They say celebrities die in threes. They die the way the rest of humanity dies but their fame elevates the awareness of their passing and casts a wider net for mourners. We’re despondent over the deaths of people we may have never met in real life. These deaths come as a shock, even when our favorite celebrity is of advanced age or has known health problems. It puts us in a vulnerable place. It puts us face-to-face with our own mortality. For some people, they decide to take back some of the control death has over us with celebrity death pools. The gamification eases some of the grief if we know its coming.
A group of friends who refer to themselves as “Riplisters” come together every January to create a draft of the 15 celebrities they believe will die within that calendar year. Each participant has their own draft, or “Riplist”. The selection process is long and involved. The participants negotiate, research and strategize. Eligible celebrities can come from all different walks of life whether they are actors, musicians, athletes, royalty, politicians, etc. Whomever gets the most right on their Riplist wins a trophy and bragging rights. The participant with the fewest correct has to draft first the next go around. Some celebrities seem like a sure thing but other deaths elude the riplisters.
Writer/Director Mike Scholtz’s new documentary Riplist chronicles the participants in this group and focuses primarily in the drafting process. As a classic film enthusiast, I was particularly interested in Matt, a film critic who owns over 4,000 movies and knows all the Oscar winning films and can recite them chronologically from memory. Other participants are mostly men but there is one woman, Christie, whose parents were morticians and now works as a death investigator. A few of the subjects are profiled and there are some frank discussions about mortality. Ultimately the Riplist is a way for them to process the idea of death. But they can take things too far. They research which celebrity is in hospice or as one subject says “who’s circling the drain.” They congratulate each other when one of their picks dies. They claim they’re not rooting for people to die but the gamification of the whole process makes it seem that way.
“The game of life is fun. Why can’t the game of death be fun?”
Some of the classic film related people mentioned
- Olivia de Havilland
- Jerry Lewis
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Kirk Douglas
- Robert Osborne
- Norman Lloyd
- Baby Peggy/Diana Serra Cary
- Don Rickles
“I do enjoy it. I don’t know why but I do.”
However for me what these Riplisters were doing left a bad taste in my mouth. And I’m one of the most morbid people you’ll meet. Death fascinates me and if you were to look at my browser history you may back away cautiously and run in the other direction. However, I dread the day that my favorite classic film stars, many of whom are in their 80s, 90s and 100s, pass away. I don’t like to think about it. I will never write an obituary in advance. I would never participate in a death pool. I want these people to live as long as humanly possible. Hoping someone dies so you can win a game just seems flat out wrong. It’s asking for bad karma.
With that said, I believe it’s important to explore the different ways people deal with death. And while the film’s subject matter is quite heavy, Scholtz takes a lighter approach that will relieve viewers of some of the inevitable tension that would have otherwise been overwhelming. The documentary has fun with the lower third, the subjects are interviewed in interesting places, for example a grocery store, taxidermist’s lab, cemetery and mausoleum. There are some reenactments which are a bit hokey but that also adds to the fun.
Essentially Riplist is a dark comedy with a healthy mix of gravitas and humor. It presents a difficult subject in an approachable way. For my fellow classic movie fanatics however, the ones who are praying their favorites won’t be dying anytime soon, Riplist is your next horror film.
Riplist is part of IFFBoston’s Documentary Features series.