Was anybody really surprised when Lemmy died? Certainly not the legions of journalistic outlets like The New York Times, The New York Post and even Canada’s National Post, who were quick to add “hard living” to their headline descriptions of the lost icon. The tag’s not inaccurate, as the Motorhead frontman was known to many people more for his legendary partying than his music, although Kilmister had reined things in a bit toward the end. Lung infections forced him down to a pack of cigarettes a week, and screwdrivers replaced Jack and Cokes in a likely ineffectual concession to his diabetes.
But they were still leading headlines which implied Lemmy’s debaucherous lifestyle had finally done him in. We knew that cancer was the culprit, so it had to be of the lung or liver variety, right? Weeks later, Lemmy’s death certificate instead confirmed he died from complications due to prostate cancer, something that’s statistically more common in men of Kilmister’s age. So how did we all get it wrong?
Blame the “availability heuristic.” Heuristics are like mental shortcuts used to make a complicated problem simpler. Without them, we’d all be paralyzed with indecision, trying to consider every single factor related to an issue and never actually deciding anything. They’re handy as time-savers, but the use of heuristics can lead to cognitive biases that don’t match reality.
The availability heuristic relies on whatever first pops into your head when a topic comes up. When someone says “Lemmy,” what do you think of? Probably “Ace of Spades,” backstage orgies and the alcoholic drink that was just fucking renamed for him. Despite our perceptions and Rex’s insistence to the contrary, though, Lemmy was a mortal man subject to the same trends and patterns as the rest of us.
Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease among men in the United States, and the risk only goes up the older you get. More than 80% of men will develop prostate cancer by the time they reach age 80. Lung cancer does kill more people annually, but only one in 10 smokers gets it, whereas one in seven men will be afflicted with prostate cancer. Lemmy’s seems to have been much more aggressive than the typical, usually treatable prostate cancer, taking his life only days after diagnosis.
So don’t make assumptions when you hear a “hard-living” rocker has died. After all, it sadly wasn’t Dimebag’s vices that ended him, either. Or Randy Rhoads! Shit, just looking at this data, you should smoke and drink all you want, before something else kills you.
Fucking availability heuristic.