Rock legends are always interesting, whether they’re focused on touring exploits, ridiculous backstage demands or darker leanings. One of the more macabre legends is that of the 27 Club. The notion came to prominence in 1994, after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and music fans started to realize that a lot of musicians died at the age of twenty-seven. There’s no overarching conspiracy theory about the 27 Club, as far as I can tell, just an awareness that, for successful musicians, twenty seven seems to be a dangerous year. Here’s ten of music’s talented individuals that passed away at age 27.
Louis Chauvin, 1908
Louis Chauvin was a lauded part of the St. Louis ragtime music scene at the start of the twentieth century. While none of his personal compositions have been published, his contemporaries lauded him as an excellent performer and an exceptional composer. However, several of his compilations have survived, including, most famously, the ‘Heliotrope Bouquet’, which he co-wrote with Scott Joplin. He died in Chicago, in 1908. His cause of death was listed as syphilis-related multiple sclerosis, something that has been largely debunked by modern medicine, which suggests neurosyphilitic sclerosis as a more likely cause of death.
Robert Johnson, 1938
Called “the most important blues singer that ever lived” by Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson is considered a master of the Mississippi Delta blues style, and an important figure in the development of modern music. However, very little is known about him, beyond his musical mastery, which has lead to him taking on distinctly mythical proportions. One of the more famous stories about Robert Johnson is that he made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul at the crossroads for his exceptional musical talents. Equally little is known about his death, which has also been subject to mythologizing. What is known is that he died on August 16th, 1938 at 27, after a brief period of illness. One of the most popular stories is that he was given poisoned whiskey by the husband of a woman he’d been flirting with.
Brian Jones, 1969
Brian Jones was the original frontman, and founder, of the Rolling Stones. A multi-talented musician who could play guitar, keyboard, harmonica and a slew of folk instruments, he was nonetheless often eclipsed onstage and in the press by vocalist Mick Jagger and lead guitarist Keith Richards. While the Stones grew in fame, Jones was the quickest to defend the group to a press that wanted to dismiss them, but behind the scenes things were different. As he struggled with drug addiction, a rift had grown between him and the rest of the band. Where he’d once been a crucial component of the songwriting and recording process, his involvement had dwindled to almost nothing, partially due to his drug habit, which at times left him incapable of playing an instrument. Eventually, he was pressed out of the band by Jagger, Richards and Watts, though it was presented to public as an amicable split in a press conference on June 8th, 1969, brought on by differing musical tastes. A few weeks later, at midnight on July 2nd, Jones was found unconscious at the bottom on his pool in Cotchford farm. He was proclaimed dead by doctors who arrived on the scene and were unable to resuscitate him. But, like with many rockstars, the story didn’t stop there, and there were rumors that Frank Thorogood, who had been the last to see Jones alive, had murdered him. This theory, though, was disproved by the Sussex police department.
Jimi Hendrix, 1970
Jimi Hendrix is one of the great guitarists of the modern era, pioneering what many of us now recognize as the distinctive sound of the electric guitar. His band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience took London by storm in 1966, and then America, with a performance of ‘Wild Thing’ at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. In 1969, he disbanded the Jimi Hendrix Experience in favor of more funk-inspired directions with the short-lived Band of Gypsies, and was Woodstock’s closing act. However, by 1970, the strain of being one of the most in-demand musicians of rock was becoming apparent. On the morning of September 18th, Hendrix was found unconscious and unresponsive, and rushed to the hospital for resuscitation, which failed, and he was pronounced dead at 12:45pm. His cause of death was announced as being aspiration due to barbiturate intoxication, after the post mortem revealed he’d ingested 1.8 grams of barbiturate, possibly Vesperax. While the cause of death was apparent, the coroner stated it had to be left an open verdict, as there was no evidence of attempted suicide or other explanatory factors. In 1993, there was an attempt to have the coroner’s inquest reopened, but the attorney general denied it, feeling that the investigation would not serve the public.
Janis Joplin, 1970
Janis Joplin was perhaps the first woman to be recognized as a full-fledged rockstar, changing the face of music and paving the way for future stars. She was a magnetic performer, both onstage and off, captivating audiences with her music, which ran the gamut of genres, from folk to hard rock. She catapulted into musical stardom with the song ‘Piece of My Heart’, with the album it was on, Cheap Thrills, selling a million copies in a month. She was one of the performers at Woodstock, but wasn’t a fan of her performance (her voice broke a few times while singing), something fellow performer Pete Townshend attributed partially to the heroin and alcohol she’d imbibed while waiting to go onstage. But in early 1970, she took some time off and stopped using drugs. However, by the fall of 1970, she was using again, and on October 4th she was found dead in her hotel room of a heroin overdose. The album she was working on, Pearl, was released posthumously, and held the number one spot on the sales charts for nine weeks.
