Spooked by the number 13, black cats and walking under a ladder? You’re in pretty famous company.
In 2016, we only have one Friday the 13th, which is today. This is a gift to people who associate the day, and the number 13 itself, with bad luck. There’s plenty of history to back them up, starting with The Last Supper, with its 13 guests at the table. It was also the traditional number of steps leading to the gallows.
There are more recent examples too. Tupac Shakur died on Friday September 13th, 1996. Princess Diana died at the 13th pillar of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster happened on the 113th flight of the shuttle, and Apollo 13 is the only moon-bound mission that failed. One Friday the 13th, in 1972, there were two horrible plane crashes; one took the life of all 174 aboard just outside of Moscow, and the other was the infamous crash in the Andes, where the survivors were forced to resort to cannibalism. On a Friday the 13th in 1970, a cyclone hit Bangladesh and killed 500,000, and in 1989, on Friday the 13th, the stock market crashed. Alfred Hitchcock was born on a Friday the 13th and so were the Olsen Twins. . .we leave the interpretation to you.
But while Friday the 13th gets a bad rap, there’s one pop star who’s superstitious about it in reverse: Taylor Swift. Born on December 13th, she considers it great luck that she turned 13 on Friday the 13th, and attributes almost every big moment in her career to the number 13. Her first album went gold in 13 weeks, her first #1 song had a 13-second intro, and when she’s up for awards, and she sees 13 all over the place that day—usually in her seat or row number—she wins. If she doesn’t, she loses. She won her first MTV VMA on September 13, 2009, although that was also the year her acceptance speech was rudely and famously interrupted by Kanye West, which, arguably, worked out in her favor anyway. Her company is called 13 Management, her Twitter handle is @taylorswift13. She even used to paint the number 13 on her hand before every live show.
The Italians agree with Swift. In Italy, the number 13 is considered good luck, and it’s the number 17 that’s bad. Chef, cookbook author, and Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis was born in Rome, Italy, and while 17 isn’t on her list, she does subscribe to a couple of her country’s traditional superstitions. For her, spilling salt is bad luck, but she can thwart it by throwing more salt over her left shoulder, which keeps the devil away. De Laurentiis also believes that cats on the bed are a sign of death. (Good luck with that one, cat owners.) She knows a thing or two about luck and success: her grandfather was movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, whose films were nominated for 38 Academy Awards over the course of his career. He died at 91, after having produced or co-produced over 500 movies; it’s a safe bet he kept the cats off the bed, too.
In the United States, it’s black cats in particular that bewitch, bother, and bewilder. Renowned rapper-producer-songwriter-performer-empire-builder Missy Elliott, back in the spotlight recently with new music that includes a collaboration with Michelle Obama, won’t go near them. She gets so freaked out by crossing the path of a black cat that if she sees one, she’ll turn around and go right back home.
Another common harbinger of bad luck: walking under a ladder. Wicked’s original Glinda, Kristin Chenoweth, won’t do it, nor will Scream Queens star Emma Roberts. This traditional fear may go back to medieval times, when the most common place to see a ladder was next to a gallows, and walking under it would mean you’re the next one in the noose. If you walk under a ladder accidentally, though, you can reverse your bad fortune by walking back under it the way you came, or, mysteriously, crossing your fingers the next time you walk past a dog. Or, you can tempt fate like Christian Bale. The American Psycho/Dark Knight star likes to challenge superstitions, and will deliberately walk under any ladder he sees. Risk-taker! Then again, 13 has been lucky for him too, as that’s how old he was when Steven Spielberg cast him in Empire of the Sun.
Star Jones, the attorney-turned-TV-personality who was the only reporter to interview O.J. Simpson during his civil trial, never leaves her purse on the floor, because it means she’ll lose money. This one comes from an old Chinese proverb, and is shared by Today Show co-host Tamron Hall. Hall’s other superstition is like Gina De Laurentiss’, but instead of fearing cats on the bed, she nixes HATS on the bed.
Some stars’ superstitions have been handed down through their families. Actor James McAvoy of X-Men fame was raised in Glasgow, Scotland, by his grandparents. His grandmother taught him that on the first day of the month, when he meets someone new, he must greet them with the phrase “White Rabbit,” and he does it every time. Fellow actor Colin Farrell was born across the Irish Sea in Dublin, and focuses his efforts on the first day of shooting a new movie rather than the first of the month. Anyone on the set of the upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, who happened to yank Farrel’s pants down on the first day, would find him wearing boxers with shamrocks all over them, and “the luck of the Irish” written on the waistband.
