There’s a certain class of celebrity with a wild reputation for living fast and dying young. As a rock and roll poet once put it, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. There’s nothing sadder or more tragic than unbridled potential being cut off at its youth, and when that happens on a national scale, the world grieves together. And yet for some reason, popular culture is still famous for its exclusive and macabre 27 Club. Few of the entrants to the 27 Club did so by choice, although a couple did, and others knew they were going to. Members of the 27 Club became worldwide celebrities while still practically children, some as child stars, others as teenage rock idols, and the rest in their early 20’s. They all had something else in common, too—they passed away at the young age of 27, significantly less than halfway into the normal human’s lifespan.
The 27 Club is the most exclusive club that no one wants to belong to, but that doesn’t mean people haven’t romanticized it. Songs have been written about youthful immortality through tragic death, art work has presented the members as angels and saints, and more than anything else, the lifestyle that heavily contributed or even outright caused the majority of these deaths is still regarded as acceptable if not expected behavior of young celebrities. Despite the promise of becoming a part of rock and roll and pop culture mythology that often follows, we still think this is the most tragic club in Hollywood. Most members are rock stars, but as the time goes on, more and more wings continue being added as celebrities of all kinds pass on at an early age. Keep reading to find out who joined in our list of 15 celebrities who left this world in the Forever 27 club.
15. Jim Morrison – Overdose
Jim Morrison was the rock and roll poet who sang and wrote the lyrics for The Doors. The Doors has a reputation as one of the tightest and most talented bands in rock history, but it was Morrison’s lyrics, charisma, and magnetic stage presence that separated them from merely a great band to veritable legends. Productive for his short time on Earth, Morrison released six studio albums and one live album with The Doors from 1967 to 1971. Their self-titled debut reached number 2 on the Billboard 200 and was called one of the best debuts of all time by almost every critic around, and the success kept rising.
While the band got more and more successful, Morrison’s alcoholism and drug abuse likewise spiraled further and further out of control. It started out as the typical rock star excess, and would involve him calling himself The Lizard King and generally acting careless with public property, but soon he started gaining weight and getting in trouble with the law. After releasing L.A. Woman, Morrison moved to Paris with his girlfriend. Three months after moving, she found him dead in their bathtub. No official autopsy was confirmed, but given his history of drug use and reports from his girlfriend, a heroin overdose was all but certainly the cause.
14. Janis Joplin – Overdose
Janis Joplin was one of the first women to truly become a Rock God. She started her career in Big Brother and The Holding Company, scratchily and powerfully singing jazz standards and turning them into rock anthems on a level no one had imagined possible. Big Brother weren’t that popular during the release of their first album, but with Janis at the helm and hits like “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime,” their second album Cheap Thrills became a massive hit and reached number one on the Billboard 200. She became an even bigger star the next year when she left Big Brother and formed The Kozmic Blues Band, but she was already developing an extreme heroin habit that only got worse as she grew more famous.
Although Joplin’s records were hits, her live performances were starting to get heavily affected by her drug addiction and alcoholism, with what could have been a career defining appearance at Woodstock being marred by hours of heroin abuse earlier in the day. She still managed to hold herself together album long enough to attempt one final album, but she died of a heroin overdose in the middle of the recording. Her band members would go on to piece together Pearl, and it would end up being accepted as one of her greatest releases.
13. Jimi Hendrix – Asphyxiated
Like so many names on this list, Jimi Hendrix is synonymous with rock and roll. The leader of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, legions of fans still consider him the greatest guitarist ever to live. His band released only three official albums, each one more critically acclaimed than the last, followed by one equally masterful live album with a Band of Gypsys before he took a concoction of barbiturates and alcohol, passed out, and choked to death on his own vomit. Hendrix had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse his whole life, and as his status as an iconic rock and roll superstar was constantly fueling the fire.
Although Hendrix only released four albums in his lifetime, his guitar tone defined a generation, and he’s still possibly the youth of the world’s main influence in their decision to pick up a guitar. Dozens of compilation and live albums followed, only expanding his legend as people learned more about what he was doing during his short life. Rolling Stone named Hendrix the number one guitarist of all time in 2011, and millions of websites and rock fans roared in agreement. Hendrix may have died young, but he left everyone with an unforgettable experience.
