| Gather 'round the campfire|
“”It's not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it's been accepted as a given so quickly.
|—Rock critic Lester Bangs on Janis Joplin's death. Bangs died at age 33.|
The 27 Club refers to the supposed phenomenon that rock musicians are more likely to die at the age of 27 than any other age. The examples usually given are Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. True, they both died aged 27, but they were also both from Washington state. Perhaps there should be a WA club?
The idea of a cluster of rock star deaths at age 27 isn't completely silly. Rock musicians often gain their first taste of fame in their early 20s — drop out of school, learn to play, get noticed and then make it big. Add five years or so of heavy touring and the drug-fueled excess that might come with it, and a statistical median centred around age 27 isn't too surprising. In modern times early deaths are rarely due to "natural causes," so are reported more readily in the media and gain a lot of attention. Meanwhile deaths over the age of 30 are more likely to be natural in cause and not counted as "rock 'n roll" enough. Although this is just speculation, there's nothing particularly mystical about a statistical blip in mortality centred around 25-30 year old rock stars.
All of this is wrapped up in the theme of selective reporting. It appears that the value of 27 is primarily chosen because of the deaths of Jones, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, all within the space of a couple of years. Their deaths were major news events and, along with other events of the time such as break-up of the Beatles, seemed to mark the end of the hippie era's naive spirit of optimism.
It is possible that popular music is the only profession in which dying young is considered a good career move.
Dead at 27
There are now six members of the "official" 27 Club. With the exception of Kurt Cobain, who shot himself under the influence of heroin, all their deaths are all reckoned to be directly drug-induced; overdoses and choking, for examples. Details tend to be a little sketchy, with few witnesses, contradictory accounts, and inevitably some conspiracy theories claiming alternative explanations.
- Brian Jones (1969): Multi-instrumentalist and founder of the Rolling Stones, until forced out of the group due to not being able to handle his drugs. The coroner's verdict was famously listed as "misadventure" from drowning in a swimming pool; foul play has long been alleged.[notes 1]
- Jimi Hendrix (1970): Choked on his own vomit,[notes 2] due to alcohol and sleeping tablets.
- Janis Joplin (1970): Synergistic effect of combining heroin and alcohol.
- Jim Morrison (1971): Heart failure in the bath, caused by heroin according to most accounts, but no autopsy to confirm this.
- Kurt Cobain (1994): Shotgun to the head following a heroin binge (conspiracy theories have sprung up to say he was killed by Courtney Love).
- Amy Winehouse (2011): Found dead in her flat. Cause of death appears to be excessive alcohol.[notes 3] 
This main group of musicians who are considered part of the official club have also produced the "white lighter" superstition, based on the rumor that Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin and Cobain all had a white lighter on their person when they died.
Wikipedia lists 36 others who are part of the "unofficial" 27 club; many of these members date from long before the official club started in the 60s and 70s. This list includes early blues musician Robert Johnson (1911-1938), who is possibly the most famous and influential outside the "official" 6 mentioned above. One of the 36 in Wikipedia's list, Jean-Michel Basquiat, was only incidentally a musician.
Although a death toll of 41 looks like a relatively high number, in context the Wikipedia category "American rock musicians by instrument" lists 3,759 articles, and similarly "American blues musicians by instrument" has 1,078. So, 41 out of 4,837 gives us 1 in... quite a lot.
One doesn't have to be much of a statistician to see that that's looking like a pretty safe age to be twanging a 6-string or beltin' out the ballads.
Lesser known members of "the club"
- Robert Johnson (1938): Cause of death is unclear, but legend had it he was poisoned by a jealous husband, and/or sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads.
- Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (1973): Gastrointestinal hemorrhage as a result of alcohol abuse, and being a keyboardist for the Grateful Dead.
- Richey Edwards (1995): Lyricist for the Manic Street Preachers, who was overly into suicide chic. Disappeared at age 27, officially presumed dead in 2008, though some fans claim to have spotted him since in both India and the Canary Islands.
- Dennes Dale "D." Boon (1985): Singer and lyricist for 80s punk rock band The Minutemen; wrote songs in praise of safe driving, then died as a passenger in a traffic accident.
- Chris Bell (1978): Founding singer and guitarist for the influential power-pop band Big Star; he left after one album, and died in a car crash.
- Pete Ham (1975): Singer and guitarist for the power-pop band Badfinger; hanged himself.
