Study: Oscar Winners Live Longer

ByABC News

May 14, 2001 -- Katharine Hepburn, 94, remarked once that she is revered internationally "like an old building."

But her longevity may be due to the four Oscars she racked up in her movie career.

A new study published in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine finds that actors who have won Oscars live almost four years longer than actors who haven't won the coveted Academy Award. And actors who have won multiple times live up to six years longer than those who have been nominated and never won.

"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," said lead author of the study, Dr. Donald Redelmeier, director of clinical epidemiology at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Center in Toronto and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

Always Ready for the Closeup

Sally Field, for example, will live four years longer than her acting peers who didn't get an Academy Award because when it comes down to it, it just means we like her and she is happy that we like her and lives a healthier life because of it, according to the study.

No one can take that kind of accomplishment away and that kind of satisfaction is so rich for one's soul that it makes them resilient longer, Redelmeier says.

"The lives of stars and successful people ARE filled with exercise, eating right and sleeping properly," Redelmeier said. "All of these aspects might have greater benefits than we have recognized." Self-Esteem Important for the Rest of Us

"We are not saying that you will live longer if you win an Academy Award," said Redelmeier. "Or that people should go out and take acting courses. Our main conclusion is simply that social factors are important."

It also suggests that doctors should inquire more about patients' personal feelings and feelings of accomplishments and failures.

"It suggests that an internal sense of self-esteem is an important aspect to health and health care," he said.

Compared Winners and Losers

To do the study, Redelmeier and researchers at the Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Center in Toronto identified every performer nominated for an Academy Award in either leading or supporting roles.

For each nominated performer, another cast member was identified who was not nominated but acted in the same film, had the same sex and had nearly the same age. A total of 1,649 performers were grouped according to whether they won, were nominated and never won, or were never nominated.

The researchers found that performers who win Academy Awards live an average 79.7. Those that didn't win lived an average 75.8 years. The average U.S. life expectancy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is 75 years old.

Why Do the Study?

What prompted Redelmeier to embark on the three year study was watching a glowing Gwyneth Paltrow as she stood at the Academy Award podium and gave a tearful speech after winning for her role in 1998's Shakespeare in Love.

"She seemed so much more alive than any patient I had looked at in my practice," Redelmeier said. "She looked more full of life than anyone I had seen."

Multi Wins Adds Even More Years

So, Redelmeier decided to see if it was true — if a glowing Paltrow had more life in her than the dull-looking folk who may get nominated, but who never get their turn at the podium. He looked back through the 73 years of the Academy Awards and who won and who didn't and how long they lived.

"We found, too, that the life expectancy for those that had multi nominations and no win had the same life expectancy as those with just a single nomination and no win," Redelmeier added.

So, the Susan Lucci syndrome is just as bad as just one nomination and no win. (Lucci was nominated 19 times for an Emmy before winning one in 1999.)

"I imagine most of the winners live well," said Screen Actor's Guild spokesman Greg Krizman. "Living an easier life sure has a significant psychological difference on an actor's psyche. Winning just does something to you."

But if, as critics say, being nominated for an Oscar is a function of talent and winning is a function of luck, what of this new finding?

"A little luck doesn't hurt," Krizman said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events