Is Jett Travolta’s death truly tragic?

The media coverage of the death of Jett Travolta has been infused with “tragic” and “tragedy.” Here are some headline examples:

  • The tragic last moments of Jett Travolta (Boston Herald)
  • Kate Hudson on the Travolta tragedy (Entertainment Tonight)
  • How the Travolta tragedy unfolded (Extra)
  • Small Fla. town embraces Travolta during tragedy (The Associated Press)

The sad demise of the 16-year-old Jett is certainly heartbreaking for his famous parents as well as family members and friends. But is it tragic for the world at large? One dictionary defines “tragedy” this way:

An event causing great suffering, destruction and distress such as a serious accident, crime or natural catastrophe.

The word, of course, also has definitions rooted in literature and history. But this is the way “tragedy” is frequently used in news stories — and often too loosely.

For most of us, Jett Travolta’s death isn’t a source of great suffering. (And no, he wasn’t a hero either.) We note it in the pages of our newspaper and online, and we move on.



  1. You hate to get technical about these things, but … no. “Macbeth” is a tragedy. The sad, unexpected death of a celebrity’s teenage offspring is a sad, unexpected death.

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