Do you knock on wood for luck? So does Benicio Del Toro, who wears a custom-made ring with a piece of wood on it so he can knock whenever he likes. He must have done that recently, since he’s been cast as a villain in the new Star Wars movie, which makes him part of an iconic story for the rest of his life. Cameron Diaz is another wood-knocker, while Penelope Cruz, the first Spanish actress to win an Academy Award, rubs her own head for luck.
To go beyond the traditional, look to Lady Gaga. The six-time Grammy winner and Emmy-nominated actress told Vanity Fair in 2002 that she has weird superstitions about sex. She said that she avoided casual sex, because she believes that sleeping with someone takes away her creativity, through her vagina. Hopefully she and fiancé Taylor Kinney have worked something out by now, as her career shows no signs of slowing down; her net worth was estimated in February at $275 million.
She’s not the only one whose fears involve others. Jessica Alba made a name for herself back in 2000, when James Cameron chose her out of a pool of 1200 actresses to star in the TV series Dark Angel. At her baby shower in 2008, she gave each of her guests a leather bracelet. Once they put them on, they said a special prayer for the baby, and then (yes, THEN) she asked them all to keep the bracelet on until after her baby was born, to protect it. Her daughter was born in June, in perfect health, as was her second child in 2011. Unfortunately, the good mojo didn’t extend to her baby products company, the Honest Co., which is being sued for using synthetic ingredients and deceptive labeling.
Some stars have turned their superstitious fears into rituals, focusing more on the good luck than the bad. Jennifer Aniston, recently voted People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman of 2016, is a pretty frequent flyer. Every time she boards, she has to enter the plane right foot first, and tap on the outside of it; only then does she trust that she’ll land safely. An even quirkier interesting airplane superstition: Transformers actress Megan Fox always listens to Britney Spears’ music on airplanes, because, as she told Conan O’Brien, it’s not her destiny to die while listening to Britney.
More from the music industry: The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards has a pre-show ritual around shepherd’s pie. What elevates it to superstition level is that he MUST be the one to break the crust. If anyone else does it, a new pie must be produced, and heaven help the unfortunate soul who digs in unknowingly. A tour manager and security chief were once (temporarily) fired for allowing such an offense to be committed. Stuart Cable, late drummer for Stereophonics tried digging in once, unknowingly, until Ron Wood and Mick Jagger intervened. The pie was hastily recrusted, and Cable was chastised by the caterer with, “Don’t you know the rules?”
Jagger doesn’t have any superstitions himself, but he’s the subject of one; for years, Brazilian soccer fans considered Jagger to be bad luck, because every team he supported promptly lost the World Cup. He has been dubbed “pe frio,” translating literally to “cold foot,” which means something that attracts bad luck.
The sports world itself is filled with superstitions. Baseball great Wade Boggs always had batting practice at 5:17 and ran sprints at 7:17, and ate chicken before every game. His Twitter handle is @ChickenMan3010, and he even published a now hard-to-find cookbook called, appropriately, “Fowl Tips.” His superstitious timing and chicken-eating obviously paid off, because he had a stellar career, so much so that his Red Sox number, 26, is getting retired this year. (The Tampa Bay Rays already retired his number in 2000.)
Tennis star Björn Borg always grew a beard for Wimbledon (which is a big sports tradition for good luck, a particular favorite of hockey teams), and insisted on wearing the same Fila shirt for every tournament. He must have been on to something, since he won five titles between 1976-1980.
There are dozens of other examples of celebrities insisting on rituals that bring them luck or tricks they use to thwart the opposite. Tiger Woods wears red on Sundays, because his mom told him that that’s his power color. Superstar Michael Jordan wore his blue North Carolina shorts under his NBA uniform for most of his career. Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz carries or wears something with Sesame Street’s The Count on it when he flies, The Today Show’s Matt Lauer arrives in his dressing room at the same time, to the minute, every day. Of course these tricks don’t always work. Saoirse Ronan ddn’t say the word “Oscar” for a month before the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony to keep herself from jinxing it, but Brie Larson won anyway. D’oh.