One of the most-read obits in The Washington Post’s history was that of actress Brittany Murphy, who died suddenly in 2009 at the age of 32. The September obituary for actor Michael K. Williams, 54, racked up 2.8 million views for the New York Times; the obituary of comedian Norm Macdonald, 61, a week later surpassed 1 million. Even an obituary for a lesser-known actor, Willie Garson, 57, who had a recurring role on “Sex in the City,” approached 1 million views, according to the story.
That’s why many news organizations have boosted their stockpiles of pre-written obits, known as “pre-writes” or “advancers,” creating vast portfolios of deaths foretold. The New York Times has 1,850 such obits idling in its computer system, according to William McDonald, the newspaper’s obituaries editor; The Washington Post has about 900 on hand, said its obituaries editor, Adam Bernstein.