Club Des 27 Explication Essay

The 27 Club is a list of popular musicians, artists, or actors who died at age twenty-seven. It originated with an unsupported claim of a "statistical spike" for the death of musicians at that age, but this has been repeatedly disproved by research.

It remains a cultural meme, documenting the deaths of celebrities, some noted for their high-risk lifestyles. Names are often put forward for inclusion, but because the club is entirely notional, there is no official membership.

Cultural phenomenon

The 27 Club is a list of popular musicians, artists or actors that have died at age twenty seven,[1] often as a result of drug and alcohol abuse, or violent means such as homicide, suicide, or transportation-related accidents.[2] The deaths of several twenty-seven-year-old popular musicians between 1969 and 1971 led to the belief that deaths are more common at this age. Statistical studies have failed to find any unusual pattern of musician deaths at this age, comparing it to equally small increases at ages 25 and 32, with a 2011 BMJ study noting instead that young adult musicians have a higher death rate than the rest of the young adult population, concluding "Fame may increase the risk of death among musicians, but this risk is not limited to age 27."[3][4][5]

The "club" has been repeatedly cited in music magazines, journals and the daily press. Several exhibitions have been devoted to the idea, as well as novels, films and stage plays.[6][7][8][9][10] There have been many different theories and speculations about the causes of such early deaths and their possible connections. Cobain and Hendrix biographer Charles R. Cross wrote, four years before the BMJ study was published, "The number of musicians who died at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. [Although] humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for musicians who die at 27."[11]

History

Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all died at the age of 27 between 1969 and 1971. At the time, the coincidence gave rise to some comment,[12][13] but it was not until the death of Kurt Cobain, about two and a half decades later, that the idea of a "27 Club" began to catch on in public perception.[11]

According to Hendrix and Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross, the growing importance of the media—Internet, television and magazines—and the response to an interview of Cobain's mother were jointly responsible for such theories. An excerpt from a statement that Cobain's mother, Wendy Fradenburg Cobain O'Connor, made in the Aberdeen, Washington newspaper The Daily World—"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club."—referred to Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison dying at the same age, according to Cross.[14] Other authors share his view.[15] On the other hand, Eric Segalstad, writer of The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll, assumed that Cobain's mother referred to the death of his two uncles and his great-uncle, all of whom had also committed suicide.[16] According to Cross, the events have led a "set of conspiracy theorists [to suggest] the absurd notion that Kurt Cobain intentionally timed his death so he could join the 27 Club".[11]

In 2011, seventeen years after Cobain's death, Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27, and there was a large amount of media attention devoted to the club once again.[17] Three years earlier, she had expressed a fear of dying at that age.[18]

An individual does not necessarily have to be a musician to qualify as a member of the 27 Club. Rolling Stone included television actor Jonathan Brandis, who committed suicide in 2003, in a list of "members" of the 27 Club.[19]Anton Yelchin, who had played in a punk rock band but was primarily known as a film actor, was also described as a member of the club upon his death in 2016.[20] Likewise, Jean-Michel Basquiat has been included in 27 Club lists, despite the relative briefness of his music career and his prominence as a graffiti artist and painter.[21][22]

Scientific studies

A study published in the British Medical Journal in December 2011 concluded that there was no increase in the risk of death for musicians at the age of 27. Although the sampled musicians faced an increased risk of death in their 20s and 30s, this was not limited to the age of 27.[3] A 2015 article in The Independent also provided statistical evidence that popular musicians are not more likely to die at the age of 27.[23]

References in music

The song "28" by John Craigie, off his album Montana Tale, is about the club. The three verses refer to the deaths of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain respectively.

