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Youth Movement in Obits?

Patricia Sullivan

Heath Ledger's death yesterday at the age of 28, and the acknowledgment by the Associated Press that they've pre-written an obit for Britney Spears, who's all of 26, raises the issue of how prepared can obit writers be for the deaths of young celebrities.

The answer? Not very.

Of the 100 or so advancers that The Washington Post has prepared, I don't see one person who's under the age of 60. That's not to say we won't cover the deaths of younger people -- but putting in the time to look at a person's life is usually not useful until he or she has built up a body of work that defines a career. And, as the Los Angeles Times obits editor recently said, "Who in the '60s would have thought Keith Richards would have outlasted John Denver?"

By Patricia Sullivan |  January 23, 2008; 12:49 PM ET  | Category:  Patricia Sullivan
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You can go too far in the other direction, though. About 20 years ago an editor I used to freelance for got a call that the widow of a former prime minister had died. She had been 102 years old and her husband, who had been Prime Minister in 1921, had been dead for decades.

Nobody in the newsroom knew she was still alive. When they called the PMO for a press release, nobody there knew she was still alive either. The last clipping in the morgue was from 1938.

Posted by: Charlene | February 1, 2008 2:30 AM

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