12. Anton Yelchin – Car Accident
Anton Yelchin immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union when he was a young boy to escape the Communist oppression of Jewish people. His parents were world-class figure skaters who qualified for the Olympics, but that same oppressive regime prevented them from participating in the games. Yelchin and his family were granted refugee status by the United States when he was only six months old, and they moved to Los Angeles, where Yelchin decided to become an actor from a very young age. He appeared in independent films when he was only 9 years old, and was a series regular on the short-lived Huff by the time he was a teenager.
Yelchin’s star exploded into a galaxy far, far away in 2009 when he portrayed Pavel Chekov in Star Trek. Yelchin reprised the role for Star Trek: Into the Darkness and later this year will posthumously appear as the character for a third time in Star Trek Beyond. Outside of the Trek series, Yelchin was also known for starring roles in Alpha Dog and Charlie Bartlett. In June of 2016, Yelchin was found outside of his apartment building as the victim of a so-called “freak accident” that caused him to get crushed between his car and a fence.
11. Mia Zapata – Murdered
Mia Zapata was a minor star with a big personality, and one of the saddest and most terrifying stories on this list, and those cases could somehow be related. Zapata was the singer of the early 90’s Seattle punk band The Gits. The Gits were locally popular thanks to a strong guitar tone and Zapata’s powerful voice and lyrics, and that local success could have been on the verge of becoming something much bigger after they released their first album, Frenching The Bully. After receiving uniformly good reviews, the band returned to the studio to record their follow up, eventually titled Enter: The Conquering Chicken.
One of the songs on The Gits second album is called “Sign of the Crab,” and in the song Zapata sings about a mysterious attacker brutally murdering her and never getting caught. Before the album could even be released, that’s almost exactly what happened one evening as she walked home from a bar in Seattle and a mysterious man raped and beat her to death. Benefits and tribute concerts were held in her honor, and the members of her band diligently hired private investigators and prodded police to look further into the incident. The case was featured on virtually every true crime story on television, but remained unsolved for over a decade. Finally, in 2004, Jesus Mezquia was convicted on DNA evidence and is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence.
10. D. Boon – Car Accident
Boon might be one of the smaller names on this list, but he was also the first rock star to loudly boast “our band could be your life,” and enough fans took that to heart that his loss could easily be called the most wasted potential on the list. D. Boon was the singer and one of the guitarists for the legendary 80’s punk band Minutemen. Boon formed Minutemen in 1980 with Mike Watt and George Hurley, and over the next five years they would release four albums and several EP’s that defined a generation. Minutemen started as a hardcore punk band, playing loud and choppy songs fueled by fast guitars, but it was when they branched out and started experimenting with the pop format they excelled into indie rock legends.
Double Nickels On The Dime was released in 1984, and though not a mainstream smash, it remains one of the defining albums of indie rock. The album is an 80-minute journey through rock, pop, alternative, metal, funk, country, jazz, and just about anything else you can imagine, with Boon’s guitar work and politically and emotionally charged lyrics leading the way. Blender, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone all eventually called it one of the best albums of all time, despite the fact it didn’t receive much press during its release. Minutemen released one more album, but Boon tragically died in a car accident the next year, and the band broke up immediately after.
9. Alan Wilson – Overdose
Alan Wilson was one of the founders and lead singers of the 60’s blues band Canned Heat. Wilson also played harmonica for the band, and regularly was considered one of the greatest rock and roll harmonica players in history. Wilson was himself a huge fan of the blues, studying legends like Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker, who he would end up recording his final album in collaboration with. In a coincidental note, like many blues legends, Wilson also had some serious vision problems, and was nicknamed “Blind Owl” as a result.
Despite his incredible talents as a musician and growing fame, Wilson was a socially awkward person who suffered depression the majority of his life. He attempted suicide a few months before his death by driving his car off a freeway, but somehow survived. As a result, some fans speculate his eventual death of a barbiturate overdose was a successful second attempt, but no official statement on that has ever been made. Whether intentional or not, the world lost one of its greatest bluesmen in the prime of his life, and his story proves not all rock stars get the same kind of love from their fans.
