Dead musician ''27 club'' a myth, study finds

1:06 PM, Dec 22, 2011   |    comments
Singer Amy Winehouse
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(CBS) When Amy Winehouse died in July at age 27, many people immediately made a connection to other famous musicians who died at that age. But a new study suggests the so-called "27 club" - consisting of deceased rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain - may be nothing more than a myth.

There are several theories for why famous stars died at age 27, according to the study's authors. One possible explanation is that many musicians got famous in their early 20s, so the rock 'n' roll drinking and drugging lifestyle might peak around the perilous age.

Another theory is that these 27 club members are so revered, that musicians may consciously or subconsciously increase their risky behaviors or even commit suicide at that age.

To find out for sure whether the 27 club was just an unlucky coincidence, Australian researchers looked at 1,046 British musicians - solo artists or band members - who had a number one album between 1956 and 2007. Over that time period, 71 of the musicians died. Using a mathematical analysis, the researchers identified three deaths at age 27 among 522 musicians "at risk" to die at that age.

A closer look confirmed that there was no peak in death at age 27, leading the authors to conclude the club was just a myth.

"The 27 club is unlikely to be a real phenomenon," the authors wrote in the study, published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal. "The study indicates that the 27 club has been created by a combination of chance and cherry picking."

The researchers did find a small "blip" in the death risk at age 27, but found similar blips at age 25 and 32.

"One of the other peaks we noticed was a 32 club, I mean that's Karen Carpenter, Keith Moon and John Bonham, from Led Zeppelin, all died at that age," study author Adrian Barnett, a statistician at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, told Australia's ABC News. "You could start a new club if you want, if you can trawl through the death data and find these unusual blips. They will be out there."

Being a famous musician might be a risky endeavor, the study found. Famous musicians in their 20s or 30s were up to three times more likely to die early than the general U.K. population.

The researchers note that their study has limitations. After all, 27 club luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison were not included in the study because they never had No. 1 singles in the U.K. But the researchers warn that their results should not be taken lightly.

They wrote, "This finding should be of international concern, as musicians contribute greatly to populations' quality of life, so there is immense value in keeping them alive (and working) as long as possible."

Ryan Jaslow, CBS NEWS

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