It wasn't just 2016. It's not a "bad patch" we're going through. Your beloved childhood media icons are going to keep dying. FOREVER. Here's why.
It's about television. Movies have been around for a century. Movie stars have been dying almost as long. But I submit that movie actors, even the biggest and most enduring stars, never had the emotional connection to audiences that television stars do. It's simple arithmetic: even in the glory days of the studio system, even the hardest-working actors didn't make more than six or eight pictures a year. So if you were an obsessive William Powell fan and made sure to see every single picture he starred in, you might see something like twelve hours of William Powell in a year.
By comparison, if you were a fan of, say, Bonanza during its original run on NBC, you'd see thirty-four episodes a year, plus summer reruns. You'd spend an hour a week with Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker.
Movie stars were out-of-town relatives. TV stars were neighbors.
The rise of beloved TV icons came as Americans born after World War II grew up — the first cohort to spend their childhoods with a television in the house. So the first "iconic" TV stars are the ones whose careers began in the 1950s: Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Robert Young, and others. But note that the first group of television stars were all established performers, born before the First World War in most cases. They began reaching the ends of their lives in the 1980s, as anyone who remembers the wave of nostalgic TV specials of that era may recall.
In the mid-1960s the TV networks made a push to recruit and feature younger performers, the better to cater to the "youth market" of the massive Baby Boomer demographic beginning to flex its consumer muscle. So on a show like Star Trek, for instance, both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were born in 1931, and thus were in their mid-thirties when the show premiered. That has remained the sweet spot for TV stardom ever since: the leads on the sitcom Big Bang Theory were also in their mid-thirties when that show began, forty years after Star Trek.
(Obviously all these points are generalizations: there are old actors and young actors, but unless one is a "child star" it's unlikely an actor can have the experience and exposure to be the lead on a series before age 30.)
Do the math: people who were in their mid-thirties in the 1960s were born about 1930, which means in 2017 they're in their late eighties. Life expectancy in the U.S. is about 80 years.
Much the same math holds for rock stars. The top acts in 1970 were all made up of performers born in the 1940s. They're all past 70 now, and being a rock star seems to have some . . . let's say long-term health effects. (Short-term effects, too: the famous "dead by overdose at 27" phenomenon as new-minted stars suddenly get enough money to buy all the drugs they want, which turns out to be ALL THE DRUGS THERE ARE.) So rock stars are also starting to "age out."
In short, get used to it. From now on every year is going to see the last of multiple beloved figures from your youth. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that the media fragmentation which began in the 1990s means that there aren't as many iconic performers nowadays as there were forty years ago. By the middle of the 21st century, actors and musicians will still be dropping dead, but their fan bases will be smaller. The reaction when that guy who was on an HBO series watched by 10 million people passes on won't be as strong, simply because most people will say "who?" when they hear the news. By 2040 we may hit Peak Celebrity Death Mourning.
Actors and musicians come and go, but characters in stories never die. Buy my new ebook and you can be certain those beloved icons will be with you forever!