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.
The 27 Club is a list of popular musicians, artists or actors that have died at age twenty seven, often as a result of drug and alcohol abuse, or violent means such as homicide, suicide, or transportation-related accidents. 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."
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. 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."
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, 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.
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. Other authors share his view. 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. 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".
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. Three years earlier, she had expressed a fear of dying at that age.
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.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. 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.
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. A 2015 article in The Independent also provided statistical evidence that popular musicians are not more likely to die at the age of 27.
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.
The name of the song "27 Club" by letlive. off their album The Blackest Beautiful is derived from the club.
Magenta's eighth studio album, The Twenty Seven Club, directly references the club. Each track is a tribute to a member of the club.
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.
On his song "Brand Name" from the album GO:OD AM, Mac Miller says "I'm hoping not to join the twenty-seven club."
The song "Colors" by Halsey references the club with the lyric, "I hope you make it to the day you're 28 years old".
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.
|Name||Date of death||Official cause of death||Fame||Age||27 Club|
|Levy, AlexandreAlexandre Levy||000000001892-01-17-0000January 17, 1892||Unknown||Composer, pianist and conductor||7003995900000000000♠27 years, 98 days|||
|Chauvin, LouisLouis Chauvin||000000001908-03-26-0000March 26, 1908||Neurosyphilitic sclerosis||Ragtime musician||7003987400000000000♠27 years, 13 days|||
|Johnson, RobertRobert Johnson||000000001938-08-16-0000August 16, 1938||Poisoning (strychnine [unattributed])||Blues singer and musician||7003996200000000000♠27 years, 100 days|||
|Jaffe, NatNat Jaffe||000000001945-08-05-0000August 5, 1945||Complications from high blood pressure||Swing jazz pianist||7004100780000000000♠27 years, 216 days|||
|Belvin, JesseJesse Belvin||000000001960-02-06-0000February 6, 1960||Traffic collision (car)||R&B singer, pianist and songwriter||7003991400000000000♠27 years, 53 days|||
|Lewis, Rudy !Rudy Lewis||000000001964-05-20-0000May 20, 1964||Drug overdose||Vocalist of the Drifters||7004101320000000000♠27 years, 271 days|||
|Henderson, Joe !Joe Henderson||000000001964-10-24-0000October 24, 1964||Heart attack||R&B and gospel singer||7004100450000000000♠27 years, 183 days|||
|Hale, Malcolm !Malcolm Hale||000000001968-10-31-0000October 31, 1968||Poisoning (carbon monoxide)||Original member and lead guitarist of Spanky and Our Gang||7004100280000000000♠27 years, 166 days|||
|Pride, DickieDickie Pride||000000001969-03-26-0000March 26, 1969||Drug overdose (sleeping pills)||Rock and roll singer||7004100180000000000♠27 years, 156 days|||
|Jones, BrianBrian Jones||000000001969-07-03-0000July 3, 1969||Drowning (coroner's report states "death by misadventure")||Rolling Stones founder, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist||7003998700000000000♠27 years, 125 days|||
|AlexandraAlexandra||000000001969-07-31-0000July 31, 1969||Road accident||German schlager vocalist||7003993500000000000♠27 years, 73 days|||