8. Lea De Mae – Brain Cancer
Lea De Mae has one of the most unique stories a former childhood athlete could possibly have. She trained to compete in the Olympics before becoming a sports model, and once she realized she had a flair for appearing in front of a camera wearing little clothing, it must have felt natural for her to transition her career towards starring in adult films. Dea Mae was born Andrea Absolonová in Czechoslovakia, where she dreamed of becoming an Olympic diver for her country’s team. Unfortunately, she injured herself in 1996, and didn’t quality in 2000, but her natural beauty and fame in her home country lead to a photographer asking her to pose nude. Da Mae found out she enjoyed the experience, and decided to join the adult film industry.
Da Mae appeared in over 80 adult films for a variety of studios, most regularly Private Studios in the United States. She was popular within her industry, earning nominations for a number of Adult Video News Awards in 2003. Her second career was cut short due to physical problems yet again when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in July of 2004. Proving they love each other in more ways than one, the adult film industry attempted to support her through a medical fund to help her with hospital costs, but she died of the disease a few months later.
7. Chris Bell – Car Accident
Chris Bell formed Big Star with Alex Chilton in the early 1970’s. Basing their partnership after John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the group released their first album #1 Record in 1972. The album is considered a landmark of power pop, and is such an iconic representation of the 70’s, it contains the original version of That 70’s Show’s theme song. Like many great bands with huge and egotistical personalities, the members of Big Star couldn’t get along, and Bell was possibly the most contentious member of the group. Despite rave reviews, Bell quit the group after the first album in retaliation to a fight with bassist Andy Hummel, and struggled with depression, drug, and alcohol problems for the rest of his life.
Bell continued writing and recording songs by himself after leaving the band despite his depression, but success was still far out of his grasp. He became deeply immersed in Christianity and released a single called “I Am The Cosmos” in 1978, and was working on a full-length album throughout that year. One evening after a late December rehearsal, Bell lost control of his sports car while driving and crashed into a telephone pole, which fell on him and instantly killed him. Over a decade later, his one single and various other records were compiled into I Am The Cosmos, which was released to equally rave reviews as the one record released while he was alive.
6. Robert Johnson – Poisoned
Plenty of the names on this list are iconic and important to rock and roll history, but there’s a good chance that without Robert Johnson, there wouldn’t even be music as we know it. Johnson’s personal life is enough of a mystery that for decades people were reporting the obviously fake story that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his guitar process simply because there was nothing else about him that they could print. Aside, of course, from the fact he wrote the songs that defined the method of guitar instrumental used by virtually every mainstream musician to follow him.
Johnson lived and recorded his songs in the 1930’s, so the recording quality wasn’t always the highest, but the songwriting and more importantly the guitar work was easily decades ahead of his time. Johnson would inspire later legends like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall, to name only a very brief sampling of his followers. His compiled works were released in two volumes as The King of the Delta Blues, and both albums made Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. His death was as mysterious as his life, originally being contributed to syphilis, but now widely believed to be the result of strychnine poisoning by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson flirted with.
5. Amy Winehouse – Alcohol Poisoning
Amy Winehouse was a British pop singer who became an international superstar by blending her deep voice with jazz, R&B, and soul into a danceable mesh that was extremely popular in her short lifetime. Her debut album, Frank, received solid reviews and was a moderate hit in England, but it was her second album Back to Black that made her a huge hit worldwide. Many people are inspired to live harder than their bodies can handle due to the rock and roll lifestyle, but Winehouse had the additional pressure that the song to skyrocket her into fame was a defiant statement that she would never go to rehab, no, no, no.
Winehouse’s hit song “Rehab” was about the true story of her management team suggesting she might have a drinking problem and her steadfastly denying them. The song won a Grammy for Record and Song of the Year, and Winehouse herself won the award for Best New Artist. Her success and fame were at an all-time high, but instead of capitalizing, Winehouse only fell further and further into the alcoholism that made her famous. She still performed concerts, but fans were claiming she looked drunk and was forgetting the lyrics to her songs. Still defiantly avoiding rehab, and reportedly seeing the end was near, Winehouse ultimately succumbed to alcohol poisoning in 2011.