The theme is referenced in the song "27 Forever" by Eric Burdon, on his 2013 album 'Til Your River Runs Dry.[24]

The name of the song "27 Club" by letlive. off their album The Blackest Beautiful is derived from the club.[25]

Magenta's eighth studio album, The Twenty Seven Club, directly references the club. Each track is a tribute to a member of the club.[26][27]

The song title "27" by Fall Out Boy from their album Folie à Deux is a reference to the club. The song explores the hedonistic lifestyles common in rock and roll. Pete Wentz, the primary lyricist of Fall Out Boy, wrote the song because he felt that he was living a similarly dangerous lifestyle.[28]

On his song "Brand Name" from the album GO:OD AM, Mac Miller says "I'm hoping not to join the twenty-seven club."[29]

The song "Colors" by Halsey references the club with the lyric, "I hope you make it to the day you're 28 years old".[30]

The song "27 Club" by Ivy Levan released as a promotional single for her debut album No Good released in 2015 is a reference to the club.[31]

Identified members

NameDate of deathOfficial cause of deathFameAge27 Club
references
Levy, AlexandreAlexandre Levy000000001892-01-17-0000January 17, 1892UnknownComposer, pianist and conductor7003995900000000000♠27 years, 98 days[32]
Chauvin, LouisLouis Chauvin000000001908-03-26-0000March 26, 1908Neurosyphilitic sclerosisRagtime musician7003987400000000000♠27 years, 13 days[32][33]
Johnson, RobertRobert Johnson000000001938-08-16-0000August 16, 1938Poisoning (strychnine [unattributed])Blues singer and musician7003996200000000000♠27 years, 100 days[32][33][34][21][35][22][36]
Jaffe, NatNat Jaffe000000001945-08-05-0000August 5, 1945Complications from high blood pressureSwing jazz pianist7004100780000000000♠27 years, 216 days[32]
Belvin, JesseJesse Belvin000000001960-02-06-0000February 6, 1960Traffic collision (car)R&B singer, pianist and songwriter7003991400000000000♠27 years, 53 days[32][33][21]
Lewis, Rudy !Rudy Lewis000000001964-05-20-0000May 20, 1964Drug overdoseVocalist of the Drifters7004101320000000000♠27 years, 271 days[35]
Henderson, Joe !Joe Henderson000000001964-10-24-0000October 24, 1964Heart attackR&B and gospel singer7004100450000000000♠27 years, 183 days[37]
Hale, Malcolm !Malcolm Hale000000001968-10-31-0000October 31, 1968Poisoning (carbon monoxide)Original member and lead guitarist of Spanky and Our Gang7004100280000000000♠27 years, 166 days[32][21]
Pride, DickieDickie Pride000000001969-03-26-0000March 26, 1969Drug overdose (sleeping pills)Rock and roll singer7004100180000000000♠27 years, 156 days[38]
Jones, BrianBrian Jones000000001969-07-03-0000July 3, 1969Drowning[39] (coroner's report states "death by misadventure")[40]Rolling Stones founder, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist7003998700000000000♠27 years, 125 days[32][33][21][35][22][41][36]
AlexandraAlexandra000000001969-07-31-0000July 31, 1969Road accidentGerman schlager vocalist7003993500000000000♠27 years, 73 days[42][43]
Wilson, Alan "Blind Owl"Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson000000001970-09-03-0000September 3, 1970Drug overdose (barbiturate), possible suicideLeader, singer and primary composer of Canned Heat7003992300000000000♠27 years, 61 days[32][33][21][35][22]
