The 27 Club

By December 4, 2014Featured, Music

The 27 Club became a well known group of famous musicians in the late 60’s including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, but really hit the mainstream when twenty-five years later Kurt Cobain (then once again in 2011 with Amy Winehouse’s death), joined the long line of famous musicians that have died at the tender age of twenty-seven. Generally, the main causes of death were drugs, alcohol, suicide or a violent end. Welcome to the 27 Club.

It’s a phenomenon and a mystery… Why were these young people so troubled? What is the significance of the age 27, if any? There are plenty of theories as to why this age seems to be so unusually common for these performers to only reach this young age. Some consider that the psychological problems concerned with fame, fortune and a cocktail of drugs and alcohol take their toll at this age between youth and maturity consequently affecting their decision-making and luring them down the path of destruction before being able to get a grip on their own true being and reality.

Some theories go as far as reading in to the moon and the stars and their alignment during the times these people died or were killed. Many theories are simpler and look into the similarities of the psyches between those who died similar deaths. The following is a brief look into the most famous musicians on the list of FIFTY stars that joined the 27 Club over the last 122 years.

1. Brian Jones – July 3rd 1969, Cotchford Farm, Hartfield, East Sussex

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Brian Jones; excellent guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, was the founder and original bandleader of the Rolling Stones. Once fellow band members Keith Richards and Mick Jagger formed a strong bond and songwriting relationship between them, Jones’ position in the band flagged. He developed a serious drug dependency resulting in his eventual expulsion from the Stones in 1969. Jones was found drowned a month later in his swimming pool at his home. The bassist for the Stones Bill Wyman quoted, “He formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs… Very influential, very important, and then slowly lost it – highly intelligent – and just kind of wasted it and blew it all away.” The cause of death was concluded as and remains to be, death by misadventure, despite later claims that murder was a possibility.

2. Jimi Hendrix – September 18th 1970, Notting Hill, London

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The most influential time of Jimi Hendrix’s short career spans only four years but he managed to become one of the most influential instrumentalists and electric guitarists ever. At the time of his death there was much speculation as to the cause of death. At one point it was thought he committed suicide, due to struggles with his management, his rock and roll lifestyle and consequently poor health. After some dispute it was claimed that the cause of death was asphyxia due to choking on his own vomit after taking an overdose of sleeping tablets. An overworked, overstressed accidental death? Or, a plea for peace?

3. Janis Joplin – October 4th 1970, Hollywood, L.A., California

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Janis Joplin was a big name in the psychedelic acid-rock scene in the late 60’s becoming better known as the “Queen of Psychedelic Soul” and “Pearl” to her friends and was described as having a “devastatingly original voice”. Joplin was one of the stars to grace the stage at Woodstock warbling out the opening number (and shockingly her only number one hit) Mercedes Benz. Janis joined the 27 Club just a few weeks after Jimi Hendrix after being found dead on the floor alone in the hotel room in which she was staying. Cause of death was listed as heroin overdose, possibly compounded with alcohol. Intentional overdose or just a lonely way out?

4. Jim Morrison – July 3rd 1971, Paris, France

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Jim Morrison, lead singer of the power band The Doors, a self-confessed poet, singer songwriter and eclectically wild performer was pronounced dead in Paris aged 27. Being labeled one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock music history Morrison was the embodiment of the hippie counterculture rebellion.  Morrison was apparently found dead in the bath in a Paris apartment. The cause of death was allegedly a heroin overdose yet is still under dispute. There was no postmortem or autopsy on his body due to French law at the time claiming no sign of foul play. Morrison was also an alcoholic and a troubled soul that dabbled in many illegal substances over his short life; his long term companion Pamela Courson claimed that he accidentally snorted the heroin that killed him believing it to be cocaine.

