The 27 Club could be one of many things: a statistical anomaly; a rare coincidence; a ‘pop culture phenomenon’ or even one of the strangest curses to plague modern music. No matter what you believe the evidence is hard to ignore, because the simple fact is that more famous musicians have died at the age of 27 than any other age.
Thanks to internet propagation, the 27 Club is now fast gaining infamy, but it was not until Kurt Cobain’s admission into the club in 1994 that rumours began to develop. Cobain’s sister claimed, in the book Heavier than Heaven, that as a child the grunge musician had often talked about how he wanted to join the 27 Club while Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, inadvertently helped to spread knowledge of the dubious association after her son’s untimely death, saying to the press “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club”.
At that time, Cobain was the latest in an already substantial list of influential rock and blues musicians who had all expired at the age of 27, some of them under mysterious circumstances. Although not the club’s ‘founding members’, it was the deaths of four influential and prominent musicians that sparked thoughts of a curse. Over a mere two-year period, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all shuffled off their mortal coils.
Cobain and Hendrix’s biographer Charles Cross writes: “The number of musicians who died at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. Although humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for musicians who die at 27”.
Some members of the macabre club include (in no particular order): Janis Joplin (drug overdose), Brian Jones (drowned), Kurt Cobain (suicide), Jim Morrison (heart failure), Jean-Michel Basquiat (overdose), Richey James Edwards, of the Manic Street Preachers (formerly a missing person, presumed dead in 2008), Dave Alexander of The Stooges (pulmonary oedema), Rudy Lewis of The Drifters (overdose), Jimi Hendrix (asphyxiation caused by sleeping tablet overdose), Alan Wilson of Canned Heat (overdose), Ron McKernan, bassist with the Grateful Dead (gastrointestinal haemorrhage) and most recently Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning on the 23rd of July, 2011.
Widely recognised as the first famous musician to die at 27 was Robert Johnson. Johnson was not only an accomplished and massively influential blues singer and guitarist but he also possesses a myth of his own. He learned to play the guitar so quickly and skillfully that many believe he had made a Faustian pact with Satan, exchanging his soul for the amazing musical talents that he demonstrated. Indeed, his death is shrouded in as much mystery as his considerable skills were, but that is another story.