|Wilson, Alan "Blind Owl"Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson||000000001970-09-03-0000September 3, 1970||Drug overdose (barbiturate), possible suicide||Leader, singer and primary composer of Canned Heat||7003992300000000000♠27 years, 61 days|||
|Hendrix, JimiJimi Hendrix||000000001970-09-18-0000September 18, 1970||Asphyxiation||Pioneering electric guitarist, singer and songwriter for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys||7004101570000000000♠27 years, 295 days|||
|Joplin, JanisJanis Joplin||000000001970-10-04-0000October 4, 1970||Drug overdose (probably heroin)||Lead vocalist and songwriter for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band||7004101200000000000♠27 years, 258 days|||
|Christian, Arlester !Arlester "Dyke" Christian||000000001971-03-13-0000March 13, 1971||Murdered||Frontman, vocalist and bassist of Dyke and the Blazers||7004101350000000000♠27 years, 273 days|||
|Morrison, JimJim Morrison||000000001971-07-03-0000July 3, 1971||Heart failure||Singer, lyricist, and leader of the Doors||7004100690000000000♠27 years, 207 days|||
|Jones, LindaLinda Jones||000000001972-03-14-0000March 14, 1972||Complications from diabetes||Soul singer||7003995200000000000♠27 years, 91 days|||
|Harvey, LeslieLeslie Harvey||000000001972-05-03-0000May 3, 1972||Electrocution||Guitarist for Stone the Crows and brother of Alex Harvey||7004100940000000000♠27 years, 233 days|||
|McKernan, Ron "Pigpen"Ron "Pigpen" McKernan||000000001973-03-08-0000March 8, 1973||Gastrointestinal hemorrhage||Founding member, keyboardist and singer of the Grateful Dead||7004100430000000000♠27 years, 181 days|||
|Durham, Roger Lee !Roger Lee Durham||000000001973-07-27-0000July 27, 1973||Fell off a horse and died from the injuries||Singer and percussionist of Bloodstone||7004100250000000000♠27 years, 163 days|||
|Yohn, Wallace !Wallace "Wally" Yohn||000000001974-08-12-0000August 12, 1974||Plane crash||Organ player of Chase||7004100740000000000♠27 years, 212 days|||
|Alexander, DaveDave Alexander||000000001975-02-10-0000February 10, 1975||Pulmonary edema||Bassist for the Stooges||7004101140000000000♠27 years, 252 days|||
|Ham, PetePete Ham||000000001975-04-24-0000April 24, 1975||Suicide by hanging||Keyboardist and guitarist, leader of Badfinger||7004102240000000000♠27 years, 362 days|||
|Thain, GaryGary Thain||000000001975-12-08-0000December 8, 1975||Drug overdose (heroin)||Former bassist of Uriah Heep and the Keef Hartley Band||7004100680000000000♠27 years, 207 days|||
|CeciliaCecilia||000000001976-08-02-0000August 2, 1976||Traffic collision (car)||Singer||7004101570000000000♠27 years, 296 days|||
|Köllen, HelmutHelmut Köllen||000000001977-05-03-0000May 3, 1977||Poisoning (carbon monoxide)||Bassist for 1970s prog rock band Triumvirat||7003992400000000000♠27 years, 62 days|||
|Bell, ChrisChris Bell||000000001978-12-27-0000December 27, 1978||Traffic collision (car)||Singer-songwriter and guitarist of power pop band Big Star and solo||7004102110000000000♠27 years, 349 days|||
|De Fleur, Zenon !Zenon De Fleur||000000001979-03-17-0000March 17, 1979||Traffic collision (car) and subsequent medical complications||Guitarist for the Count Bishops||7004100510000000000♠27 years, 189 days|||
|Miller, JacobJacob Miller||000000001980-03-23-0000March 23, 1980||Traffic collision (car)||Reggae artist and lead singer for Inner Circle||7004101850000000000♠27 years, 324 days|||
|Boon, D.D. Boon||000000001985-12-22-0000December 22, 1985||Traffic collision (van)||Guitarist, lead singer of punk band Minutemen||7004101280000000000♠27 years, 266 days|||
|Bashlachev, AlexanderAlexander Bashlachev||000000001988-02-17-0000February 17, 1988||Fall from a height, probable suicide||Poet, rock musician and songwriter||7004101270000000000♠27 years, 266 days|||