Hendrix, JimiJimi Hendrix000000001970-09-18-0000September 18, 1970Asphyxiation[44]Pioneering electric guitarist, singer and songwriter for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys7004101570000000000♠27 years, 295 days[32][33][21][35][22][41][36]
Joplin, JanisJanis Joplin000000001970-10-04-0000October 4, 1970Drug overdose (probably heroin)[45]Lead vocalist and songwriter for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band7004101200000000000♠27 years, 258 days[32][33][21][35][22][46][36]
Christian, Arlester !Arlester "Dyke" Christian000000001971-03-13-0000March 13, 1971MurderedFrontman, vocalist and bassist of Dyke and the Blazers7004101350000000000♠27 years, 273 days[32]
Morrison, JimJim Morrison000000001971-07-03-0000July 3, 1971Heart failure[47][36]Singer, lyricist, and leader of the Doors7004100690000000000♠27 years, 207 days[32][33][21][35][22][41]
Jones, LindaLinda Jones000000001972-03-14-0000March 14, 1972Complications from diabetesSoul singer7003995200000000000♠27 years, 91 days[48]
Harvey, LeslieLeslie Harvey000000001972-05-03-0000May 3, 1972ElectrocutionGuitarist for Stone the Crows and brother of Alex Harvey7004100940000000000♠27 years, 233 days[33][21][22]
McKernan, Ron "Pigpen"Ron "Pigpen" McKernan000000001973-03-08-0000March 8, 1973Gastrointestinal hemorrhageFounding member, keyboardist and singer of the Grateful Dead7004100430000000000♠27 years, 181 days[32][33][21][35][22][36]
Durham, Roger Lee !Roger Lee Durham000000001973-07-27-0000July 27, 1973Fell off a horse and died from the injuriesSinger and percussionist of Bloodstone7004100250000000000♠27 years, 163 days[32][21]
Yohn, Wallace !Wallace "Wally" Yohn000000001974-08-12-0000August 12, 1974Plane crashOrgan player of Chase7004100740000000000♠27 years, 212 days[32]
Alexander, DaveDave Alexander000000001975-02-10-0000February 10, 1975Pulmonary edemaBassist for the Stooges7004101140000000000♠27 years, 252 days[32][33][21][35][22]
Ham, PetePete Ham000000001975-04-24-0000April 24, 1975Suicide by hangingKeyboardist and guitarist, leader of Badfinger7004102240000000000♠27 years, 362 days[32][33][21][35][22][36]
Thain, GaryGary Thain000000001975-12-08-0000December 8, 1975Drug overdose (heroin)Former bassist of Uriah Heep and the Keef Hartley Band7004100680000000000♠27 years, 207 days[32][33][21][35]
CeciliaCecilia000000001976-08-02-0000August 2, 1976Traffic collision (car)Singer7004101570000000000♠27 years, 296 days[49][50]
Köllen, HelmutHelmut Köllen000000001977-05-03-0000May 3, 1977Poisoning (carbon monoxide)Bassist for 1970s prog rock band Triumvirat7003992400000000000♠27 years, 62 days[32][21]
Bell, ChrisChris Bell000000001978-12-27-0000December 27, 1978Traffic collision (car)Singer-songwriter and guitarist of power pop band Big Star and solo7004102110000000000♠27 years, 349 days[32][33][21][36]
De Fleur, Zenon !Zenon De Fleur000000001979-03-17-0000March 17, 1979Traffic collision (car) and subsequent medical complicationsGuitarist for the Count Bishops7004100510000000000♠27 years, 189 days[51][52]
