All of These Legendary Artists Are Part of the Tragic ’27 Club’
Much mystery surrounds the tragic “27 Club,” a nickname for the group of some of the most revolutionary and talented musicians of all time who all share one thing in common: they all died at the age of 27. Each had a promising future as a star, having critics and fans alike rooting for them to play long into old age. Some say the “club” exists due to the inevitable fragility of fame. In any case, when these stars passed, the world mourned the loss of these generation-defining icons. Read on to learn more about them.
1. Jimi Hendrix
Not only was Jimi Hendrix an exceptional musician, he was also a tremendous performer, exuding an energy that the audience could feel almost tangibly. In person, he was sociable, brimming with friendliness. However, once he had a taste of alcohol, his personality would change drastically. A rash, sometimes violent demeanor would take the place of the infectiously jovial one.
As it stands, a lot of mystery surrounds Jimi Hendrix’s death. What is known, however, is that he had been accompanied by German figure skater Monika Dannemann and had been staying in a hotel in London. It was in that hotel room that Hendrix was found unconscious and highly intoxicated. He ultimately died on September 18, 1970. There was some evidence to suggest that he might have choked on his vomit, as evidenced from his intoxicated state and the myriad of drugs in his system. However, the coroner determined that not enough evidence was present to confidently make that claim. Later, Dannemann revealed that Hendrix had taken exactly nine Vesparax pills, well over what is considered a safe dose of the drug.
2. Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison will forever be remembered as the lead singer of successful ’60s rock band The Doors. The band was on top of the music world, which inevitably led to a slew of vices. In Morrisons’s case, it was alcohol. He was also known to be a controversial character who had trouble with the law.
However, the world was shocked in July 1971 when Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of the Paris apartment he was renting. While his body was never autopsied, it was determined that he died of heart failure. In any case, consequently, The Doors suffered more than weighty grief from this lost and disbanded shortly thereafter. What other legends were taken too soon?
3. Brian Jones
The graceless decline of Brian Jones’s career is something of a tragedy in and of itself. Although he was one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, Jones was quickly eclipsed by his fellow bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, leaving him on the brink of total obscurity. To make matters even worse, he turned to drugs so often that it affected his relationship with the other Stones. Ultimately, they had no choice but to kick him out of the band in 1969.
Nonetheless, he has been credited with establishing The Rolling Stones in the first place. He was also highly versatile, utilizing several different instruments during his stint with the band. For instance, you can hear his harmonica in such singles as “Dear Doctor” and “Come On.” He knew how to play everything from the saxophone to the oboe to drums. In 1969, he died from drowning, found lying at the bottom of his swimming pool. The incident was ruled an accident.
4. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain was not exactly one to get swept up in the glory that came with being widely adored. As frontman of the revolutionary grunge band Nirvana, all the extra attention made him considerably uncomfortable. He was especially wary of music critics who would attempt to dissect him and his work. Cobain was also an unrelenting risk taker, often engaging in heavy drug use with his wife Courtney Love. He fell victim to addiction fast.
He had suicidal tendencies and, even before his death, had some run-ins with police for behavior that could be considered highly dangerous to himself. At one point, police found him to be in possession of several guns and quickly whisked them away. Alas, Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. He left a suicide note citing his lack of enthusiasm for music, among other threads of despair that had become too overwhelming.
5. Kristen Pfaff
Kristen Pfaff rocked hard as bassist for the Los Angeles-based band Hole, in which singer Courtney Love was front and center. The band rose to prominence as one of the most successful and best-selling all-female musical acts of all time. Their lyrics dealt deftly with issues in feminism, which is fitting since Pfaff pursued a Women’s Studies degree in college.
She eventually relocated with Hole to Seattle and continued to grow artistically as the band’s bassist. She quickly became friends with icons such as Kurt Cobain, who was married to Courtney Love. Pfaff also sadly developed a heroin addiction as well and in the summer of 1994, Pfaff was discovered dead in her apartment. It did not take long to rule her death a heroin overdose. Eerily, Kurt Cobain’s death preceded Pfaff’s by just two months.
6. Janis Joplin
She was one of the biggest musicians of the ’60s and definitely a trailblazer for all women of Rock. She was destined to keep on trailblazing until it was all cut short too soon. On the day of her death, Joplin was supposed to attend a recording session at Sunset Sound. When she never showed, people got concerned and went to check on her. Sure enough, they found her brightly colored car sitting in the parking lot. They knew something was wrong.
