It’s a club that the famous are dying to get into, literally. The 27 Club (The Forever 27 Club) is the name for an iconic group of influential musicians who all died at the age of 27. Their untimely deaths have often been connected with uneasy lives and psychological issues, with a lot of physical neglect in between, usually due to drink or drug abuse, or both. An independently published book named, “The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll” meticulously details the phenomenon. The author states, “More rock stars have died at 27 than at any other age.”
Bluesman Robert Johnson, who died on August 16, 1938, was an immense musician. His talent was unquestionable; he has been cited – by Eric Clapton, no less – as “the most important blues singer that ever lived”. Johnson’s untimely death wasn’t self-inflicted, and there are a number of conflicting opinions, but the general consensus is that he was poisoned – by a lover’s jealous husband.
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimi Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, USA. There was nothing about Jimi Hendrix that seemed ordinary; from his flashy outfits, to his left-handed guitar. Hendrix was turned down by The Rolling Stones, but was introduced to Chas Chandler by Keith Richard’s girlfriend. They went on to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a rock band that would transform the genre unequivocally. Released in 1967, the group’s first single, “Hey Joe” was an immediate hit in Britain. “Hey Joe” was soon followed by other gems such as “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cried Mary.”
His last record as a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (1968), was released and included the hit “All Along the Watchtower.” This tune was written by Bob Dylan. In 1969, Hendrix performed at the legendary musical event: Woodstock. His rock interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” astounded the crowds and confirmed his status as a glorious musician. One year later, Jimi Hendrix was found dead after overdosing on pills and choking on his own vomit (asphyxiation).
Brian Jones was the creator of a little known band named The Rolling Stones, yes I’m being sarcastic. This radiant, multi-talented musician who attempted – albeit disastrously – to mix heavy drug use with his musical devotion, died under debatable circumstances on the 3rd of July, 1969. He fashioned a look that would be re-packaged and re-released over many years. He created a narcissism that would become standard for pop stars and rock stars.
Jones gained the admiration of many fellow musicians during his short career, including the Beatles. They asked Jones to help in the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper in 1967 When Andrew Loog Oldham joined The Stones they began shifting their focus to newer, more “in demand” material. This switch reduced Jones’ role in the band. His drug and alcohol abuse continued to spiral out of control. He became estranged from The Rolling Stones and ultimately, he was no longer a member of the band he initially formed. There were many stories of Brian being ridiculed by the likes of Eric Clapton and other members of the UK rock explosion. The conclusion reached about his death was that he had been drowned; he was found face down in his swimming pool.
Growing up, Janis Joplin was by her own report the most despondently unhappy high school female in Texas. She was celebrated for her prevailing vocals during a male-dominated rock era. Joplin was a spellbinding contradiction, overriding and intensely vulnerable, loud yet shy, stylized and undeviating, unconquerable and masochistic. She enjoyed whiskey and heroin, the latter leading to her premature death. Joplin performed at Woodstock after indulging in several shots of heroin. In 1970, she cleaned up her act and remained drug free for a short time, but her unshakeable habit reappeared. Janis Joplin died from an apparent heroin overdose in October 1970.
Jim Morrison was an avid poet, a novelist, a filmmaker, and of course, the lead singer for the rock band, The Doors. He was born on December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. Morrison excelled throughout his education, having had an IQ of 149. He was a troubled soul, eventually becoming so alienated from his parents that he would later state that they were dead. The renowned front man of planet Earth’s first rock band defined an era. Morrison once declared that “we’re more interested in the dark side of life, the evil thing, the night time.” “This is the end, beautiful friend. It hurts to set you free, But you’ll never follow me. The end of laughter and soft lies. The end of nights we tried to die. This is the… end.”
The Doors were unstoppable in the late 60s but Morrison started to get out of control. He was frequently drugged or drunk, regularly showing up late for live performances. Morrison’s drinking, exhibitionistic shenanigans and drug-taking severely hampered his ability to hit the high notes. He sadly died aged 27 in Paris on 3 July 1971, Morrison and The Doors continue to stimulate musicians of all ages. The information surrounding his death is still a mystery as an autopsy was never performed.
Neil Young once said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” a quote that would later be found in a suicide note written by Kurt Cobain. In an era where rock music was all about long hair and leather jackets, Cobain opted to sport short hair and shaggy clothing. He was the guitarist/vocalist/song writer of Nirvana, their influence on the music scene signalled a spectacular shift in 90′s rock. Nirvana attracted critical acclaim when they took Michael Jackson off the number one slot in the Billboard music charts with their renowned hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit. This became Nirvana’s most highly praised and most recognizable song. Not many people can decode its exact lyrics but Cobain used a seductive hookline to hypnotize the listener.
Nevermind, their most famous album, went on to sell ten million copies and make a reported $550 million (US) leaving the band overnight millionaires. Cobain was a gun extremist and often had several in his possession. He battled with inner demons, deep depression and extreme cynicism. Cobain’s mother even reportedly once said to her son, “Don’t join that stupid club.” According to Cobain’s biography, Heavier Than Heaven, Kurt’s sister said that, as a youth, Cobain mentioned the fact that he wanted to join the “club.” Allegedly, he barricaded himself into the granny flat behind his mansion, put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. On 8 April 1994 he was found dead at his home with a shotgun wound to the head.
Incredibly, or maybe not so incredibly, Amy Winehouse joined the unfortunate “club” of famous musicians who died at age 27. Paradoxically, Amy Winehouse owed much of her fame to her hit single Rehab which included the lyric “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no.’” Winehouse continuously struggled with drug addiction, finally going against those famous words and checking into rehab in 2011. After a short stint, Amy checked herself out and began a new European tour. Unfortunately for Amy, sobriety was short lived. During her first show after rehab, the Serbian audience booed her because she was too drunk to continue her concert. A video of the event made the rounds on YouTube. Subsequently, her tour was cancelled after the incident to give her time to recuperate. Just a few weeks later, Winehouse was discovered dead at her home in London, a suspected drug overdose thought to be the cause of death.
Winehouse’s ex- personal assistant, Alex Haines, reportedly claimed the soul-singer spent over $5,000 a week on her drug addiction. In 2008, the former assistant exposed a worrisome revelation, “Amy reckoned she would join the 27 Club of rock stars who died at that age. She told me, ‘I have a feeling I’m gonna die young.’” Yet again an iconic figure that had a distinct influence on music tragically dies before their time. Fame seems to be momentary, but for these musicians it seems so unjust their time was cut far too short. Think of the music that Cobain, Winehouse and Hendrix could have created if they’d been granted only a few more years. Many people find it particularly strange how many of these cases are still unanswered, can these tragedies ever be fully explained, understood, or fully accepted?
Further musicians who died tragically at 27 include:
-Echo & the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas, he died in a motorcycle disaster on June 14, 1989
-Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff died due to a heroin overdose on June 16, 1994
This article was first posted on June 9, 2013