I've quoted this before: to quote (at least approximately) George Carlin, "Things don't happen in threes. Things happens in ones. Sometimes three ones happen in a row, and we think things happen in threes."
Recently I vented about this to my Mom, who's a Navy wife (my Dad is a retired Navy RIO). She pointed out that fatal Navy accidents really do almost always happen in threes. Point taken; she has more experience with that than I do.
Oh, and the Ramans do everything in threes, but if you're a good science-fiction reader you already knew that.
But saying "celebrity deaths happen in threes": it's an attempt to see a pattern in something that just happens. One time there'd been a spate of high-profile deaths in a brief period, two major ones in particular, and all over LJ I heard people giving a different "third death" among the recently deceased to make it add up to three. And in how short or long a period would the deaths have to happen to fit the pattern? And is there an exact level of celebrity that needs to be met for the pattern to work? Do people even start to expect "the other shoe to drop" at some point, as if they kind of want another death to occur? All this makes me cranky. So does the spate of death lately, but that's another issue: I just don't like hearing about sudden early death.
So this weekend we lost people in the news: that former Olympian's father who was stabbed by the man at Beijing's Drum Tower; the very funny and intense Bernic Mac; and the soulful Isaac Hayes. And there were others: Hollywood producer Bernie Brillstein, for one, and the firefighters who died in the Northern California helicopter accident. And how many other hundreds (thousands?) of other people died this weekend? The one difference is the circle of people mourning for them.
People die; those who knew them, or knew of them, react. That's the pattern.
That said, I was darkly amused by this reaction to Hayes's and Mac's deaths: "Death is supposed to come in 3's, not 33's."