Is 27 a Deadly Age for Rock Stars?

Fame and Rock-'n'-Roll Lifestyle More Likely Than Age to Increase a Musician's Risk of Dying Young, Study Shows

By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 20, 2011 -- Rock stars pay a steep price for admission to music's so-called "27 Club" -- death at an early age. But a new study suggests that fame and a rock-'n'-roll lifestyle are the more likely cause of dying young rather than turning 27.

For the study, researchers set out to determine whether the "27 Club" was a real phenomenon or a myth.

Being 27 has been considered a dangerous year for musicians, and a list of well-known talents have died at this point in their careers.

This summer, British singer Amy Winehouse became one of the newest additions to the "27 Club," with her death from alcohol poisoning. Other legendary names with membership in the "club" include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors' Jim Morrison, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, and Brian Jones, who was a founding member of The Rolling Stones.

Although these stars died for different reasons, their deaths all occurred when they were 27.

The research appears in the Christmas issue of BMJ, an annual edition with scientific studies looking at the lighter side of medicine.

Rock & Roll Will Never Die

But is the number of musicians who die at 27 just a freaky coincidence, or is there a real spike in the death rate at this age?

To find out, a team of statisticians from Germany and Australia compiled a list of famous musicians -- both solo artists and band members -- who had a No. 1 album on the U.K. charts between 1956 and 2007.

For each of these 1,046 musicians, researchers recorded the dates of their birth, their No. 1 album, and their death (if applicable). The date of their first hit album was considered the point when the musician's fame began and when their risk increased as a potential member of the "27 Club."

Among a group of 522 musicians at risk of joining the "27 Club" from their newfound fame, only three lives were cut short by age 27. No peak in risk was seen at 27, and 27-year-old musicians had a similar death rate to other musical artists at age 25 and age 32.

The findings also reveal that this group of musicians was two to three times more likely to die in their 20s and 30s compared with the rest of the U.K. population.

The researchers admit that their findings are limited to musicians famous in the U.K., and suggest that results may be different in other countries, where the trappings and pressure of fame may not be the same.

But they say that at least in their analysis, "the '27 Club' is based on myth." Although musicians were not more likely to die at age 27, "our results show that they have a generally increased risk throughout their 20s and 30s," the researchers conclude.

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SOURCES: Wolkewitz, M. BMJ, published online Dec. 20, 2011.News release, BMJ.

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