The 27 Club

It’s made up of world famous musicians, actors and other high-flying celebrities, but the infamous ’27 Club’ isn’t one you’d want to be part of.

Members are said to include the like of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, but some have denied its existence all together, so let’s explore. What is the 27 Club, and does it exist at all?

The Birth of a Strange Phenomenon

Alexandre Levy (10 November 1864 – 17 January 1892), Brazilian composer, pianist and conductor.

As alluded to above, the 27 Club is a list of celebrities and musicians with one particular oddity in common – they all died at the tender age of 27.

Many claim the first club ‘member’ was Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones – who sadly drowned in a swimming pool in 1969 – and perhaps it’s true that his passing was the first to kickstart the unfortunate ‘trend’ in modern pop culture. However, ‘evidence’ of the so called club may date back to the 1800s and the death of composer, Alexandre Levy, who’s premature death is considered the ‘true’ beginning of the infamous club, although his cause of death has been lost to time. 

Another early member is said to be American blues master, Robert Johnson, whose life and mysterious death is legendary in its own right. Johnson, who probably deserves his own case study, was rumoured to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads one night, in return for the ability to absolutely shred the guitar. His death, on August 16th, 1938 at the age of – you guessed it – 27, was rumoured to be murder, with his death certificate featured no reported cause of death.

Infamous Members

Brian Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969), member of the Rolling Stones.

In the two years following the death of Brian Jones, the music industry was rocked by the passings of some of its most influential children, and belief in the 27 club surged. These included:

  • Jimi Hendrix – Pioneering musician and guitarist, who asphyxiated on his own vomit following a night of drinking and drug taking in September 1970.
  • Janis Joplin – One of the most influential female rock stars on the 60s, who died of a heroin overdose in October 1970.
  • Jim Morrison – Lead singer of The Doors who was found dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment in 1971. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure, although there have been claims that this was caused by a heroin overdose.

Unfortunately, these three J’s weren’t the last rock and roller’s to fall foul of the 27 club and it went on to include:

  • Pete de Freitas – drummer of Echo & The Bunnymen, died from a motorcycle collision, 1989.
  • Mia Zapata – lead singer of American punk band, the Gits, was assaulted and murdered in Seattle, 1993. Sadly, this case is now cold.
  • Kurt Cobain – Nirvana front man who passed away in 1994 from a self inflicted gunshot wound.
  • Rodrigo Bueno – Argentinian cuarteto singer who died in a traffic collision in 2000.
  • Jonathan Brandis – American actor, who sadly hanged himself in 2003.
  • Amy Winehouse – British singer-songwriter who died from alcohol poisoning in 2011

This is far from an extensive list of alleged ‘members’, but are some go the better known amongst English speaking audiences. This sad list has been added to as recently as August 2022, with the suicide of Korean actress, Yoo Joo Eun.

Scientific Bases

Janis Joplin, (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970), American singer and musician.

Despite the anecdotal evidence of some multi-generational curse, afflicting celebrities across the globe, you may be surprised to hear that there is not a statistical increase of death at the age of 27 amongst celebrities. 

The British Medical Journal, which conducted the study, actually went on to suggest there is a very small increase in deaths amongst musicians at ages 25 and 56. 

However, there is a spike in deaths of young musicians at the age of 27, when compared to the general population.

Could there be some sort of supernatural curse upon the young and famous? Some sort of force that works to strike them down in the prime of their lives?

Well, there probably is. Unfortunately for the supernaturalists among us, this is likely the result of a more earthly curse.   

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll

Jimi Hendrix, (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) American guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

It’s no secret that the high flying rock ’n roller is going to have better access to a variety of substances both legal and otherwise. Dependancies are unfortunately common, and thus, the risk of death increases. 

Of course, this isn’t the case of a lot of the so called ‘club members’ – heroin did not murder Mia Zapata for example. However, let’s cast our minds back to the rise of the club in the two years following 1969.

The deaths of Jimi, Janis, Jim and (Brian) Jones came in tragically quick succession, and this coincidence – as well as the the passing of Canned Heat’s, “Blind Owl” Wilson and “Dyke” Christian, from Dyke and the Blazers in the same timeframe – likely laid the ground work for rumours to abound. 

In fact, although many others fell foul of the ‘club’ in the years between, it wasn’t until Kurt Cobain’s death in ’94 that public perception began to lump them together. By then, the way we consume media had began to shift. The internet was on the rise, and people suddenly had the means to create their own urban legends, and share them with likeminded groups. 

So it’s likely the so called 27 Club, has no more factual bases than many other urban legends – the source material is there, but the rumour mill has shaped and stretched it into something more than is should be.

Indeed, the thought of some kind of legendary club furthers the mystique of the equally legendary artists, but in doing so, we ignore the sad truths. Drugs abuse is ugly, and takes many before their time, leaving families, friends and fans behind. Suicide is just as devastating, proving fame and fortune does not equate happiness. Sometimes – as is the case of de Freitas, Bueno and Levy – bad things just happen, and other times – like Mia Zapata and Robert Johnson – bad people happen.

Still, if there’s anything we can take from today’s folkloric folly, it’s that the music, films and artwork left behind by these extraordinary talented people, live on, and that’s what we should remember them for.

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