This was confirmed when Sunset Sound Recorders manager John Cook entered Joplin’s home. There, he found her lying near her bed, lifeless. While it was easily determined that Joplin likely succumbed to a heroin overdose, some suspected that it was not the heroin alone that killed the singer. As it turned out, several others who had bought heroin from Joplin’s unnamed dealer had overdosed. Therefore, the batch was likely significantly more dangerous than usual. In any case, Joplin died just over two weeks after fellow legend Jimi Hendrix passed, leaving the world grieving and aching for a soulful song once more.
7. Chris Austin
In the ’80s, Chris Austin reigned as a top talent to watch as far as country music was concerned. He even managed to write a couple hits that ascended the charts. His best known and best-received song was entitled “Blues Stay Away from Me.”
Chris Austin showed signs of becoming an enduring name in country music, especially alongside stars like Reba McEntire and Ricky Skaggs, in whose band he mastered both the fiddle and the guitar. Sadly, in 1991, Austin died in a tragic plane crash that also killed his fellow bandmates.
It is sad when the world loses such a distinct talent right when she was hitting her stride. This was definitely the case when German singer Alexandra died in 1969. Her voice was one-of-a-kind and she could sing not only in her native language of German, but also in Russian, English, and Hebrew.
Sadly, on July 31, 1969, Alexandra was involved in a fatal car accident that cost not only her life, but also that of her mother. Many believe that her death was not an accident and that the car she had driven that day had been tampered with in some way, resulting in its brakes giving out.
9. Dave Alexander
Dave Alexander of rock band The Stooges always harbored some wild dreams. Not to mention, he always dared to do the unthinkable, never balking at the thrill of risk. Perhaps, then, it is only natural that he dropped out of high school during senior year on the first day of class, simply to prove a point. While in high school, he did gain something valuable: the friendship of two brothers, Scott and Ron Asheton. Like Alexander, they dreamed of making it big as musicians. Thus, as a trio, the group headed off to Britain, starry-eyed and longing to see rock ‘n’ roll legends like The Beatles and The Who.
In 1967, they formed their own band and named it The Stooges. It turned out that Alexander knew very little about making music; however, he quickly went from helpless beginner to captivating skilled musician, thanks to lots of practice. Some might have argued that he could have gone on to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest bassists in rock history. Despite all his effort, however, Alexander succumbed to the temptations of decadent alcohol consumption, which got in the way of his relationship with his band mates. Consequently, the Asheton brothers dismissed him from the band. Soon after, on February 10, 1975, he died due to his alcohol addiction, suffering a pulmonary edema.
10. Pete Ham
Pete Ham rose to fame as the frontman of the Welsh rock band Badfinger. Ham contributed much to the band, standing in as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. In fact, he penned some of the band’s best known songs, particularly “Baby Blue” and “No Matter What.” Additionally, he and bandmate Tom Evans composed the poignant ballad “Without You.” The song would go on to garner considerable critical acclaim.
But even after winning two Ivor Novello Awards, a prestigious British prize awarded to an exceptional songwriter, Ham felt lost. Despite the band’s success, Bandfinger was not taking off as quickly as he had hoped, mostly due to some subtle technicalities that ranged from record label drama to a scarcity of money and other resources. Fed up with it all, Ham killed himself in 1975. Still, Ham managed to leave behind a glittering legacy. To this day, he is considered a pioneer of power pop.
11. Amy Winehouse
Hailing from the United Kingdom, Amy Winehouse first stunned the world with her powerful voice in 2003 with the release of her first album, Frank. The album was virtually an instant hit, garnering Winehouse ample attention and establishing herself as an artist worth watching closely. In the coming years, she continued to thrive. Most notably, she scored a staggering five Grammys in 2006 for her album Back to Black. Before that, no other British artist had earned as many Grammys. She even earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for having more hits dominating the chart at once than any other female singer.
Sadly, tragedy struck on July 23, 2011 after ingesting lethal amounts of alcohol. Although Winehouse’s luminous career was short-lived, she has influenced several of today’s influential artists. For instance, Lady Gaga cited Winehouse as a driving force in her choice to embrace her eccentric stage persona and to pursue her musical career as the singer she longed to be. She was certainly not alone. Such musicians as Bruno Mars and Adele also credit Amy Winehouse for her inspiration.
12. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of The Grateful Dead was never one to participate in the gratuitous drug scene that has become so intertwined with the ’60s and ’70s musician’s lifestyle. He did, however, drink a great deal. After a decade with the Dead, McKernan had grown weak from alcoholism. However, his poor condition did not sneak up on him. Long before that, he had racked up a host of ailments brought on my heavy alcohol consumption. He also developed a condition unrelated to his alcoholism: a rare but serious form of cirrhosis.
