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The 27 Club

I’ve said this before but here it is again:

When it comes to egregious rock’n’roll clichés, one of the absolute worst is the concept of “the 27 Club” — the ghoulishly spurious idea that famous musicians are uniquely disposed to die three years before they hit 30. Amy Winehouse drinking herself to death in Camden; Kurt Cobain shooting himself in the head; Jim Morrison perishing in a Parisian bathtub: these “club members” have become part of an airbrushed rock mythology that doesn’t zoom in too close on the vomit and emaciation, preferring instead to celebrate a life lived at the limits, a commitment to chasing sensation and “enlightenment”, the call of a tragic destiny.

The 27 club is simply because it takes about a decade for unrestrained hedonism to kill you.

About, -ish, -ish. 17 to 20 year olds hit the big time, have vast, uncontrollable, gobs of money with which to do whatever. Takes about a decade for this to kill them.

That’s it.

We could even run a control test. Check the average death rate of those who inherit vast trust funds – without parental control – at the same sort of age. What’s their death rate by 30?

15 thoughts on “The 27 Club”

  1. The Meissen Bison

    I thought this was going to be about the EU’s national anthem.

    (Why would the inheritance have to be a “trust fund”? Isn’t that a Capt Potato reach-me-down?)

  2. Hmm, leave out the drugs and I suspect hedonism by itself would take a lot longer. Alcohol generally does

  3. Wonko the cynical

    More recently it has moved to early 50’s! I always thought it was a mixture of the kids wanting their inheritance, and record companies looking to boost flagging sales.

  4. The human body is a remarkable machine and I continue to marvel at its ability to absorb decades of punishment and – unlike those British Leyland vehicles of my youth – continue to function. Becoming a member of the 27 Club is pure bad luck, more a case of there but for the grace of…

  5. The human body is a remarkable machine and I continue to marvel at its ability to absorb decades of punishment

    Mr K Richards as a textbook example.

  6. Was gonna add the lottery winner suggestion but got beaten to it.

    But I think the touring lifestyle has particular importance to musicians and it’s hard to find good comparisons for that. Stand-up comedians often say how much touring grinds them down but unlike musicians they don’t tend to hit the big time so young and need to spend years working up to it so 27 is more like the age the punishment starts. There’s also limits to the hedonia that can be experienced playing hundred-seat venues – lack of glamour, lack of income, lack of fame to attract the groupies and hangers on. (Apparently the autobiography of Paul Daniels is rather sexually full-on with the groupie stuff even in his days grinding out life on tour so I may have misestimated the potential here but I’m sure he would have had far more action as a bass guitarist.)–magic.html

    Young actors might be a decent comparison in term of fame and hangers-on but they don’t take the touring hit. Golf and tennis players screw up their personal lives with touring and do have cash to spare if successful but can’t really blow it all due to drugs testing and a need for physical fitness. Maybe someone else can come up with a better comparison.

  7. Footballers retire at about 33; if they’ve played at the top level for a decade they will be rich. Do they tend to die at 43?

  8. @dearieme

    Yeah again makes me think the touring lifestyle is a component but also the fact middle aged rich and famous people probably don’t go as wild as the young ones.

    Perhaps see how people who win the lottery aged 21 or below do compared to those who win in their late 30s?

  9. Footballers retire at about 33; if they’ve played at the top level for a decade they will be rich. Do they tend to die at 43?

    Good ones play on a bit.

    It’s not hard to find early deaths for sports people with more money than they had self-control.

    Maradonna. George Best. Shane Warne.

    We’ve had a whole host of ex-All Blacks dying very young here recently. They’re not famous enough to have been followed rigorously by the papers, but it is suspicious that liver failure was part of it.

  10. @Chester

    For some sports / “sports” (wrestling and, outside more regulated competitions, strongman comes to mind), may also be a factor of performance enhancing drugs. Rather less hedonistic than pumping yourself full of cocaine or heroin or alcohol so not quite the right comparison, but there’s a funny kinda reassurance seeing someone “fitter” than yourself and knowing they’re probably gonna die before you anyway.

  11. Bit late to this, but just to add. A lot of sportsmen of the soccer and rugged types “forget” that they are retired and still consume 5000 calories or half a a dozen pints a night, but of course don’t burn it off. Look at Garth Crooks, who has turned into Babarpapa.

    Also they get bored, Pat Eddery is a good example of someone who couldn’t adjust and drank himself to death.

  12. I think the main thing is that the sort of people who make charismatic performers are also the sort of people who live to excess. Freddie Mercury liked a lot of gak and cock. Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode barely survived into his 30s because of his heroin addiction.

  13. Gahan’s major, ah, incidents were ’93 and ’96, when he was already (just about) over thirty.

    The touring idea up above might be relevant to DM, as the 101 tour was ’87/8, followed by the Violator album ’90.

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