Jim Morrison, 1971
The self-proclaimed Lizard King, the Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison embodied the 60s and 70s rockstar, a blend of rebel, party animal and poet. The Doors were explosively productive, releasing six albums from 1967 to 1971, with each album containing over ten tracks. Despite the band’s meteoric rise and critical acclaim, Morrison struggled with both alcohol and drug addiction. In 1971, he took time off from The Doors in an attempt to re-center himself, moving to Paris with longtime companion Pamela Courson, planning to focus on his poetry. On July 3rd, 1971, Morrison was found dead in the apartment they shared, apparently of heart failure. Since French officials found no evidence of foul play, no autopsy was held. This lead to a wide range of rumors, including: a faked death, a covered-up drug overdose and a long-standing, undisclosed illness. Whatever the cause, rock music lost one of its most innovative minds, and his grave in Paris has become a pilgrimage spot for music fans.
Pete de Frietas, 1989
Pete de Frietas acted as the drummer for the post-punk, alt rock band Echo and the Bunnymen. While Echo and the Bunnymen never hit the chart-topping genre changing highs of some of the other acts on this list, they were successful, and they’ve proven to have staying power, despite the tragic loss of their drummer, with their next album, Meteorites, due out sometime this year. Pete de Frietas joined the band late, replacing ‘Echo’, the drum-machine they used in their early days. However, the band was a high-drama endeavor in those days, with de Frietas quitting, and then rejoining in 1987, with the band splitting in 1988 when the front man, Ian McCulloch, quit. In the interim, de Frietas died in a motorcycle crash driving up to Liverpool, on June 4th, 1989.
Kurt Cobain, 1994
Kurt Cobain‘s death in 1994 was a major factor in drawing attention to the 27 club. Like many of the musicians on this list, he struggled with substance abuse, starting to experiment with drugs in his teens. In the late eighties, he founded Nirvana, a band that would come to epitomize the grunge sound of the nineties. Success came with their second album, Nevermind, and the band found themselves selling out arena shows, something that Cobain was uncomfortable with, preferring smaller, more intimate venues. It was during this time that he started experimenting with heavier drugs. In March of 1994, Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, contacted Seattle police, saying he was suicidal and had locked himself in a room with a gun. Cobain denied being suicidal to the cops, claiming he’d locked himself in the room to avoid Love. Nevertheless, police confiscated several guns and pills from Cobain. In this period his drug use had worsened, and on March 25, Love and nine friends held an intervention for him, which resulted in his agreeing to attend a detox program. He left the program early, and was missing for several days. He was discovered on April 8th, 1994 at his Lake Washington house by an electric company employee, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner estimated that he committed suicide on April 5th. As with others on this list, his death was dogged by rumors that Cobain hadn’t committed suicide, despite the presence of a suicide note. Notions of the ‘secret truth’ ranged from murder to Cobain faking his death to flee fame. Reportedly, the Seattle police department receives at least one request a week to have the case reopened.
Richey Edwards, 1995
Richey Edwards was the rhythm guitarist and main lyricist for the alt-rock band Manic Street Preachers. With their confrontational attitude and politically-minded lyrics, Manic Street Preachers was a call-back to the golden days of British punk, and by 1992 they were selling well enough to be Britain’s new indie ‘It’ band. Fame, though, took its toll on Edwards, in the form of increased alcoholism, disordered eating and self-mutilation. He underwent treatment at Priory hospital in 1994, but fell into a deep depression, as seen in the lyrics of their album The Holy Bible, which were strongly influenced by Sylvia Plath. On February 1st, 1995, Edwards was meant to fly to the US with James Dean Bradfield, the band’s vocalist, for promotional duties, and simply didn’t show up. On February 14th, his car was found at the Severn service station, but little-to-nothing is known about what he did between the first and the fourteenth. While no confirmation of what happened to Richey Edwards has been found, it is widely believed that he committed suicide by jumping from the Severn Bridge that his car was close to, and he was declared legally dead in 2008.
Amy Winehouse, 2011
Amy Winehouse is the most recent addition to the 27 club, dying only a few years ago, in 2011. By the time she was sixteen, she’d been signed to Simon Fuller‘s management company, which lead to her being signed to Island Records. She won critical acclaim with her 2003 debut album, Frank, which showcased her stunning, soulful voice. Shortly afterwards, she met and entered into an infamously stormy relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. 2006 saw her release Back to Black, which made her an international star, but by this time, her problems with drugs and alcohol were plaguing her more seriously. As the decade continued, her personal life overshadowed her professional, with videos appearing to show her smoking crack appearing online and concerts being cancelled. In 2008, she was able to kick her drug habit, but tragically could not do the same for her alcohol addiction. On July 23rd, 2011, she was found dead in her London home, and paramedics were unable to revive her. The cause of death was, despite rumors of drug overdose, determined to be alcohol poisoning, with her blood alcohol levels more than five times the legal limit.