Do Oscar winners live longer than nominees? The science on winning
TORONTO – Will Matthew McConaughey live well into his 90s with good old Oscar in his hands while Leonardo DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper wallow in their losses?
For over a decade, scientists have studied Oscar winners and losers. Their findings? Taking home the golden statue gives you four more years of life compared to your nominated peers. And the more you win, the longer you live.
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(There was no link between multiple nominations and multiple losses, as long as you won. That must be great news to Meryl Streep – she has 18 nominations and three Oscar wins.)
The first research was done at the University of Toronto in 2001. Some 1,600 Oscar-nominated actors and actresses were studied next to another 900 actors and actresses.
Noted epidemiologist Donald A. Redelmeier matched the actors up according to age and sex and who had appeared in the same films without being nominated.
“We wondered whether the Academy Awards might shed light on how social status affects all-cause mortality. We chose this event because it generates substantial attention,” the researchers wrote.
Turns out, most Oscar winners lived until 80 years old on average while second-place actors and those who weren’t even nominated at all died by 76, Business Insider reported.
If actors snagged a second trophy, they’d tack on another two years to their lives, marking a six-year disparity.
“We found that they died from the same things we all die from — cancer, heart disease, strokes — but they fought them a bit longer or their onset came a bit later,” Redelmeier told ABC News.
He said that it was Gwyneth Paltrow and her tearful speech after her 1998 win that inspired him to conduct this research.
“She seemed so much more alive than any patient I had looked at in my practice,” Redelmeier told ABC. “She looked more full of life than anyone I had seen.”
Redelmeier also went on to study directors and found that if they won an Oscar, they’d live two years longer than their statue-less counterparts. Winning screenwriters didn’t find a boost in life longevity at all.
So what is it about the Oscar that extends a celebrity’s life? Redelmeier suggests it has to do with success and the high status that comes along with it.
“Movie stars are often subjected to personal scrutiny that far exceeds their dramatic achievements. They often need to preserve their image by continually avoiding disgraceful behaviours and maintaining exemplary conduct,” the researchers wrote in their now 13-year-old study.
They have managers, personal chefs, trainers, nannies and other staff working on their team. They need to deliver some wins to prop up their high status, the study suggests.
“The main implication is that higher status may be linked to lower mortality rates even at very impressive levels of achievement,” the researchers concluded.
But Redelmeier didn’t have the final word: a follow-up study in 2006 re-examined the study and came up with a totally different conclusion.
This time, a McGill University statistician said that the study was misunderstanding a key component, what’s called an “immortal time bias,” according to Forbes. It’s not that actors live longer, it’s just that they have more time to win an Oscar, the follow-up research suggested.
By 2011 – yes, this was studied for a third time – another journal article concluded: “There is not strong evidence that winning an Oscar increases life expectancy.”
In between this heated debate about winning Oscars and living longer, researchers also looked into the age differences between male and female nominees (women were always younger than male nominees) and what’s been dubbed the “Oscar curse.”
In that case, University of Toronto researchers said that a long line of best actress winners all saw the demise of their marriages shortly after taking home their awards. The list of broken marriages? Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet and even Sandra Bullock.
But what does this mean for Cate Blanchett? The Blue Jasmine lead won the coveted best actress award Sunday night, and has been married to playwright Andrew Upton for 16 years.
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