The Curious Phenomenon Of The 27 Club

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 & alcohol abuse (some noted for their high-risk lifestyles), or violent means such as homicide, suicide, or transportation-related accidents – tortured souls who reached stardom and died tragically at their zenith. It remains a cultural meme, and names are often put forward for inclusion, but because the club is entirely notional, there is no official membership.

Brian Jones (drowning), Jimi Hendrix (aspirated vomitus from barbiturate overdose), Janis Joplin (heroin overdose) & Jim Morrison (drug-induced heart attack) 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 1994 death of Kurt Cobain (suicide by gunshot) at age 27, that the idea of a “27 Club” began to catch on in public perception. 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 made:

“Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club.”

This could refer to Hendrix, Joplin & Morrison dying at the same age. On the other hand, Cobain’s mother could be referring to the death of his two uncles and his great-uncle, all of whom had also committed suicide. Apparently, 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, prompting a renewed swell of media attention devoted to the club once again. Apparently three years earlier, she had expressed a fear of dying at that age.

But is the whole thing just a myth? There may be a list of names but that doesn’t make it real. Why isn’t there a 26 Club or a 28 Club?

The idea of the 27 Club has been repeatedly cited in books on the subject, but statistical evidence has concluded that popular musicians are not more likely to die at the age of 27. It’s just there were more famous people among the 27 Club, and their deaths were particularly notable in manner.

Now, I’m not entirely sure what – if anything – we can learn from all this, aside from perhaps getting a heads-up that pursuing a career in music could be hazardous. But it’s fascinating stuff. And to any musicians reading this: take care!


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