21st December 2011

Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians?

The list of well known musicians who have died at age 27 may look like more than a coincidence - Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Brian Jones to name a few - but their age is unlikely to have been the cause of their demise, according to research in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal today.

Lead researcher on the project, Associate Professor Adrian Barnett from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) said while fame may increase the risk of death for musicians, probably due to their rock and roll lifestyle, this risk was not limited to age 27.

"In order to test the "27 club" hypothesis, we compared the deaths of famous musicians to the general UK population," he said.

"We included 1,046 musicians (solo artists and band members) who had a number one album in the UK charts between 1956 and 2007.

"During this period 71 (7%) of the musicians died.

"Our sample included crooners, death metal stars, rock 'n' rollers and even Muppets (the actors, not the puppets) and this all added up to 21,750 musician years."

Professor Barnett said the research team used mathematical analysis to determine the significance of age 27.

"We found no peak in the risk of death at this age, however, musicians in their 20s and 30s were two to three times more likely to die prematurely than the general UK population," he said.

"Our research also found some evidence of a cluster of deaths in those aged 20 to 40 in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"Interestingly, there were no deaths in this age group in the late 1980s and we speculate that this could be due to better treatments for heroin overdose, or the change in the music scene from the hard rock 1970s to the pop dominated 1980s.

"We conclude that the "27 club" is based on myth, but warn that musicians have a generally increased risk of dying throughout their 20s and 30s.

"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."

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media officer, 07 3138 2999 or rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au

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