|Basquiat, Jean-MichelJean-Michel Basquiat||000000001988-08-12-0000August 12, 1988||Drug overdose (Speedball)||Painter and graffiti artist; formed the band Gray||7004100950000000000♠27 years, 234 days|||
|de Freitas, PetePete de Freitas||000000001989-06-14-0000June 14, 1989||Traffic collision (motorcycle)||Drummer for Echo & the Bunnymen||7004102080000000000♠27 years, 346 days|||
|Austin, ChrisChris Austin||000000001991-03-16-0000March 16, 1991||Plane crash||Country singer and guitarist/fiddle player for Reba McEntire||7003988200000000000♠27 years, 20 days|||
|Cigainero, Joey !Joey Cigainero||000000001991-03-16-0000March 16, 1991||Plane crash||Keyboardist for Reba McEntire||7004100310000000000♠27 years, 169 days|||
|Voev, Dimitar !Dimitar Voev||000000001992-09-05-0000September 5, 1992||Cancer||Founder of the Bulgarian group New Generation||7003996900000000000♠27 years, 107 days|||
|Zapata, MiaMia Zapata||000000001993-07-07-0000July 7, 1993||Murdered||Lead singer of the Gits||7004101780000000000♠27 years, 316 days|||
|Cobain, KurtKurt Cobain||000000001994-04-05-0000April 5, 1994c.||Suicide by gunshot||Founding member, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Nirvana||7003990600000000000♠27 years, 44 days c.|||
|Pfaff, KristenKristen Pfaff||000000001994-06-16-0000June 16, 1994||Drug overdose (heroin)||Bass guitarist for Hole and Janitor Joe||7003988300000000000♠27 years, 21 days|||
|Edwards, RicheyRichey Edwards||000000001995-02-01-0000February 1, 1995||Disappeared; officially presumed dead November 23, 2008||Lyricist and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers||7003990300000000000♠27 years, 41 days|||
|Stretch,Stretch||000000001995-11-30-0000November 30, 1995||Murdered||Rapper||7004100970000000000♠27 years, 236 days|||
|Pat, FatFat Pat||000000001998-02-03-0000February 3, 1998||Murdered||American rapper and member of Screwed Up Click||7003992300000000000♠27 years, 61 days|||
|Tah, FreakyFreaky Tah||000000001999-03-28-0000March 28, 1999||Murdered||American rapper and member of the hip hop group Lost Boyz||7004101800000000000♠27 years, 318 days|||
|KamiKami||000000001999-06-21-0000June 21, 1999||Subarachnoid hemorrhage||Drummer for Malice Mizer||7004100020000000000♠27 years, 140 days|||
|Bueno, RodrigoRodrigo Bueno||000000002000-06-24-0000June 24, 2000||Traffic collision (car)||Cuarteto singer||7003989300000000000♠27 years, 31 days|||
|McCabe, Sean !Sean Patrick McCabe||000000002000-08-28-0000August 28, 2000||Asphyxiation||Lead singer of Ink & Dagger||7004101500000000000♠27 years, 289 days|||
|Serrano, Maria !Maria Serrano Serrano||000000002001-11-24-0000November 24, 2001||Plane crash (Crossair Flight 3597)||Background singer for Passion Fruit||7004102250000000000♠27 years, 363 days|||
|Ward, Jeremy MichaelJeremy Michael Ward||000000002003-05-25-0000May 25, 2003||Drug overdose (heroin)||The Mars Volta and De Facto sound manipulator||7003988100000000000♠27 years, 20 days|||
|Brandis, JonathanJonathan Brandis||000000002003-11-12-0000November 12, 2003||Suicide by hanging||Film and television actor||7004100740000000000♠27 years, 213 days|||
|Ottoson, Bryan !Bryan Ottoson||000000002005-04-19-0000April 19, 2005||Drug overdose (prescription medication)||Guitarist for American Head Charge||7003989400000000000♠27 years, 32 days|||
|Bobić, Davor !Davor "Moskri" Bobić||000000002005-08-25-0000August 25, 2005||Drug overdose||Original member and lead rapper of Prti Bee Gee||7004101360000000000♠27 years, 274 days|||
|Elizalde, ValentínValentín Elizalde||000000002006-11-25-0000November 25, 2006||Murdered||Mexican banda singer||7004101590000000000♠27 years, 297 days|||
|Grinstead, Orish !Orish Grinstead||000000002008-04-20-0000April 20, 2008||Kidney failure||Founding member of the R&B group 702||7004101840000000000♠27 years, 323 days|||