Miller, JacobJacob Miller000000001980-03-23-0000March 23, 1980Traffic collision (car)Reggae artist and lead singer for Inner Circle7004101850000000000♠27 years, 324 days[33][35]
Boon, D.D. Boon000000001985-12-22-0000December 22, 1985Traffic collision (van)Guitarist, lead singer of punk band Minutemen7004101280000000000♠27 years, 266 days[32][33][21][22]
Bashlachev, AlexanderAlexander Bashlachev000000001988-02-17-0000February 17, 1988Fall from a height, probable suicidePoet, rock musician and songwriter7004101270000000000♠27 years, 266 days[49]
Basquiat, Jean-MichelJean-Michel Basquiat000000001988-08-12-0000August 12, 1988Drug overdose (Speedball)Painter and graffiti artist; formed the band Gray7004100950000000000♠27 years, 234 days[21][35][22]
de Freitas, PetePete de Freitas000000001989-06-14-0000June 14, 1989Traffic collision (motorcycle)Drummer for Echo & the Bunnymen7004102080000000000♠27 years, 346 days[32][33][21][35]
Austin, ChrisChris Austin000000001991-03-16-0000March 16, 1991Plane crashCountry singer and guitarist/fiddle player for Reba McEntire7003988200000000000♠27 years, 20 days[53]
Cigainero, Joey !Joey Cigainero000000001991-03-16-0000March 16, 1991Plane crashKeyboardist for Reba McEntire7004100310000000000♠27 years, 169 days[53]
Voev, Dimitar !Dimitar Voev000000001992-09-05-0000September 5, 1992CancerFounder of the Bulgarian group New Generation7003996900000000000♠27 years, 107 days[54]
Zapata, MiaMia Zapata000000001993-07-07-0000July 7, 1993MurderedLead singer of the Gits7004101780000000000♠27 years, 316 days[32][33]
Cobain, KurtKurt Cobain000000001994-04-05-0000April 5, 1994c.Suicide by gunshot[55]Founding member, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Nirvana7003990600000000000♠27 years, 44 days c.[32][33][21][35][22][46][36]
Pfaff, KristenKristen Pfaff000000001994-06-16-0000June 16, 1994Drug overdose (heroin)Bass guitarist for Hole and Janitor Joe7003988300000000000♠27 years, 21 days[32][33][21][35][22]
Edwards, RicheyRichey Edwards000000001995-02-01-0000February 1, 1995Disappeared; officially presumed dead November 23, 2008Lyricist and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers7003990300000000000♠27 years, 41 days[32][21][22]
Stretch,Stretch000000001995-11-30-0000November 30, 1995MurderedRapper7004100970000000000♠27 years, 236 days[56][57]
Pat, FatFat Pat000000001998-02-03-0000February 3, 1998MurderedAmerican rapper and member of Screwed Up Click7003992300000000000♠27 years, 61 days[32][33]
Tah, FreakyFreaky Tah000000001999-03-28-0000March 28, 1999MurderedAmerican rapper and member of the hip hop group Lost Boyz7004101800000000000♠27 years, 318 days[32]
KamiKami000000001999-06-21-0000June 21, 1999Subarachnoid hemorrhageDrummer for Malice Mizer7004100020000000000♠27 years, 140 days[58]
Bueno, RodrigoRodrigo Bueno000000002000-06-24-0000June 24, 2000Traffic collision (car)Cuarteto singer7003989300000000000♠27 years, 31 days[49]
McCabe, Sean !Sean Patrick McCabe000000002000-08-28-0000August 28, 2000AsphyxiationLead singer of Ink & Dagger7004101500000000000♠27 years, 289 days[32][33][21]
