The Myth Of The ’27 Club’ (And The Creepier Truth)

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, August 25, 2015
twenty seven
“The first rule is: every player dies; none knows when it’s coming; the youngest and best often go first.” —Barry Long

In A Nutshell

We’ll get this out of the way first: The 27 Club is a myth. Even though you can undoubtedly name a handful of musicians that died tragic deaths at the age of 27, a recent study found that there’s an age that musicians are even more likely (that is, slightly more likely) to die at: 56. They did find, however, that musicians are likely to die much younger than the general population (late fifties for men and early sixties for women) and that the type of music the musicians are known for can have implications in pinpointing how they’re going to die.

The Whole Bushel

We’ve all heard of the 27 Club and the tragic stories of musicians taken too young, usually at the height of their popularity. Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison . . . the list goes on and on.

Of course it does.

A closer look at the 27 Club shows that in spite of numerous books being written on the subject, it’s not really a trend. Several studies have looked at groups of musicians, and they’ve found that between 1950 and 2010, only about 1.4 percent of musicians died at 27, hardly enough to be called a trend or to warrant an official club.

Weirdly, they also found that there’s another age that musicians are twice as likely to die at: 56. While the percentage is still low (2.2 percent), it’s considerably higher than the number of people that can be included in the 27 Club.

According to the latest study, done by researchers at the University of Sydney, the end result of the findings is that there’s no single age or age grouping that seems more at risk than others, even what we’d usually think of as old age. Averages indicate that musicians do, in fact, die younger than other occupations, with the average age of death for male musicians being in their late fifties, while female musicians averaged deaths in their early sixties.

It was also found that, unsurprisingly, fatal accidents like the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens in 1959 and suicides were also proportionately higher for musicians. At the time of the plane crash (dubbed “The Day the Music Died” by Don McLean), it was found that 25.9 percent of musician deaths happened because of accidents. That’s in contrast to 4.65 percent for the general population of the United States. The same year saw a rate of 3.8 percent of deaths by suicide (compared to 0.93 percent for the general population), and a 3.5 percent murder rate (compared to 0.37 percent for the general population).

The same study looked at musical genre compared to method of death and found that there were some rather obvious patterns. Jazz, blues, and folk musicians were more likely to die from age-related causes like cancer and heart disease, while rap and hip-hop artists were found to have more than a 51 percent chance of homicide being the ultimate cause of death. Metal and punk artists were more likely—at a rate of 30 percent likely—to die by accident.

On the other side, gospel and R&B singers were the least likely to die by suicide, while metal musicians had the highest chance. Rock musicians? They’ve shown 24.4 percent die an accidental death.

So why does the 27 Club stick out in our minds? The University of Sydney study suggests that it’s in large part because of the coincidence of how big those names are. Those that are most commonly cited as being in the club were at the peak of their careers, had amazing talent, and died in pretty horrible ways—all the stuff that we tend to remember.

Show Me The Proof

The Wall Street Journal: The 27 Club Is a Myth, But Rock Stars Do Die Younger
The Guardian: Do musicians die young? The truth about the 27 Club
The Independent: Why the 27 club is a myth: Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse may be members but that doesn’t make it real