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»Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club,« was Wendy O’Connor’s statement when she heard her son, Nirvana founder Kurt Cobain, had died. A quarter century after it’s first member was inaugurated into Club 27, the club had a name and a legend was born.
»Jones was perhaps more a Rolling Stone than any of the others,« wrote Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone magazine. Sex (with ensuing paternity suits), drugs and rock’n’roll all marked the Rolling Stones founding guitarist. Today he has another distinction: As the pioneering member of the 27 Club. Jones was found dead in his swimming pool in Hartfield, Sussex, on July 3, 1969, a the age of 27. A month earlier, the band asked him to leave, saying his drug and alcohol use was becoming a problem.
»In rock guitar, there are but two eras – before Hendrix and after Hendrix,« wrote Andy Aledort in his book about the rock legend. The limits of his talent were never known. He died on September 18, 1970 after asphyxiating on his own vomit after mixing sleeping pills and red wine.
»Maybe I won’t last as long as other singers …« said the singer herself. On October 4, 1970, singer Janis Joplin joined the 27 Club, just weeks after Hendrix. She was found with a broken nose and holding $4.50 in her hand. But despite the rumors her condition inspired, the coroner said she died of a heroin overdose.
»He’d have no regard for his physical body. He just abused it,« said a former secretary for the Doors. Yet lead singer Morrison’s death certificate cites »natural causes« on July 3, 1971. The self-titled Lizard King was in Paris when he died, recovering from an excessive life in Los Angeles. His death was rumored for days before it became official, with his manager saying Morrison’s loved ones wanted to avoid the circus that Joplin and Hendrix’s death caused.
»Hey, man, that really scared everybody. And I don’t want you to die,« Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl told Kurt Cobain. The lead singer and godfather of grunge had just overdosed in Italy, but survived. Later his widow Courtney Love would say it was his first suicide attempt. A month later, on April 5, 1994, while high on drugs, he shot himself.
»Sadly, she was all too aware of the 27 Club and was never scared to join it,« a friend of Winehouse told the Daily Mirror. The crooner did just that on July 27, 2011, making the 27 Club relevant for a new generation. She was just as famous for her voice as her party girl reputation. When she died, she had a blood alcohol level of .416, which is enough to repress her breathing.
Of all the aspects of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, drugs are the deadliest. Most members of the 27 Club died by overdosing on heroin, sleeping pills, alcohol or by combining their poisons. Some members joined by accident, one was murdered and others died by their own hands. At the age of 27, a natural death or illness is unlikely. And one – Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards – was declared dead in absentia after he disappeared without a trace.
Compared to the population at large, rockstars are three more times as likely to die before their 40th birthday. But the 27 Club isn’t even the one celebrities should worry about. A study by the Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that 32 is a much deadlier age for celebrities.
Ranker • Musik World • Drew Grant (26.07.2011): The "27 Club" – curse or myth?, Salon • Greil Marcus (09.08.1969): Obituary: Brian Jones, Rolling Stone • Jimi Hendrix, Wikipedia • Reuters (05.10.1970), Janis Joplin Dies; Rock Star Was 27, The New York Times • Bernard Wolfe (09.06.1972): The Real-Life Death of Jim Morrison, The Doors
Design & Illustration: Gorm Labenz Research: Juliane Grebin Text: Sabine Devins