|Spin, Achik !Achik Spin||000000002010-04-17-0000April 17, 2010||Road accident||Member of the Malaysian pop group Spin||7004101520000000000♠27 years, 290 days|||
|Winehouse, AmyAmy Winehouse||000000002011-07-23-0000July 23, 2011||Alcohol poisoning||Singer-songwriter||7004101740000000000♠27 years, 312 days|||
|Turner, Richard !Richard Turner||000000002011-08-11-0000August 11, 2011||Cardiac arrest||Trumpet player, collaborator with Friendly Fires||7003987300000000000♠27 years, 12 days|||
|Bogner, Nicole !Nicole Bogner||000000002012-01-06-0000January 6, 2012||Undisclosed illness||Singer for Visions of Atlantis||7004101510000000000♠27 years, 290 days|||
|Davenport, SaharaSahara Davenport||000000002012-10-01-0000October 1, 2012||Heart failure||Drag queen, singer, television personality, and classically trained dancer||7004101500000000000♠27 years, 289 days|||
|Farazmand, Soroush !Soroush "Looloosh" Farazmand||000000002013-11-11-0000November 11, 2013||Murdered||Guitarist for the Yellow Dogs||7003987300000000000♠27 years, 11 days|||
|Guduraš, SlađaSlađa Guduraš||000000002014-12-10-0000December 10, 2014||Road accident||Bosnian pop singer and actress||7004100750000000000♠27 years, 213 days|||
|Lowe, Tomas !Tomas Lowe||000000002016-02-13-0000February 13, 2016||Road accident||Bassist for Viola Beach||7003993100000000000♠27 years, 70 days|||
|Fekete, Thomas !Thomas Fekete||000000002016-05-31-0000May 31, 2016||Cancer||Guitarist for Surfer Blood||7004101960000000000♠27 years, 335 days|||
|Yelchin, AntonAnton Yelchin||000000002016-06-19-0000June 19, 2016||Accidental blunt traumatic asphyxia||Actor, Chekov in the Star Trek reboot series, guitarist for The Hammerheads||7003996200000000000♠27 years, 100 days|||
|Kim Jong-hyun||December 18, 2017||Suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning||Lead vocalist and lyricist for Shinee||7004101160000000000♠27 years, 254 days|||
|Fredo Santana||January 19, 2018||Liver failure||American rapper||7004100620000000000♠27 years, 200 days|||
- ^"After Nirvan' Show airs on Saturday 3rd April 2100–2200". BBC. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
- ^Weiss, David. "Amy Winehouse & The 27 Club". Life Goes Strong. Archived from the original on March 2, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
- ^ ab"Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? A retrospective cohort study" (Press release). The BMJ. December 2011. Retrieved December 21, 2011.
- ^Hirshon, Bob. "27 Club Myth", Science NetLinks. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
- ^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.
- ^"27: A History of the 27 Club through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse".
- ^"The 27 Club: Why Age 27 Is Important".
- ^"The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll".
- ^"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".
- ^"The 27 Club (Movie)".
- ^ 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.
- ^Nesta Roberts (September 10, 1971). Flower bower. The Guardian. UK. p. 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.
- ^Charles R. Cross (2002). Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (2nd ed.). Hyperion. p. 357. ISBN 978-0-7868-8402-5.
- ^R. Gary Patterson. Take a Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses. p. 259.
- ^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.
- ^"Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and the 27 Club" (July 23, 2011). The Washington Post. July 24, 2015.
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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.
Stairway to hell: life and death in the pop music industry
The Conversation is currently running a series on Death and Dying.