Serrano, Maria !Maria Serrano Serrano000000002001-11-24-0000November 24, 2001Plane crash (Crossair Flight 3597)Background singer for Passion Fruit7004102250000000000♠27 years, 363 days[32]
Ward, Jeremy MichaelJeremy Michael Ward000000002003-05-25-0000May 25, 2003Drug overdose (heroin)The Mars Volta and De Facto sound manipulator7003988100000000000♠27 years, 20 days[32][33][21]
Brandis, JonathanJonathan Brandis000000002003-11-12-0000November 12, 2003Suicide by hangingFilm and television actor7004100740000000000♠27 years, 213 days[19]
Ottoson, Bryan !Bryan Ottoson000000002005-04-19-0000April 19, 2005Drug overdose (prescription medication)Guitarist for American Head Charge7003989400000000000♠27 years, 32 days[32][33][21]
Bobić, Davor !Davor "Moskri" Bobić000000002005-08-25-0000August 25, 2005Drug overdoseOriginal member and lead rapper of Prti Bee Gee7004101360000000000♠27 years, 274 days[59]
Elizalde, ValentínValentín Elizalde000000002006-11-25-0000November 25, 2006MurderedMexican banda singer7004101590000000000♠27 years, 297 days[32]
Grinstead, Orish !Orish Grinstead000000002008-04-20-0000April 20, 2008Kidney failureFounding member of the R&B group 7027004101840000000000♠27 years, 323 days[60]
Spin, Achik !Achik Spin000000002010-04-17-0000April 17, 2010Road accidentMember of the Malaysian pop group Spin7004101520000000000♠27 years, 290 days[61]
Winehouse, AmyAmy Winehouse000000002011-07-23-0000July 23, 2011Alcohol poisoning[62]Singer-songwriter7004101740000000000♠27 years, 312 days[33][21][35][22][41][36]
Turner, Richard !Richard Turner000000002011-08-11-0000August 11, 2011Cardiac arrestTrumpet player, collaborator with Friendly Fires[63]7003987300000000000♠27 years, 12 days[33]
Bogner, Nicole !Nicole Bogner000000002012-01-06-0000January 6, 2012Undisclosed illnessSinger for Visions of Atlantis7004101510000000000♠27 years, 290 days[64]
Davenport, SaharaSahara Davenport000000002012-10-01-0000October 1, 2012Heart failureDrag queen, singer, television personality, and classically trained dancer7004101500000000000♠27 years, 289 days[65]
Farazmand, Soroush !Soroush "Looloosh" Farazmand000000002013-11-11-0000November 11, 2013MurderedGuitarist for the Yellow Dogs7003987300000000000♠27 years, 11 days[66][67]
Guduraš, SlađaSlađa Guduraš000000002014-12-10-0000December 10, 2014Road accidentBosnian pop singer and actress7004100750000000000♠27 years, 213 days[68]
Lowe, Tomas !Tomas Lowe000000002016-02-13-0000February 13, 2016Road accidentBassist for Viola Beach7003993100000000000♠27 years, 70 days[69]
Fekete, Thomas !Thomas Fekete000000002016-05-31-0000May 31, 2016CancerGuitarist for Surfer Blood7004101960000000000♠27 years, 335 days[70]
Yelchin, AntonAnton Yelchin000000002016-06-19-0000June 19, 2016Accidental blunt traumatic asphyxia[71]Actor, Chekov in the Star Trek reboot series, guitarist for The Hammerheads7003996200000000000♠27 years, 100 days[72][20]
Kim Jong-hyunDecember 18, 2017Suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning[73]Lead vocalist and lyricist for Shinee7004101160000000000♠27 years, 254 days[74][75]
Fredo SantanaJanuary 19, 2018Liver failure[76][77]American rapper7004100620000000000♠27 years, 200 days[78]

