'27 Club' Debunked: Musicians Aren't Prone to Die at That Age

WEDNESDAY Dec. 21, 2011 -- Famous musicians are no more likely to die at age 27 than at any other age, a new study indicates.

The fact that a number of rock stars -- including Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain -- died when they were 27 makes that age appear particularly unlucky.

But this study examined the so-called "27 club" hypothesis, and found that fame and a rock-and-roll lifestyle may increase rock stars' risk of death at any age.

The researchers compared the deaths of 1,046 famous musicians with data from the general U.K. population. The musicians were solo artists and members of bands who had a number one album in the U.K. charts between 1956 and 2007. They ranged from rock 'n' rollers and heavy metal stars to crooners and even actors who voiced Muppets.

During the study period (a total follow-up time of 21,750 musician-years), 71 (7 percent) of the musicians died, according to study author Adrian Barnett, of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and colleagues.

A mathematical analysis showed no peak in the risk of death at age 27, but musicians in their 20s and 30s were two to three times more likely to die prematurely than people in the general population.

There was a cluster of deaths among musicians aged 20 to 40 during the 1970s and early 1980s, but there were no deaths in this age group in the late 1980s. This could be due to the development of better treatments for heroin overdoses, or the fact that the hard rock that dominated the 1970s gave way to pop in the 1980s, the researchers suggested.

So while the "27 club" is a myth, musicians do have a generally increased risk of dying in their 20s and 30s, the study authors warned.

"This finding should be of international concern, as musicians contribute greatly to populations' quality of life, so there is immense value in keeping them alive (and working) as long as possible," the study authors wrote in the report published online Dec. 20 in the BMJ.

More information

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Posted: December 2011


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