Not dead at 27
Many musicians died before they got old, but fail to qualify for the 27 club, although sometimes the "curse" of 27 is expanded to include those who died under the age of 27 — as if it were an "upper limit" to the career of a popular musician. The premature deaths of young musicians or artists is nothing particularly new as examples date back to at least the 1920s. Indeed, the premature deaths of young people aren't limited only to the music industry.
In reality the spread of musicians' premature and unnatural deaths is quite wide, ranging from the very early 20s (Sid Vicious and Eddie Cochran) into middle age (e.g. Michael Jackson at age 50). Listed below are some more artists who lived fast and died (relatively) young.
- Ritchie Valens (17): Plane crash, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.
- Sid Vicious (21): (born John Simon Ritchie, later named John Beverly). Overdose of Heroin, apparently supplied by his mother, while he was out on bail after being charged with the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. He had attempted suicide earlier by slitting his wrists with a broken light bulb.
- Eddie Cochran (21): Thrown through the windscreen of a Ford Consul in a traffic accident.
- Stuart Sutcliffe (21): Brain haemorrhage, possibly due to prior head injury.
- Buddy Holly (22): Plane crash, memorialized in Don McLean's American Pie.
- Aaliyah (22): Plane crash.
- Dead (22): Born Per Yngve Ohlin, the Mayhem singer slit his wrists and then put a shotgun to his head for good measure. Famously left a suicide note that included the infamous line "Excuse the blood".
- Ian Curtis (23): Hanged himself after watching Stroszek and listening to The Idiot.
- River Phoenix (23): Overdose of cocaine and heroin.
- Bobby Fuller (23): Found dead with multiple injuries and covered with gasoline.
- Selena Quintanilla (23): Singer shot dead by a friend and later honoured by George W. Bush.
- Pine Top Smith (24): Shot during a fight.
- Duane Allman (24): Motorcycle accident.
- Cliff Burton (24): Killed in a bus accident.
- The Notorious B.I.G. (24): Shot in his car shortly following Tupac's death.
- Tupac Shakur (25): Killed in a drive-by in Las Vegas Nevada.
- James Honeyman-Scott (25): Either too much or too little cocaine.
- Randy Rhoads (25): Killed in plane crash as a result of pilot douchbaggery.
- Euronymous (25): Mayhem guitarist was stabbed to death by bandmate and neo-Nazi shit-stain Varg Vikernes.
- Nick Drake (26): Suicide.
- Otis Redding (26): Plane crash.
- Toše Proeski (26 and 9 months - close!): Died in a car accident.
- Gram Parsons (26 and 10 months - ooh, closer!): Morphine overdose while hunting UFOs.
- The Big Bopper (28) (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.): Plane crash, see above.
- Bix Beiderbecke (28): Officially lobar pneumonia, but some reckon alcoholism played a part.
- Bradley Nowell (28): Heroin overdose.
- Tim Buckley (28): Heroin overdose
- Hank Williams (29): Mysterious circumstances involving heart failure (probably alcohol or drug-induced) in a Cadillac.
- Marc Bolan (29): Never learned to drive because he was afraid of a premature death. So he died as a passenger in a car wreck.
- Patsy Cline (30): Plane crash (but not the same one as Buddy Holly, etc).
- Pete Farndon (30): Drowned in bathtub during heroin overdose.
- Jeff Buckley (30): Accidental drowning.
- Doug Hopkins (32): Suicide.
- Mama Cass Elliot (32): Not a sandwich but heart attack brought on by "fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity".
- Keith Moon (32): Overdose on sedatives meant to stop his alcoholism.
- J Dilla (32): Cardiac arrest as a result of terminal illness.
- Keith Godchaux (32): Automobile accident, and being a keyboardist for the Grateful Dead.
- Rob Pilatus (32): Prescription drug and alcohol overdose, and lip synching.
- John Bonham (32): Warmed up with four quadruple screwdrivers[notes 4] on the way to rehearsal, where he began the serious drinking. Later that night he died from choking on vomit (it was his own, so no need to dust).
- Karen Carpenter (32): Heart failure from side effects of anorexia.
- Bon Scott (33): Alcohol poisoning.
- Hideto Matsumoto (33): Accidental asphyxiation (or suicide) after a night of drinking, provoked several copycat deaths.