See also

References

  1. ^"After Nirvan' Show airs on Saturday 3rd April 2100–2200". BBC. Retrieved August 29, 2011. 
  2. ^Weiss, David. "Amy Winehouse & The 27 Club". Life Goes Strong. Archived from the original on March 2, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ ab"Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? A retrospective cohort study" (Press release). The BMJ. December 2011. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  4. ^Hirshon, Bob. "27 Club Myth", Science NetLinks. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
  5. ^Wolkewitz M, Allignol A, Graves N, Barnett A (December 20, 2011). "CHRISTMAS 2011: DEATH'S DOMINION Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? A retrospective cohort study". The BMJ ;343. doi:10.1136/bmj.d7799. 
  6. ^"27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse". 
  7. ^"The 27 Club: Why Age 27 Is Important". 
  8. ^"The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll". 
  9. ^"The Curse of 27: They Have Three Things in Common. Talent, Fame... and a Tragic Death at the Age of 27. the 27 Club. Forever 27". 
  10. ^"The 27 Club (Movie)". 
  11. ^ abcCharles R. Cross (February 22, 2007). "P-I's Writer in Residence Charles R. Cross explores the darker side of 'only the good die young'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  12. ^Nesta Roberts (September 10, 1971). Flower bower. The Guardian. UK. p. 13. 
  13. ^James Riordan; Jerry Prochnicky (1992). Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison. It Books. pp. 416, 467. ISBN 978-0-688-11915-7. 
  14. ^Charles R. Cross (2002). Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (2nd ed.). Hyperion. p. 357. ISBN 978-0-7868-8402-5. 
  15. ^R. Gary Patterson. Take a Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses. p. 259. 
  16. ^Josh Hunter; Eric Segalstad (2008). The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll. Berkeley Lake: Samadhi Creations. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-615-18964-2. Archived from the original on September 19, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2010. 
  17. ^"Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and the 27 Club" (July 23, 2011). The Washington Post. July 24, 2015. 
  18. ^"The Inquisitr: Stating the Obvious, Amy Winehouse". Inquisitr.com. December 28, 2008. Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  19. ^ ab"The 27 Club: A Brief History". Rolling Stone. November 12, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2016. 
  20. ^ ab"The curse of the '27 Club' strikes again after Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin dies", BBC, February 19, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  21. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzaaO'Connor, Rob (July 23, 2011). "Twenty-Seven Members of the 27 Club". Yahoo Music. Archived from the original on October 13, 2011. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  22. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqStopera, Dave. "The 27 Club: 15 Other Musicians Who Died at Age 27". BuzzFeed. Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  23. ^Kenny, Dianna Theodora (April 2, 2015). "Why the 27 Club Is a Myth: Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse May Be Members But That Doesn't Make It Real", The Independent. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  24. ^"Eric Burdon Speaks His Mind on New LP". Rolling Stone. February 5, 2013. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
Graffiti in Tel-Aviv depicting several members of the 27 Club
Jim Morrison, lead singer of the rock band the Doors

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. – Groucho Marx

Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to … – Kurt Cobain’s mother upon hearing of the death of her son

What do Otis Redding, Gram Parsons, Nick Drake, Jimmy McCulloch, James Ramey (aka Baby Huey), Bryan Osper, and Jon Guthrie have in common?

What about Tim Buckley, Gregory Herbert, Zenon de Fleur, Nick Babeu, Shannon Hoon, Beverly Kenney, and Bobby Bloom?

And Alan Wilson, Jesse Belvin, Rudy Lewis, Gary Thain, Kristen Pfaff, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Pete de Freitas, Raymond “Freaky Tah” Rogers, Helmut Köllen, and Linda Jones?

They are all dead pop musicians. The first group died aged 26; the second group died aged 28; and the third group died aged 27.

In a population of dead musicians spanning seven decades from 1950 to 2010 for which an accurate age of death could be identified (n=11,054), 1.2% (n=128) died at 26, 1.4% (n=153) died at 28 and 1.3% (n=144) died at 27.

Age 56 had the highest frequency of deaths (2.2%; n=239). Notables dying at this age include Eddie Rabbitt, Tammy Wynette, Mimi Farina, Johnny Ramone, Chris LeDoux, Vandy “Smokey” Hampton, and Charles “Baby” Tate. Below is a visual representation of the percentages of deaths at each age.

So why isn’t there a 56 Club or a 28 Club? Is it because Brian Jones (drowning), Jimi Hendrix (aspirated vomitus from barbiturate overdose), Janis Joplin (heroin overdose), Jim Morrison (drug-induced heart attack), Kurt Cobain (suicide by gunshot) and Amy Winehouse (alcohol poisoning) all died aged 27?

All were tortured souls who reached pop stardom and died tragically at their zenith. Perhaps we need to consider a change of name for this group – from the 27 Club to “The Tragic Six” or “The Tragic Seven” if we include Robert Johnson?

There are many more musicians who died at the age of 27 than these six (or seven) – there were another 137 in my population including the very notable musicians named earlier. So …

What percentage of pop musicians needs to die at age 27 to support the existence of the 27 Club?

Here is a thought exercise we can submit to statistical scrutiny to answer the question: how many pop musicians need to die at the age of 27 to justify the notion of a 27 Club. The actual proportion is 1.3%. Do we need 1.4%, 1.5%, 1.6%, 2% or 2.5% of popular musicians to die at the age of 27 to conclude that age 27 is associated with a higher risk of death than other ages?