On March 8, 1973, his landlady discovered his lifeless body. It was determined that he died from an intestinal hemorrhage. Stricken with grief, his band mates took McKernan’s death to mean the glorious end of The Grateful Dead as it once had been. The band continued to tour well into the ’90s, but it was of course much different in terms of style and energy without Pigpen around.
13. Randy Walker
Randy Walker, or Stretch as some called him, ventured into the world of rap when Tupac Shakur was still basking in the spotlight. In fact, he frequently stuck around Tupac and used his skills as a producer, as well as his unique style of rapping, to help Tupac rise to even greater heights.
And indeed, the two made a great pair. Sadly, this marvelous partnership would not last long. Although Stretch had a lot of adoring fans and plenty of close friends, he also had a couple enemies, some of whom he might have known nothing about. He died at the hands of one of these enemies on November 30, 1995, when he was fatally shot in Queens, New York.
14. Anton Yelchin
Anton Yelchin’s story will provide yet another break from the endless parade of legendary rockstars that grace this list. Fans of Star Trek likely know him well for his portrayal of character Pavel Chekov. He died on June 19, 2016 in a freak accident.
He had just pulled into his driveway and was exiting the vehicle when it slid and pinned him against a fence. He was of course only 27. Audiences still got to see him in the highly-anticipated Star Trek Beyond. Several other works featuring Yelchin were released posthumously, leaving some to wonder what great name Yelchin might have been.
15. Mia Zapata
Mia Zapata’s story began in 1984. A college student at the time, she founded punk band The Gits with some of her close friends. For a while, she just worked at a bar in a small Midwestern town before they packed up and chose to launch their careers anew in Seattle. The band released several albums and gradually grew in reputation. Before long, they had reached international acclaim. Tragically, this all faded away when Mia Zapata died in 1993.
On July 7th of that year, Zapata was enjoying a night out at Comet Tavern in Seattle. By the time she was ready to leave, early morning had already dawned. It was 2:00 AM. Zapata decided to visit a friend’s home and took off walking. This is when tragedy struck. The young woman was brutally beaten, raped, and strangled to death. Her body was in such poor condition that identifying her was nearly impossible. It just so happened that the medical examiner who received her body had been a long-time fan of Zapata’s band and, as a result, recognized her.
16. Alexander Bashlachev
Hailing from the Soviet Union, Alexander Bashlachev dabbled in just about everything artistic, from poetry to music. In fact, even today, some critics consider him to be one of the most important performers to emerge from the Russian rock scene.
Sadly, Bashlachev earned his place in the 27 Club on February 17, 1988. Prior to that, he had already shown alarming symptoms of depression and even struggled with alcoholism. One day, he fell several storeys to his death, and it is very likely that this was a suicide.
17. Richey Edwards
It was on February 1, 1995 that Richey Edwards, guitarist and lyricist for Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, disappeared without a trace. His car was discovered near Severn Bridge in New South Wales. Alas, Edwards was nowhere to be seen and no body was ever recovered. Many worried that he had jumped from the bridge to his death. After all, Edwards did express thoughts of suicide in the past. At one point, he was even hospitalized for this.
There was, however, one significant detail that might have revealed something about Edwards’s whereabouts. Just weeks before his disappearance, someone depleted his bank account little by little each day. To this day, Richey’s whearabouts are unknown. After years of searching, his family officially declared him dead in 2008.
18. Sean Patrick McCabe
Those who are familiar with Sean McCabe and his band Ink and Dagger are also probably well acquainted with the gimmicks and themes the band adopted. Hailing from Philadelphia, the band built their entire image around all things vampires.
Even so, Ink and Dagger largely remained a product of Philly’s underground music scene, which suited McCabe and crew just fine. From the time they formed in the mid-1990s, they managed to garner a devout fanbase. The band prospered until August 28, 2000 when McCabe had far too much to drink. He passed out and choked on his vomit, which ultimately led to his death.
19. Linda Jones
Linda Jones is one of those singers whose voice sometimes goes unheard as time passes by, which is a shame. She first embarked on her career as a singer in 1963, when she produced a single with the now defunct Cub Records. For several years, she bounced from label to label, still miring in the shadows of obscurity—that is, until she happened to catch the right attention at a club.
