Eran Shor of McGill University in Montreal and Arnout van de Rijt of Stony Brook University in New York studied the names mentioned in English-language newspapers during a period of several decades.
They found, contrary to popular belief, people who become truly famous stay famous for decades -- even in entertainment, where it might appear that fame is likely to be most ephemeral.
For example, in a random sample of 100,000 names that appeared in the entertainment sections of more than 2,000 newspapers in 2004-09, the 10 names that showed up most frequently were Jamie Foxx, Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, Tommy Lee Jones, Naomi Watts, Howard Hughes, Phil Spector, John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, and Steve Buscemi.
All were celebrated for at least a decade and all are still much talked about today, the researchers said.
"What we've shown here that is truly revolutionary is that the people who you and I would consider famous, even the Kim Kardashians of this world, stay famous for a long time," Shor said in a statement. It doesn't come and go."
The study, scheduled to be published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, found 96 percent of those whose names were mentioned more than 100 times in the newspapers in a given year had already been in the news at least three years before.
The authors pointed out that this could be explained by the fact that both media and audiences are trapped in a self-reinforcing equilibrium, in which they must keep devoting attention, airtime and newspaper space to the same old characters because everyone else does too.