They say only the good die young, and if there is one industry that knows that statement more than any other, it’s the music industry. While it’s true that we will all die someday, the music industry has seen plenty of bright young talent being ripped away from its hands far too soon, whether it’s from drugs, alcohol, or unrelated circumstances. Looking back through the annals of rock and roll history, it doesn’t take long to see some familiar names on the list of the “27 Club.”
Names such as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse all jump off the page as you scroll through the growing list of those who were never able to really enjoy their success. By 1971, the list was expanded rapidly but it wasn’t until Cobain’s death in 1994 that the club came to fruition. Since then, many have speculated on the exact motivation of Cobain’s suicide and whether or not musicians did in fact have a statistical probability to die at the age of 27 or not. A study done by the British Medical Journal in 2011 actually investigated the probability of a given musician dying by the age of 27; naturally, the study concluded that there was no evidence that a musician’s risk of death increased at the age of 27.
For decades, fellow musicians, reporters, and filmmakers have been intrigued by the 27 Club. As recent as 2009, John Craigie wrote a song entitle “28” to pay homage to the deaths of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Cobain. Since then, the list has only grown in length, now having a total of 44 musicians recognized as having died at age 27 over the past century. There is little discussion that it is a tragedy to lose someone so young, however; these10 musicians are some of the most widely known and significant members of the 27 Club.
10. Amy Winehouse — 27 Years, 312 Days
Known for her eclectic mix of genres, Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011 inside her North London home. Most famous for her hit song “Rehab” off her 2006 Back to Black album, Winehouse won five Grammy Awards and the album became the third highest-selling album of the 2000s. Winehouse had a very public bout with drug and alcohol addiction and seemed to manage it well until the last few months before her death. She was forced to cancel several shows because of erratic performances and she was booed off the stage at a Belgrade concert after it appeared she forgot the words to her own song. Since her death, her brother has also gone on to publicly proclaim that she suffered from bulimia which was the leading cause of her death, leading her to a weakened physical state. Either way, Winehouse left a profound impact on this generation’s music, as she was ranked 26th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Music list.
9. Freaky Tah — 27 Years, 318 Days
While you may not know the name, Raymond Rogers aka Freaky Tah, was actually quite an accomplished hip hop hype man and promoter. As a member of the Lost Boyz, Freaky Tah was instrumental in the group’s success, along with Mr. Cheeks and Pretty Lou. The Lost Boyz’ 1996 Legal Drug Money album was the top selling R&B album of the year and ranked 6th nationally. Following on their initial success, the Lost Boyz came out with Love, Peace, and Nappiness the following year, reaching the second spot on the R&B charts en route to a gold certification. On March 28, 1999, Tah was shot at Mr. Cheeks’ birthday party and pronounced dead just hours later. The loss of Tah hit the group hard and the release of their final album had nowhere near the success of when Freaky Tah was with the group; it was the last album the group ever put out.
8. Pete Ham — 27 Years, 362 Days
As a member of Badfinger, it appeared that Ham was destined for success. The group had several top hit singles such as “No Matter What” and “Come and Get it” in the years leading up the Ham’s suicide. After years of internal, financial, and managerial problems, Ham found himself desperate for an answer to his problems. With no money and a manager that had ignored him, he hanged himself at his home three days before his birthday. In his suicide note, Ham wrote “Stan Polley (manager) is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me,” as he left behind his pregnant girlfriend. Ham is credited with being a pioneer of “power pop,” drawing inspiration between American pop music and British rock and roll.
Jacob Miller — 27 Years, 324 Days
Despite a somewhat successful solo career, Miller didn’t gain notoriety until he helped Inner Circle branch away from American Top 40 hits and into their own songs. The group became popular throughout Jamaica very quickly, eventually signing a record with Capitol Records and releasing two albums with Miller. While working with Inner Circle, Miller also worked on his solo career and won several reggae festivals. In 1980, Miller was traveling with Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell to Brazil when he was killed in a car accident in Kingston, Jamaica, just before the band was to tour with Marley and the Wailers throughout America. Inner Circle went on to record the song “Bad Boys,” made famous from Cops the TV show.
6. Kurt Cobain — 27 Years, 44 Days
As the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Nirvana, Cobain’s death has been one of the most influential deaths over the past two decades. After establishing the band with Krist Novoselic, it became popular throughout the Northwest and helped spread grunge rock throughout the country. With massive hits such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Cobain became increasingly agitated with the way his artistic vision was being displayed to the public. As is the case with other young, successful artists, Cobain had difficulty dealing with his fame and turned to heroin to cope with his personal and professional issues. He was found in his home on April 8, 1994 with a self-inflicted shotgun wound to his head, leaving behind his wife, Courtney Love and their child. Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the US and 75 million around the world.
5. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan — 27 Years, 181 Days
Ron McKernan was one of the founding members of one of the most influential bands in history, the Grateful Dead. McKernan is known for adding the blues element to the jam band genre, with songs such as “Easy Wind” and “Turn On Your Love Light” as some of the band’s most well known songs while he was a member. Unfortunately, McKernan had a history of alcohol abuse, going all the way back to his teenage years. In 1970, he was diagnosed with liver damage at the age of 24. McKernan was forced to quit touring but the band went on without him, as he died in 1973 due to a gastrointestinal hemorrhage and severe cirrhosis of the liver.
4. Jim Morrison — 27 Years, 207 Days
Known as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation, Jim Morrion was the lead singer of The Doors from 1965-1971. His deep understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Rimbaud was apparent in many of his songs, as his charisma and personality propelled The Doors to become one of the greatest rock bands in history. While he enjoyed the fame, Morrison also became heavily dependent upon alcohol and he died in Paris in 1971. Morrison was ranked 47th on the Rolling Stones Greatest 100 Singers of All Time list, symbolizing the rebellion and counterculture of the Vietnam era. His cause of death has been disputed throughout the years, mainly because no autopsy was ever done. Whether it was because of a heroin or alcohol overdose, Morrison’s death has made a lasting impression on rock and roll history.
3. Janis Joplin — 27 Years, 258 Days
If there were ever somebody who embodied being true to yourself, it would have been Janis Joplin. With her initial fame stemming from the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, she had a very successful career as a solo artist and dabbled with other bands on a regular basis. Joplin’s impact on rock can be traced to her assertive and upfront persona, as her electric personality was one of the most influential of the psychedelic rock era. Joplin died on October 4, 1970 due to an apparent heroin overdose. In typical Joplin fashion, her will set aside $2,500 to be used on a wake party to celebrate her life.
2. Brian Jones — 27 Years, 125 Days
As the original leader of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones single-handedly changed the sound of the band and the path of rock and roll with his guitar and harmonica. While many know the Rolling Stones to consist of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Jones was actually the one who did all the footwork for the band when it first started out. Unfortunately, Jagger and Richards’ relationship, as well as musical abilities overshadowed the work that Jones had done and he became a side note. Jones was asked in June 1969 to leave the band for good after his role diminished and he became somewhat of a burden to the group. Jones drowned in his swimming pool less than a month later.
1. Jimi Hendrix — 27 Years, 295 Days
No matter where you live or how old you are, chances are you have heard of the late Jimi Hendrix before. As a singer, songwriter, and musician, he was one of the most influential electric guitarists in history. Despite his professional career only spanning four years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame described him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” Similar to Jim Morrison of The Doors, Hendrix symbolized the counterculture movement of America in the 1970s. Hendrix was the highest paid performer in the world during his career and headlined Woodstock in 1969. On September 18, 1970, Hendrix was pronounced dead as a result of an accidental barbiturate-related asphyxia.