5. Kurt Cobain – April 5th 1994, Seattle, Washington, USA

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Best known as the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain became a 90’s icon for Generation X and “the spokesman of a generation”. Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, has sold over 25 million albums in the US, and over 75 million worldwide. During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction, illness and depression. He also had difficulty coping with his fame and public image, and the professional and lifelong personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife, musician Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. The circumstances of his death at age 27 have become a topic of public fascination and debate. After a tumultuous few months of alleged suicide attempts, sickness, rehab attempts and disappearance from the detox programme, he was found dead at his home by an electrician. He had apparently been lying dead for almost five days with a gunshot wound to the head plus heroin and diazepam in his blood system. He left a note to his imaginary childhood friend “Boddah” which claimed that he had not “felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing…for too many years now”.

6. Amy Winehouse – July 23rd 2011, Camden, London, UK

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The multi-award winning singer songwriter Amy Winehouse was the biggest female artist of her time when she met her maker in 2011. She was only on her second album but had achieved world-wide success and a huge acknowledgement from the world of music. Her music stretched over the genres of Reggae, Soul, Ska, Jazz and R&B producing hit after hit and touring frequently over her short-lived career. Her blast to fame and fortune alongside an alcohol and drug problem plus a volatile, attention grabbing relationship led Amy’s demeanor to change as well as a dramatic alteration in her physical appearance (something which was prominent for her, see the beehive hairstyle and many many tattoos for example) and consequently her ability to stay focussed on her career faltered. She was often incapable of singing, on occasion of even being able to stand when about to go onstage. Her fame became as much of a problem for her as her alcohol and drug dependencies. Those close to her claimed that Amy just wanted to go down to the pub and hang out with the locals and that her new found fame could not permit such a simplistic outing causing her to go on a downward spiral. It was a sad day when this talented young lady let it all get flushed away. She was found dead in her home in Camden, due to alcohol poisoning. Following her death was the revival of the media attention to the 27 Club, of which three years earlier she had expressed a fear of joining.

