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Live Fast, Die Young

The Significance of the 27 Club

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Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Jim Morrison all have one very cryptic thing in common: they all passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Their deaths, among other celebrity deaths at 27, led to the theory of the 27 Club. A large portion of these deaths were caused by drug overdoses and suicide. Many successful musicians and celebrities have died at the early age of 27 under strangely coincidental circumstances, spawning many theories that correlate their deaths with the self-destructive celebrity lifestyle and satanic influences.

The 27 Club was first noted by Rolling Stone magazine in July 1971 after the death of the Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison. The magazine noted that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin all died at 27 in drug-related incidents. It also pointed out Brian Jones’ mysterious death at 27 after being kicked out of the Rolling Stones. All four of these stars died at the same age between the years 1969-1971. More than 50 musicians are members of the club. Author Howard Sounes has written two successful books about the 27 Club. He has compiled a list called “The Big Six,” consisting of the six major members of the 27 Club: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones (Lopez). The common thread through Sounes’ “Big Six” is childhood issues and addiction.

Kurt Cobain is a very notable member of the 27 Club and the “Big Six.” He was the lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana. Like many other “Big Six” 27 Club members, he had a rough childhood and used music as an escape. Cobain became the voice of misunderstood kids in the 90's. He struggled throughout his life with deep psychological issues along with addiction. He ultimately committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27 (“Kurt Cobain”). Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, was approached by a reporter who told her about his death and she simply said, “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club, and I told him not to...” (Sounes). That quote from his mother launched the 27 Club into the media’s spotlight and sparked fascination among fans.

The most recent addition to the “Big Six” is Amy Winehouse. Winehouse was a singer who struggled with alcoholism and mental issues. Additionally, she struggled with substance abuse; however, she quit and leaned heavily on alcohol. Her whole life was a cry for help, but she was very stubborn. She also had issues in her childhood after her father left her mother for a younger woman in 1992. Her struggle with alcohol ultimately took her life in 2011 when she was 27 years old.

Jim Morrison is a member of Sounes’ “Big Six” and a troubled, but praised musician. He was born into a strict family who he ended up severing ties with. He later told his publicist his family was dead. As the fame of his band, the Doors, increased, he found himself leaning more on his alcoholism and drug addiction. He cancelled his tour after many crazed incidents on stage and moved to Paris with his girlfriend to escape the spotlight. Morrison ended up overdosing on heroin. After his overdose, his girlfriend put him in the bathtub to recover where he ended up drowning.

Jimi Hendrix is also a member of the “Big Six” in the 27 Club. He was born into a poor family. His parents divorced when he was only nine, and he ended up living unhappily with his father. As his fame grew, he felt he had to be “stoned” in order to perform. He grew weary of constant touring and his last shows were booed. After mixing up to nine sleeping pills and drinking wine one night, he choked on his own vomit in his sleep and died.

Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones is also a member of the “Big Six.” He was raised in a conservative middle-class home. By the time he was 19, he fathered three illegitimate children from different women. This caused his parents to kick him out. His band was very successful; however, due to his drug addiction, his bandmates kicked him out in 1969. After drinking and doing immense amounts of mixed drugs, he drowned at his English home.

Janis Joplin, a well-known solo artist, is the final “Big Six” member who came from a stable middle-class home. She was bullied throughout her childhood due to her appearance. In college, she experimented with drugs, ultimately becoming addicted. Joplin overdosed six times in 1969 alone. She sobered up for a couple of months, but unfortunately, her life was cut short when she started using drugs again; unfortunately, she died alone of an overdose in 1970.

There are many theories surrounding the 27 Club. Robert Johnson, an aspiring musician in the 1930's, apparently used the devil as a way to improve his skills. Johnson recorded chilling music about the devil and general despair. He recorded less than 50 songs; interestingly enough, some of them were covered by the Rolling Stones, the band that 27 Club member, Brian Jones, belonged to. According to folklore, the devil decided that 27 would be a good age to collect Johnson’s soul in exchange for his talent and fame.

The satanic theory may be far-fetched, but a more logical explanation to the coincidental deaths may be outside influences. Many deaths within the 27 Club indicate foul play being involved. For instance, of the 50 or so members, at least seven of them died in a car accident; moreover, while this fact alone is not concerning as car crashes are a common cause of death, there are some odd similarities in the cases. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 32,719 fatal car accidents in the United States in 2013. Single car crashes were 75 percent more likely than a multiple car crashes. If the odds are that much higher, you may think that within those in the club killed in car accidents, the majority would have been involved in a single car accident. However, all of the members, but one, who died in a car accident were involved in a multiple car crash. Oddly enough, out of all of those, the people they collided with were never located, and foul play was suspected in each. The only one who passed in a single car accident was Dennes Dale Boon, a member of the rock band Minutemen. Witnesses stated that they saw a white sedan run him off the road and into a pole, but the suspect was never found.

Drugs have been the main downfall of the 27 Club, claiming at least a quarter of its members. The harsh celebrity lifestyle of living fast and dying young often tends to burn young celebrities out before they live life thoroughly. Often times, celebrities are faced with mental demons and self-medicate using dangerous drugs and alcohol. In many of these cases, the medical examiner assumed the cause of death based off of surrounding circumstances and personal history. All of the members of the “Big Six” had been doing drugs since they were teens. They all had hard childhoods and showed symptoms of personality disorders at a young age.

According to author Howard Sounes, “They all had a death wish. Jones suffered from bipolar disorder, as did Joplin. Both Morrison and Cobain were obsessed with suicide, and Winehouse was into self-harming.” Sounes did not find it odd, statistically, to find celebrities dying in their 20's; however, he did find a spike in deaths at 27 and 50. Sounes refused to read too much into the statistics due to the self-destructive tendencies of 27 Club members. Most of the celebrities, especially the ones in the Big Six, seemed to have grown tired of fame and became increasingly reckless. They all essentially took their own life, but Kurt Cobain was the only one to pull the trigger. The 27 Club is likely an unfortunate coincidence related to the harsh celebrity lifestyle; nevertheless, the odd circumstances of the cases led to a media uproar, causing the deaths to be immortalized.

The theory behind the 27 Club consists of many unfortunate celebrity deaths and terrifying coincidences. Author Howard Sounes has looked thoroughly into the theories. However, due to the self-destructive tendencies of the club’s members, he found it hard to draw any conclusions. Sounes’ “Big Six” members had oddly similar lives and childhood issues. Statistics and circumstances in these deaths are consistently unclear. Causes of death are often assumed (Harbina). While we may never know the truth behind the magic number 27, the theories behind it have been the cause of media speculation for decades. 

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