet started up, and while the internet obtained relatively rapid penetration it still took maybe 15 years for it to become ubiquitous and the dominant form of media.

What I sometimes think about is the risk of dying the day before the immortality pill is invented.

My mind immediately goes to the likes of Brandon Lee and River Phoenix, who were both transcendent pop-cultural phenomena, died right before the Internet became a thing, and are now barely talked about. The theory seems to check out. But then, would you really expect cultural icons from 1993 to have persisted? And we can give Pablo Escobar and Jack Kirby as counter-examples, both more talked about now than then. What's a reasonable way to put this hypothesis to the test?

Eh, a little too much there. They weren't "transcendent pop-cultural phenomena" but up and coming young actors. The only thing of note about both was dying young. And Lee in particular was actually pretty unknown, dying on set was what made him famous at all. Phoenix at least had some well-regarded movie roles before he died.

Ann Gould. Or was it Anne Gould? She was Mrs. Gould to me, my piano teacher in an Edwardian block in West Hampstead. The flat was old, the furnishings were old and she was - whether fifty or seventy - old to me, too. The other day I picked up the works of Schubert she gave me when I was thirteen and read the inscription, as I must have done about once a decade ever since, "To Richard, with the hope this gives him pleasure for the rest of his life." And it has, for forty years so far.

She died, I think. The last time I saw her was thirty-five years ago when I was finishing my piano grades and my school, and preparing to go to university.

Who was she? The Internet won't tell and this has stunned me. I am used to finding people in databases, directories, newspapers and encyclopedias and here Mrs Gould is, not.

You are right, Tyler, almost all regular people who ever walked this earth are gone, both biologically and from our memories, and if there is no collective memory, no pointer to their graves, no archived obituary, then they might as well be gone for good.

The information often exists, it just hasn't been put into web-accessible or digital archives. In the US at least one can start with genealogy websites, although to find detailed data one often has to do footwork and go to local archives, county records, immigration records and the like.

One of my cousins has done this to research the mysterious (to all of us descendants) history of our grandparents. She's even contacted relatives in our grandparents' home country, it turns out that post offices there are good places to find out who lived where and when. But it's a laborious manual process to find the information.

But it's not as if we've lost information. It's just that, relative to information that's been digitized and put on the web, the old information is harder to retrieve.

That of course is Tyler's point, that people who've died post-web are easier to find out about and talk about. But as other commenters have said, it's not clear that it's had the effects on reputation that he hypothesized.

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