People identified as being in the 27 Club

Name Date of Death Cause Fame Age
Alexandre Levy January 17, 1892 Unknown Composer, pianist and conductor 27 years, 98 days
Louis Chauvin March 26, 1908 Neurosyphilitic sclerosis Ragtime musician 27 years, 13 days
Robert Johnson August 16, 1938 Poisoning Blues singer and musician who recorded 29 influential songs 27 years, 100 days
Nat Jaffe August 5, 1945 Complications from high blood pressure Swing jazz pianist 27 years, 216 days
Jesse Belvin February 6, 1960 Traffic collision (car) R&B singer, pianist and songwriter 27 years, 53 days
Rudy Lewis May 20, 1964 Drug overdose Vocalist of The Drifters 27 years, 271 days
Joe Henderson October 24, 1964 Heart attack R&B and gospel singer 27 years, 183 days
Malcolm Hale October 31, 1968 Poisoning (carbon monoxide) Original member and lead guitarist of Spanky and Our Gang 27 years, 166 days
Dickie Pride March 26, 1969 Drug overdose (sleeping pills) Rock and roll singer 27 years, 156 days
Brian Jones July 3, 1969 Drowning (death by misadventure) Rolling Stones founder, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist 27 years, 125 days
Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson September 3, 1970 Drug overdose (barbiturate), possible suicide Leader, singer and composer of Canned Heat 27 years, 61 days
Jimi Hendrix September 18, 1970 Asphyxiation Singer-songwriter for Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsies 27 years, 295 days
Janis Joplin October 4, 1970 Drug overdose (Heroin) Lead vocalist and songwriter for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band 27 years, 258 days
Arlester “Dyke” Christian March 13, 1971 Murdered Frontman, vocalist and bassist of Dyke and the Blazers 27 years, 273 days
Jim Morrison July 3, 1971 Heart failure Singer, lyricist and leader of The Doors 27 years, 207 days
Linda Jones March 14, 1972 Complications from diabetes Soul singer 27 years, 91 days
Leslie Harvey May 3, 1972 Electrocution Guitarist for Stone the Crows and brother of Alex Harvey 27 years, 233 days
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan March 8, 1973 Gastrointestinal hemorrhage Founding member, keyboardist and singer of the Grateful Dead 27 years, 181 days
Roger Lee Durham July 27, 1973 Fell off a horse and died Singer and percussionist of Bloodstone 27 years, 164 days
Wallace Yohn August 12, 1974 Plane crash Organ player of Chase 27 years, 212 days
Dave Alexander February 10, 1975 Pulmonary edema Bassist for the Stooges 27 years, 252 days
Pete Ham April 24, 1975 Suicide by hanging Keyboardist and guitarist, leader of Badfinger 27 years, 362 days
Gary Thain December 8, 1975 Drug overdose (heroin) Former bassist of Uriah Heep and the Keef Hartley Band 27 years, 207 days
Cecilia August 2, 1976 Traffic collision (car) Singer 27 years, 297 days
Helmut Köllen May 3, 1977 Poisoning (carbon monoxide) Bassist for 1970s prog rock band Trumvirat 27 years, 62 days
Chris Bell December 27, 1978 Traffic collision (car) Singer-songwriter and guitarist of Big Star 27 years, 349 days
Jacob Miller March 23, 1980 Traffic collision (car) Reggae artist and lead singer for Inner Circle 27 years, 324 days
D. Boon December 22, 1985 Traffic collision (van) Guitarist, lead singer of punk band The Minutemen 27 years, 266 days
Alexander Bashlachev February 17, 1988 Fall from a height, probably suicide Poet, rock musician and songwriter 27 years, 266 days
Jean-Michel Basquiat August 12, 1988 Drug overdose (Speedball) Painter and graffiti artist; formed Gray 27 years, 234 days
Pete de Freitas June 14, 1989 Traffic collision (motorcycle) Drummer for Echo & the Bunnymen 27 years, 346 days
Mia Zapata July 7, 1993 Murdered Lead singer of the Gits 27 years, 316 days
Kurt Cobain April 5, 1994 Suicide by gunshot Founding member, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Nirvana 27 years, 44 days
Kristen Pfaff June 16, 1994 Drug overdose (heroin) Bass guitarist for Hole and Janitor Joe 27 years, 21 days
Richey Edwards February 1, 1995 Disappeared, officially presumed dead Lyricist and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers 27 years, 41 days
Fat Pat February 3, 1998 Murdered American rapper and member of Screwed up Click 27 years, 61 days
Freaky Tah March 28, 1999 Murdered American rapper and member of Lost Boyz 27 years, 318 days
Kami June 21, 1999 Subarachnoid hemorrhage Drummer for Malice Mizer 27 years, 140 days
Rodrigo Bueno June 24, 2000 Traffic collision (car) Cuarteto singer 27 years, 31 days
Sean Patrick McCabe August 28, 2000 Asphyxiation Lead singer of Ink & Dagger 27 years, 289 days
Maria Serrano Serrano November 24, 2001 Plane crash (Crossair Flight 3597) Background singer for Passion Fruit 27 years, 363 days
Jeremy Michael Ward May 25, 2003 Drug overdose (heroin) The Mars Volta and De Facto sound manipulator 27 years, 20 days
Bryan Ottoson April 19, 2005 Drug overdose (prescription medication) Guitarist for American Head Charge 27 years, 32 days
Valentín Elizalde November 26, 2006 Murdered Mexican Banda singer 27 years, 297 days
Amy Winehouse July 23, 2011 Poisoning (alcohol) Singer-songwriter 27 years, 312 days
Richard Turner August 11, 2011 Cardiac arrest Trumpet player, collaborator with Friendly Fires 27 years, 12 days
Nicole Bogner January 6, 2012 Undisclosed illness Singer for Vision of Atlantis 27 years, 290 days
Sorough “Looloosh” Farazmand November 11, 2013 Murdered Guitarist for the Yellow Dogs 27 years, 11 days
Monkey Black April 30, 2014 Murdered Dominican rapper and singer 27 years, 278 days

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