- Elliott Smith (34): Died of stab wounds to the chest, inconclusive whether they were self-inflicted. Had a tragic history of substance abuse.
- Layne Staley (34): Heroin overdose.
- Melanie Thornton (34): Plane crash
- Matthew Ashman (35): Complications due to diabetes.
- Jimmie Rodgers (35): Tuberculosis. Not to be confused with Jimmy Rogers who died a rock 'n' roll death due to colon cancer at age 73.
- Stevie Ray Vaughan (35): Helicopter crash. Managed to dodge an even earlier death from drug and alcohol abuse however.
- Joe Hill (36): Execution
- Blind Lemon Jefferson (36): Unknown. His grave was unmarked until 1967 and is, finally, being kept clean.
- Bob Marley (36): Skin cancer
- Ian Stuart Donaldson (36): Car crash
- Brent Mydland (37): Drug overdose, and being a keyboardist for the Grateful Dead.
- Michael Hutchence (37): Officially suicide, some speculation that it was autoerotic asphyxiation.
- Chris Cornell (52): Suicide.
- Vince Wellnick (55): Suicide, and being a keyboardist for the Grateful Dead.
- Chuck Berry (90)
Can nothing kill them?
This lot seem to have consumed half the world's drugs and fornicated with a goodly percentage of the world's women (or, in some cases, men) yet they're still going strong.
- Willie Nelson, born 1933: Regular smoker of the wacky baccy, and equally regular arrestee.
- Jerry Lee Lewis, born 1935: How many wives is he up to now? "I don't want no headstone on my grave. I want a MONUMENT!!"
- Phil Lesh (bass player for the Grateful Dead and various post-Jerry spin-offs): Born 1940. Still gigs with Furthur.
- Sir Tom Jones, born 1940: Still receiving female undergarments (granted, this is mostly for irony's sake these days).
- Sir Paul McCartney, born 1942: Actually had a life after the Beatles—unless he really died at 27! Mostly just a pot smoker, though, and has now given that up.
- Keith Richards, born 1943: Cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Reportedly went clean and sober after falling out of a palm tree (that he did not recall climbing). Once told Pete Doherty to slow down on the drugs. When Keith Richards tells you to stop, you know it's serious.
- Sir Mick Jagger, born in 1943: Proof of the dangers of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Fathered his eighth child in December 2016.
- Iggy Pop, born 1947: Actually immortal, thanks to a Faustian pact involving car insurance commercials.
- Sir Elton John, born 1947: The Bitch Is Still Alive.
- Ozzy Osbourne, born 1948: An example of a modern miracle and should be dead, although once they discovered most of his problems were actually Parkinson's syndrome, things improved.
- Steve Tyler, born 1948 and Joe Perry born 1950: The "toxic twins" of Aerosmith.
- Alice Cooper, born 1948: Intentionally cadaverous since the 70's.
- Dave Mustaine, born 1961: Of Megadeth fame. After being kicked out of a group nicknamed "Alcoholica" for drinking too much (that bad!), did virtually every drug in existence for twenty years, even dying briefly only to be revived, before becoming clean for good around 2001.
- Dave Gahan, born 1962: first hit single was "new life"; has nearly died four times. the "health" section of his Wikipedia article is as long as the "Career in Depeche Mode" section.
- Slash, born 1965: Guns and Roses, has written in his autobiography that he has clinically "died" several times due to substance abuse, and is finally clean since 2005.
- Pete Doherty, born 1979: Went through a period of self destruction before finally becoming clean in 2014. Left a trail of chaos and shattered parents in his wake.
- Evidence was strong enough for the case to be formally reopened in 2009. But as almost all the suspects and witnesses have since died, it will likely never be settled to everyone's satisfaction.
- ...which is somewhat better than choking on somebody else's vomit...
- Looks like she lived according to her last name.
- For the mathematically-challenged (or drunk) reader, that's 16 shots of vodka.
- Jackson, Buzzy (2005). A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 234. ISBN 0393059367.
- Would it be in bad taste to say the same for Embryonic Stem Cell research?
- "Amy Winehouse death: Coroner records misadventure verdict", BBC News, 26th October 2011.
- See the Wikipedia article on 27 Club.
- As of 20 March 2010
- As of 20 March 2010
- See the Wikipedia article on Selena.
- Adam Luck, "The Curse of Pete Doherty". The Mail on Sunday, 27 June 2015