4. Jean-Michel Basquiat – Overdose
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a graffiti artist in Lower Manhattan who rapidly turned into one of the most vital and intelligent voices the art community at large had seen in decades. Basquiat’s street art first made him a hit in the punk rock scene, which he himself was also a part of as a member of a band called Gray. Gray performed shows at legendary clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, eventually leading Basquiat to a meeting with Andy Warhol, with whom he formed a close friendship that would last until Warhol’s death.
Basquiat’s entire life was troubled, as although he was an artistic genius who could speak several languages, he found himself bored by traditional school and dropped out in tenth grade, causing his father to kick him out of the house as a result. His friends in the punk rock world and Warhol in particular would eventually help him become a famous and successful artist, arguably even the greatest of his generation. Unfortunately, he was also heavily addicted to heroin, and when his good friend Warhol died in 1987, his habit became worse than ever. Basquiat fell victim to his addiction in August of the next year.
3. Kurt Cobain – Suicide
Kurt Cobain was the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of Nirvana. Nirvana were one of the bands that changed music history, and Cobain was most responsible for the songs and style that would make them worldwide superstars. Nirvana’s first album Bleach was a mild success for Sub Pop Records, but it was their next album that absolutely changed the world. With “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the lead single, Nevermind became the first alternative rock album to top the Billboard 200, and made the significant move of knocking Michael Jackson from the top spot when it did so. In Utero followed two years later and was equally successful, but that very success could have been what destroyed Cobain on a personal level.
While some rock stars spiral out of control with drug abuse and alcoholism, Cobain had a trouble accepting fame in the first place. He turned to those drugs as a result, particularly developing a very serious addiction to heroin near the end of his life. Cobain attempted suicide more than once, and the final attempt came in April of 1994, when he succeeded by shooting himself with a shotgun. Nirvana’s legacy has only grown since Cobain’s death, and you would be hard pressed to find a list of the greatest albums of all time that didn’t put Nevermind near the top.
2. Jonathan Brandis – Suicide
While the primary factor behind the majority of the deaths on this list could be argued as fame itself, Jonathan Brandis has almost the exact opposite story. Brandis was a child star of the most literal variety, first coming to the national stage while under 10 years old, appearing in guest roles on well known TV shows like Full House and L.A. Law. He starred as the young Bill in the ABC version of Stephen King’s It before transitioning to films with Ladybugs and Sidekicks. The film roles would raise his stock enough to earn him a significantly larger TV role, co-starring as Lucas Wolenczak on seaQuest DSV.
seaQuest lasted three seasons, after which Brandis’s career took an immediate and harsh nosedive. He still received minor roles in films, but his profile was already dropping back beneath what it was when he was even a child star. Brandis grew increasingly depressed and developed a severe alcohol habit as a result, which only got worse each time he faced a new career setback. In 2002, Brandis believed an appearance in Hart’s War could revive his career, but he was entirely deleted from the final cut. He hanged himself in his apartment the next year, and though no suicide note was found, many assume his failed career was the major contributing factor to his depression.
1. Brian Jones – Drowned Mysteriously
The Rolling Stones are one of the most famous bands in musical history, but the original leader and founding member was the one person who didn’t live to see them become that. Brian Jones formed the group by placing an ad in Jazz News looking for members to start an R&B band with, and two of the people to respond were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although their songwriter duo would eventually eclipse Jones both in general fame and power within the band, it was the collaborative efforts of all three, along with drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, which caused them to enter pop culture as explosively as they did.
As The Rolling Stones grew in fame and popularity, Jagger and Richards kept gaining more control, and Jones kept losing it thanks to his serious drug abuse. Jones had never been as close with his band mates as the rest of them had, either, and these issues all combined and lead to him being kicked out of his own band after the release of Let It Bleed in 1969. Less than one month after the band announced he was out, Jones was found unresponsive in his swimming pool. His girlfriend attempted to revive him when she found him, but was ultimately unsuccessful and he died later that night. Dozens of murder theories have persisted, but the far more likely story is that he was high on a variety of drugs and drowned.
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