Archives of Suicide Research

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 187–198 | Cite as

Celebrity suicide: Did the death of Kurt Cobain influence young suicides in Australia?

  • Graham Martin
  • Lisa Koo


This study examined the total rate of suicide in Australia for young people (aged 15–19 and 20–24 years) for the 30 day period after the announcement of Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994, comparing with the identical period for the previous five years and accounting for unequal variability in weekends, Mondays and public holidays. The 1994 rates for male suicides for both age groups were lower than for 1992 and 1993, and were more similar to the 1990 rates. Female rates showed a steady small decline over the five years, sustained in 1994. Rates overall showed a reduction in all of the first five, ten and fifteen day rates, compared with previous years. There was no evidence of any increase in deaths from gunshot, the method used by Cobain. The conclusion appears to be that this celebrity suicide had little impact on suicide in young persons in Australia. Possible reasons for this are discussed.

celebrity suicide influence Kurt Cobain media 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnett, J. (1991). Heavy metal music and reckless behavior among adolescents. Journal of Young and Adolescence, 20(6).Google Scholar
  2. Barraclough, B., Shepherd, D. & Jennings, C. (1977). Do newspaper reports of coroners' inquests incite people to commit suicide? British Journal of Psychiatry, 131, 528–532.Google Scholar
  3. Berman, A.L. (1988a). Fictional depiction of suicide in television films and imitation effects. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145(8), 982–986.Google Scholar
  4. Berman, A.L. (1988b). Suicide and the mass media. In R. Yufit (Ed.), 20th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Suicidology, Denver: American Association of Suicidology.Google Scholar
  5. Blumenthal, S. & Bergner, L. (1973). Suicide and newspapers: A replicated study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 130, 468–471.Google Scholar
  6. Bollen, K.A. & Phillips, D.P. (1982). Imitative suicides: A national study of the effects of television news stories. American Sociological Review, 47(6), 802–809.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, D.C. (1989). Impact of television news reports. Suicide Research Digest, 3, 1–2.Google Scholar
  8. Fowler, B.P. (1986). Emotional crises imitating television. Lancet, 8488, 1036–1037.Google Scholar
  9. Gaines, D. (1994). Suicidal tendencies. In H. George-Warren (Ed.), Cobain. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  10. Goldney, R.D. (1989). Suicide: The role of the media. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 23, 30–34.Google Scholar
  11. Gould, M.S. & Shaffer, D. (1986). The inpact of suicide in television movies. New England Journal of Medicine, 315, 690–694.Google Scholar
  12. Gould, M.S., Shaffer, D. & Kleinman, M. (1988). The impact of suicide in television movies: Replication and commentary. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 18, 90–99.Google Scholar
  13. Gould, M.S., Wallenstein, S. & Davidson, L. (1989). Suicide clusters: A critical review. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 19(1), 17–29.Google Scholar
  14. Hassan, R. (1995). Effects of newspaper stories on the incidence of suicide in Australia: A research note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 29, 480–483.Google Scholar
  15. Holding, T.A. (1974). The BBC ‘Befrienders’ series and its effects. British Journal of Psychiatry, 124, 470–472.Google Scholar
  16. Holding, T.A. (1975). Suicide and ‘The Befrienders’. British Medical Journal, 3, 751–752.Google Scholar
  17. Jones, D.A., Berman, A.L., O'Carroll, P., Eastgard, S. & Knickmeyer, S. (1996). The Kurt Cobain suicide crisis: Prespectives from research, public health and the news media. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, in press.Google Scholar
  18. Kessler, R.C., Downey, G., Milavsky, J.R. & Stipp, H. (1988). Clustering of suicides after television news stories about suicides: A reconsideration. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145(11), 1379–1383.Google Scholar
  19. Kessler, R.C., Downey, G., Stipp, H. & Milavsky, J.R. (1989). Network television news stories about suicide and short term changes in total U.S. suicides. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 177, 551–555.Google Scholar
