Thirds time’s the charm: Hollywood’s ‘rule of three’

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 1:13pm

Of all the base human instincts which motivate daily lives, the human capacity to gossip is both fascinating and impressive. Whether it’s indulgence in guilty pleasures like “The Bachelor” or Star Magazine or catching up with TMZ and Twitter, everyone loves to gossip –– those who deny it are probably liars. They are probably liars with “Keeping Up with the Kardashians taped on their DVR (after all, who isn’t on the edge of their seat with Khloe’s cheating scandal?). And if there’s one thing people love to gossip about the most, it’s Hollywood. When it’s not a scandal (again, always the Kardashians), or digging up old dirt (Brangelina, anybody?), the death of a star is a supernova in the entertainment industry. Afterall, when a star falls, everybody knows two more are coming this way –– but who?

Famous deadly trios include the heartbreaking January of 2016, where the world lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Glenn Frey, the fateful year of 1970, witnessing the fall of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and more notoriously, the episode of 2009, where Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson passed in succession. All of these deaths collected in neat trios. It’s no wonder the pattern has drawn the curiosity of the masses.

It’s the age old “rule of three”: when one celebrity bites the dust, you can be sure that two more will follow. If life is unpredictable, then the morbid “Rule of Three” is seemingly the only constant in life. But where does this Hollywood myth come from? Maybe it’s because “three” is a lucky number. Maybe it’s mere coincidence inflated by old-fashioned journalism. Or maybe there’s a secret celebrity cult where stars sign their name in the book of the Dark Lord (In “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”-esque fashion) in exchange for fame (talent being optional –– looking at you, Mr. Cage). Regardless, Hollywood’s “rule of three,” however ludicrous, has by great coincidence, luck or grand design withstood the test of time to become one of the most well-known and (oddly) cherished superstitions. 

Where do we begin the search for answers? It could be a religious thing –– the focus on the number three harkening back to the holy significance of the number in Christianity: The Three Kings; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the list goes on. Could this pattern have emerged from the unconscious connection between death and religion? For the pious, death and religion are intricately intertwined. Could it be that the death of these larger-than-life individuals is so jarring, so heartbreaking, that the masses could only turn to religion for solace? 

Another possibility is the existence of a secret, dark underbelly to Hollywood. Every so often news breaks of secret cults, orgies or gambling rings within the famous elite. The Church of Scientology alone has always been a point of fervent enthrallment for the rest of world, with its “hush-hush” secrecy and high profile drama (Recall the supposed Tom Cruise wife auditions). It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that kings and queens of Hollywood blockbusters pass around a medieval-style goblet filled with expensive red wine (or the blood of unfortunate B-listers?) and chant holy prayers to invoke the powers of Apollo or the ancient Greek Muses. 

Or, more heartwarmingly, the answer could lie in how intimately these stars penetrate our daily lives. Celebrities are often household names, held near and dear to our hearts. The deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Big Bopper J.P. Richardson in 1959 became known as The Day the Music Died –– if that doesn’t say something about how a nation can mourn an idol, nothing does. The Hollywood “rule of three” could be an attempt to reconcile how these beloved artists who often seem invincible –– immortal, even –– are still human, no matter how talented they are (or how much plastic surgery they buy). 

The “rule of three” is a fascinating example of humanity perceives death. Even though we often toot our horn about how advanced and modern the 21st century may be, when confronted with death it is almost instinctual to revert to (arguably) more primitive wonder with the supernatural, divine or unnatural. Sure, everybody has to die one day. But it’s far more fun to speculate that darker forces swirl behind the Golden Gates of Hollywood’s elite. 

For now, we can just cross our fingers that when another one bites the dust, they won’t take another fan favorite with them.