27 Club

17/4/19

There is a persistent claim of a statistically significant spike in the death rate of prominent musicians at the age of 27. Several famous artists are usually cited: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix, who all died at that age in the years between 1969 and 1971. Given such a short period with several world-famous artists dying, and all at the same age, it does seem a little coincidental. Indeed, it was commented on widely at the time. Proponents also included the blues musician Robert Johnson who had died in 1938 at the same age. Johnson was a legend with early rock bands for his huge influence on blues (which formed the basis for rock music). He was supposed to have sold his soul to the Devil for fame and fortune at the "Crossroads".

In 1994, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died of suicide at the peak of his fame, again aged 27. His unexpected death revived the idea of the 27 Club as it seemed too coincidental that another world-famous musician should die at the same age. In the early days of the internet the ridiculous rumour rapidly spread that Cobain had deliberately timed his own death just to join the club. The 27 Club resurfaced again 11 years later when 27 year old singer Amy Winehouse, again at the peak of her fame, died. Several other, less famous, musicians could be included: Alan Wilson of Canned Heat (1970), Ronald McKernan of The Grateful Dead (1973), Dave Alexander of the Stooges (1975), Pete Ham of Badfinger (1975) and rapper Randy “Stretch” Walker (1995).

Of course, many many famous musicians who died relatively young did not die aged 27 - Sid Vicious (21), Buddy Holly (22), Ian Curtis (23), Biggie Smalls (24), Tupac Shakur (25), Karen Carpenter (32), Keith Moon (32), Bon Scott (33), Bob Marley (36) and Michael Hutchence (37) for example. There really is no statistical significance in the age 27. A cohort study published in the BMJ in 2011 compared the mortality of famous musicians with that of the UK population and ‘found no peak in the risk of death at this age, however musicians in their 20s and 30s were two to three times more likely to die prematurely than the general UK population’, probably due to a lifestyle of sex and drugs and rock & roll.

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