A songwriter named Jerry Harris believed that Linda Jones could be something great; therefore, he introduced her to a producer he knew well, George Kerr. This chance encounter served as a catalyst for Jones’s career. Before she knew it, she was finalizing a deal with Loma Records, which is no longer in existence but was once part of Warner Bros. Records. With Loma, she managed several hits, all of which ascended pretty high up the charts. Sadly, Jones’s burgeoning career was cut short when she died on March 14, 1972 from diabetes complications, a condition with which she had struggled for much of her life.
20. Alan Wilson
Alan Wilson knew how to play and sing the blues. In 1965, he established the Los Angeles-based blues band Canned Heat. Wilson was highly versatile, providing vocals when needed, strumming his guitar where required. He was also quite masterful with the harmonica. Wilson also had poor vision, suffering from shortsightedness, which earned him the nickname Blind Owl.
His stint with Canned Heat proved to be quite successful. Throughout the 1960s, he played at many notable venues, perhaps most impressive being at Woodstock in 1969. Wilson was close friends with guitarist John Fahey, the man who played a major role in helping Wilson launch his career. With Fahey’s encouragement and with his own grit and passion, Wilson seemed capable of anything. Sadly, that all ended in 1970 of barbiturate poisoning. Prior to that, he had expressed severe suicidal tendencies and was even hospitalized at one point.
21. Chris Bell
Though short it might have been, Chris Bell enjoyed a relatively fruitful career as a musician. He is perhaps best known as the frontman of the American power pop group Big Star, which received quite a bit of favorable attention upon the release of its album #1 Record. Despite its artistic merits, however, the album fared poorly commercially.
That did not stop Bell from continuing to pursue a music career. In fact, he did well as a solo artist, considered by many critics to be one of the most underrated acts to emerge from the American music scene at the time. But in 1978, just days after Christmas, Chris Bell was killed instantly in a car accident.
22. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat is the only visual artist to appear on this list. He made artwork out of a medium that some might be quick to dismiss as pedestrian or even artless: graffiti. He got his start as a graffiti artist as a member of the infamous but highly respected group SAMO. There, he graced Manhattan with his compellingly original style.
By 1980, Basquiat earned the opportunity to move beyond the streets and show off his work at esteemed art galleries and shows not just across the United States by internationally as well. Even today, some of his work has sold for as high as $110 million. Sadly, Basquiat fell victim to a devastating heroin addiction. He died as a result in 1988, leaving many to wonder what the accomplished young artist could have become.
23. Jeremy Ward
Like the vast majority of the stars listed here, Jeremy Michael Ward created music with a distinctive sound and style. It just differed from your average rock ballad or rap. Instead, Ward specialized as a sound technician and thus created many memorable soundscapes. He proved to be an asset to the Texas-based band The Mars Volta.
His work is perhaps showcased best the band’s very first album entitled “De-Loused in the Cometorium”. But he could do more than create some neat sounds. He also dabbled with the guitar and was quite the talented visual artist as well. Alas, Ward never got to reap the rewards of his talents. In 2003, a roommate found him dead due to heroin overdose. He died before The Mars Volta’s debut album was even released.
24. D. Boon
In 1980, D. Boon decided to form a band and invited his long-time friend Mike Watt aboard as the bassist. They called themselves The Minutemen. Soon, George Hurley of The Reactionaries was brought aboard as the drummer. The Minutemen have been credited with pioneering the sound that defines modern alternative rock. They released four studio albums, all of which fared well with critics and fans alike. With a string of successes, it was expected they’d keep going for years to come until the unthinkable happened.
In 1985, D. Boon died in a car crash. This tragic event inevitably shook the band’s foundation. They disbanded that same year. Although the band is no more, both George Hurley and Mitt Watt occasionally do solo gigs. Of course, most fans know that nothing will be able to replace the dynamic trio.
25. Rudy Lewis
Born in 1936, Rudy Lewis rose to prominence as a rhythm and blues singer for the soulful group the Drifters. While his voice is perhaps best on display in his work with the group, Lewis did put out solo work as well. He was inducted into the prestigious Rock n Roll Hall of Fame but of course, sadly, he was inducted posthumously.
The year was 1964, late May. Lewis’s stint with the Drifters was still going strong. In fact, he was set to record a single that had been specially tailored to his voice. When Lewis never showed up for the recording, people grew concerned. He was later found lifeless in his Harlem hotel room. The cause of death was determined to be a drug overdose.
26. Jonathan Brandis
Jonathan Brandis was a man who first experienced the spotlight at an impressively young age. At first, it was as a model, but he would soon go on to establish himself as a talented television actor. Brandis’s very first role was a small part on hit soap opera One Life to Live.
