Oscar winning screenwriters have shorter lives than nominees

December 20, 2001

Longevity of screenwriters who win an academy award: longitudinal study BMJ Volume 323, pp 1491-6

Editorial: Death in Hollywood BMJ Volume 323, pp 1441-2

Oscar winning screenwriters have shorter lives than losing nominees, even though greater success is usually linked to better health, finds a study in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Researchers in Canada identified all 850 screenwriters ever nominated for an academy award. On average, winners were more successful than nominees, as indicated by a 14% longer career, 34% more films, and 58% more four star films.

Life expectancy was 3.6 years shorter for winners than for nominees, equivalent to a 37% relative increase in death rates. Additional awards were associated with a 22% relative increase in death rates, whereas a career with many nominations but no awards caused no significant increase in death rates.

These results are not easily explained by talent, prestige, financial earnings, material conditions, or simple demographics, say the authors. They suggest that screenwriters are more apt to have unhealthy lifestyles (eg, more smoking, less exercise, frequent late nights with no sleep), unlike actors whose lives are under steady scrutiny. This may explain why Oscar winning actors and actresses live longer than nominees, and underscores the importance of behaviour as a factor that can modulate and even reverse the link between status and survival, they conclude.

Screenwriters are, notoriously, a heavily exploited branch of the movie industry and for a screenwriter an Oscar may give a considerable immediate psychological boost but will not guarantee future success or employment, suggests Professor George Davey Smith in an accompanying editorial.


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