We can test this question using a single sample ChiSq test, which assesses whether there is a significant difference between the expected frequencies (i.e., specified proportions of deaths at 27) and observed frequency of actual deaths.

As the table shows, a minimum of 1.5% to 1.6% of deaths in the population need to occur at age 27 to “justify” the 27 Club statistically. It is at this number that the ChiSq value exceeds the critical ChiSq. In other words, the actual number of deaths is significantly less than the number that would need to die at 27 if the 27 Club hypothesis were correct based on numbers alone.

But even at 1.6% of deaths occurring at 27, few would argue that this constitutes a sufficiently large proportion of deaths.

Increased risk of death extends beyond age 27 to early adulthood and middle age

The idea of the 27 Club has been imprinted into the collective imagination by books on the subject – such as Howard Sounes’s biographical book 27, on the big six 27-ers, Sarah Milne’s wider coverage of pop musicians who have died at 27, and Michael Owens’ more fanciful treatise on the significance of the age of 27, together with continued media fascination with the notion.

But other investigations into the 27 Club, for example, by Eric Segalstad, Martin Wolkewitz, and mine, have concluded that the age of 27 does not bestow any greater risk of death in popular musicians than other ages.

Notwithstanding, all of these studies have identified an increased risk of death in pop musicians during the younger decades of the lifespan compared with the general population.

Sampling strategy and sample size varied between studies but the conclusions were essentially the same, as in my recent research findings, that pop musicians die younger than the general population.

Wolkewitz and his colleagues studied the 1,046 musicians who had a number-one album in the UK between 1956 and 2007 and found that the death rate per 100 musician years for age 27 (0.57 deaths) was similar for other ages: age 25 (0.56 deaths) and 32 (0.54 deaths).

They concluded there was no peak in risk at 27 years, but observed a two- to three-fold increase in risk of death for British pop musicians with number-one albums between 20 to 39 years compared with the general UK population.

The 27 Club is not just about the numbers

I would like to give some comfort to those who might grieve the demise of the 27 Club.

While the actual numbers of pop musician deaths don’t show a spike in deaths at age 27 and hence do not support the 27 Club, there appear to be qualities shared by the 27-ers that stand them apart from many other deceased young pop musicians, which may go some way to understanding how this club entered the pop culture psyche.

These qualities include exceptional talent, the contribution of groundbreaking innovations in their musical genre, intense psychological pain, a squalid death at their peak, and immortalisation – each of “the tragic six” has become a cult figure.

Jimi Hendrix was described in Rolling Stone as:

the greatest guitarist of all time […] one of the biggest cultural figures of the Sixties, a psychedelic voodoo child who spewed clouds of distortion and pot smoke.

His unrepeatable virtuosity on the electric guitar received the following citation in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

[Hendrix] expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician has ever ventured before. His boundless drive, technical ability and creative application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion forever transformed the sound of rock and roll.

Janis Joplin, “the greatest white blues mama who ever lived”, was crowned “First Lady” and “Queen” of Rock and Roll. She died only two weeks after Hendrix. Although the official cause of death was heroin overdose, Janis fell into a “yawning chasm of tortured loneliness”. Then, “the life was gone, the legend was born”.

Just a year later, in 1971, the wild, handsome, charismatic Jim Morrison exited the pop music scene in similar fashion. Because of the proximity of these three deaths, the kernel of the idea of a 27 Club was born.

Brian Jones (d. 1969) and Robert Johnson (“King of the Delta Blues Singers”) (d. 1938) became retrospective members; Kurt Cobain (d. 1994) and Amy Winehouse (d. 2011) have reinforced the idea in recent times.

Immortalised in death, a life-size bronze statue of Amy Winehouse has just been unveiled in London.


See also:

Stairway to hell: life and death in the pop music industry

The Conversation is currently running a series on Death and Dying.

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