  20. Littman, S.K. (1985). Suicide epidemics and newspaper reporting. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 15, 43–50.Google Scholar
  21. Martin, G. (unpublished). The television story and suicide influence.Google Scholar
  22. Martin, G., Clarke, M. & Pearce, C.M. (1993). Adolescent suicide: Music preference as an indicator of vulnerability. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32(3), 530–535.Google Scholar
  23. Motto, J.A. (1970). Newspaper influence on suicide: A controlled study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 23, 143–148.Google Scholar
  24. Ostroff, R.B., Behrends, R.W., Lee, K. & Oliphant, J. (1985). Adolescent suicides modelled after television movie. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 989.Google Scholar
  25. Phillips, D.P. (1974). The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 39, 340–354.Google Scholar
  26. Phillips, D.P. (1977). Motor vehicle fatalities increase after publicized suicide stories. Science, 196, 1464–1465.Google Scholar
  27. Phillips, D.P. (1978). Airplane accident fatalities increase just after stories about murder and suicide. Science, 201, 748–750.Google Scholar
  28. Phillips, D.P. (1982). The impact of fictional television stories on U.S. adult fatalities: New vidence on the effect of the mass media on violence. American Journal of Sociology, 87(6), 1340–1359.Google Scholar
  29. Phillips, D.P. (1985). The Werther effect, The Sciences 1985, 25, 33–39.Google Scholar
  30. Phillips, D.P. & Bollen, K.A. (1985). Same time last year: Selective dredging for negative findings. American Sociological Review, 50, 364–371.Google Scholar
  31. Phillips, D.P. & Carstensen, L.I. (1986). Clustering of teenage suicides after television news stories about suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, 315, 685–689.Google Scholar
  32. Phillips, D.P. & Carstensen, L.L. (1988). The effect of suicide stories on various demographic groups, 1968–85. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 18, 100–114.Google Scholar
  33. Phillips, D.P. & Paight, D.J. (1987). The impact of televised movies about suicide: A replicative study. New England Journal of Medicine, 317(13), 809–811.Google Scholar
  34. Phillips, D.P., Lesyna, M.A. & Paight, D.J. (1992). Suicide and the media. In R.W. Maris, A.L. Berman, J.T. Maltsberger, & R.I. Yufit (Eds.), Assessment and prediction of suicide. New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  35. Platt, S. (1987). The Aftermath of Angie's overdose: Is soap (opera) damaging to your health? British Medical Journal, 294, 954–957.Google Scholar
  36. Sainsbury, P. & Jenkins, J. (1982). The Accuracy of officially reported suicide statistics for purposes of epidemiological research. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 36, 43–48.Google Scholar
  37. Schmidtke, A. & Häfner, H. (1988). The Werther effect after television films: New evidence for an old hypothesis. Psychological Medicine, 18, 665–676.Google Scholar
  38. Shaffer, D., Garland, A., Gould, M., Fisher, P. & Trautman, P. (1988). Preventing teenage suicide: A critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(6), 675–687.Google Scholar
  39. Simkin, S., Hawton, K., Whitehead, L., Fagg, J. & Eagle, M. (1995). Media influence on parasuicide: A study of the effects of a television drama portrayal of paracetomol self-poisoning. British Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 754–759.Google Scholar
  40. Stack, S. (1987). Celebrities and suicide: A taxonomy and analysis. American Sociological Review, 52, 401–412.Google Scholar
  41. Toltz, M. & O'Donnell, J. (1994). I hate myself and I want to die. Juice (16), 38–45.Google Scholar
  42. Wass, H., Miller, M.D. & Redditt, C.A. (1991). Adolescents and destructive themes in rock music: A follow-up. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 23(3), 199–206.Google Scholar
  43. Wasserman, I. (1984). Imitation and suicide: A reexamination of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 49, 427–436.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Martin
    • 1
  • Lisa Koo
    • 2
  1. 1.Child and Adolescent Mental Health ServicesFlinders Medical CentreAdelaide
  2. 2.Flinders University Medical SchoolAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations