The myth of the 27 Club

27 club, hourglass in pebbles

Selena Gomez, Cardi B, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas and dozens others have at least one thing in common: they were born in 1992. This means that they are at or nearing the age of 27. While this may not seem like as great a milestone as 21 or even 40, to a celebrity, 27 holds a bit of mystery and perhaps fear. After all, no one wants to be part of the infamous 27 Club, whose membership is comprised of celebrities who died at that young and vibrant age.

The members of the club

Many lists of 27 Club members begin with blues guitarist Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 after drinking whiskey laced with poison. However, it is possible the club had members long before that. Arguably the most famous members of the 27 Club are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. These and several others all died at 27 between 1969 and 1970.

It was only after 27-year-old grunge musician Kurt Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994 that journalists began noticing a trend. They named the trend “the 27 Club,” and took every opportunity to point out the eerie coincidences. In 2011, Amy Winehouse was the latest to win the title “Gone Too Soon.” In 2016, actor Anton Yelchin died in a freak accident. Last year, twenty-seven-year-old Korean superstar Jonghyun died by his own hand.

But wait a minute

By all accounts, you may agree that the coincidences are kind of creepy. However, a closer look may cast doubt on the legend of the 27 Club. Statistics show that of the 11,054 musicians whose ages could be verified at the time of death, 144 died at age 27. That’s about 1.3%. However, 153 musicians, that’s 1.4%, died at age 28. A whopping 239, or 2.2%, died at the unromantic age of 56. And this magic number extends beyond rock stars. Look at some of the famous people who died at age 56.

Abraham Lincoln

Beethoven

Dante

St. Monica

John Hancock

Betty Grable

Warren Zevon

Steve Jobs

I realize this is a mishmash of names, but I have special reason for showing interest in the 56 Club since I am fast approaching that age myself. As such, I understand less and less the logic behind a 27 Club. “Gone Too Soon” could easily be the motto for a 56-year-old who happens to die. Certainly, we can imagine any of those listed above to have accomplished much more if they had lived beyond age 56.

Nevertheless, it is sad to see young and talented people of any age die suddenly, especially in those cases when their own vices and demons contribute to their demise. For the sake of the promising young people named at the beginning of this column, let’s hope the number 27 has nothing to do with it.

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