Then, when he was 14, he scored a major role in the 1990 miniseries It, based on Stephen King’s novel. Most regarded Brandis as a talent that would only continue to blossom, although it might not have seemed that way to Brandis, who went years without any major roles. Tragically, in 2003, he committed suicide.
27. Fat Pat
Fat Pat was a rapper who formed the group Screwed Up Click with his brother and a friend. The group released an album in 1998. However, Fat Pat eventually chose to pursue a career as a solo artist.
During his stint as a solo artist, Fat Pat proved to be very prolific with his work. He produced a total of six albums, but in 1998, the rapper was fatally shot in Houston, Texas. Most of his six albums were released to posthumously, all behind the name of Screwed Up Click’s label. His brother Big Hawk would die similarly several years later.
28. Alexandre Levy
This late-1800s composer is sometimes regarded as the very first member of the tragic 27 Club. Although it is unlikely such a concept existed during his time, Alexandre Levy shares many characteristics with the typical 27 Club member. He had a fulfilling career as a musician and many expected great things to come out of him.
So, who was Alexandre Levy? This composer has been hailed for helping provide the Brazilian collective with a musical voice. He likely would have contributed even more, had his life not been cut short. As it stands, nobody is certain how Levy died.
29. Leslie Harvey
Scottish guitarist Leslie Harvey was not known to stay in one place for too long. Over the course of his career, he played in various bands, all varying in popularity and influence. The Animals even reached out to him and asked him to join, but he declined. At the time, he was a happy member of his brother’s band, The Alex Harvey Soul Band. Indeed, many bands clamored to have Harvey aboard and viewed him as a sort of blues master.
His most successful stint was perhaps with the Scottish blues band Stone the Crows. It was with this band that Harvey met his fate. He was performing on a rainy evening, and the stage was thoroughly soaked. He happened to grab a microphone was that was not securely situated and was electrocuted as a result.
30. Pete de Freitas
Pete De Freitas saw much of the world in his short life. The drummer hails from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago but settled down with his family in Britain, where he received most of his education. Pete de Freitas drummed for the Liverpool-based band Echo & the Bunnymen. The band enjoyed consistent success and regularly topped the U.K. charts.
What is perhaps most fascinating is that De Freitas joined Echo & the Bunnymen not to replace a fellow drummer but instead a machine that had done the drumming work for a while. Sadly, he did not get to see the band rise to greater heights, as he died in 1989 in a motorcycle accident.
31. Jacob Miller
Jacob Miller was an iconic reggae musician who first emerged on the scene in 1968. Hailing from Jamaica, Miller managed to establish for himself a lucrative solo career, as well as a secure place in the reggae band Inner Circle. He also worked closely with THE reggae producer Coxsone Dodd.
It was the work he put out during solo career that helped him grab the attention of Inner Circle. The group was a vibrant, harmonious unity people who just really enjoyed creating music. Many critics envisioned Miller and Inner Circle going on to become big names in reggae. Sadly, he died in 1980 after getting into a serious car wreck.
Kami drummed for the Japanese band Malice Mizer for a decade, until his untimely death in 1999. The Japanese drummer, born Ukyō Kamimura, developed his interest and talent for the instrument while still in elementary school and had big dreams of becoming a professional musician.
Kami was ready to pursue his dreams more seriously after finishing high school. He ventured into the bustling city of Tokyo and eventually, formed Malice Mizer, which specialized in a genre called “visual kei” music. Sadly, he died in his sleep at the age of 27 in 1999 from a brain hemorrhage. It took several days for anyone to discover his body.
33. Valentín Elizalde
Valentin Elizalde was a well-respected Meican musician who devoted most of his music to fallen Mexican drug lords. In fact, he himself was so entangled in the gritty underbelly of drug trafficking that it is widely accepted that he was murdered by a rampaging gang.
Elizalde died in 2006 just moments after performing live. At the time, he was in a vehicle with his assistant and driver, both of whom were also killed in the attack. A year after his death, Elizalde was honored with a posthumous Grammy nomination.
His full name was Rodrigo Alejandro Bueno, but he usually went by Rodrigo or his nickname “El Potro,” or “The Colt.” He hailed from Argentina and has gone down in history as one of the greatest musicians in the Argentinian “cuarteto” genre.
Sadly, Rodrigo met his untimely end in the summer of 2000. Even up until his death, Rodrigo was a busy man, putting on one show after another. On the day of his death, Bueno might have had a bit much to drink before he got into his vehicle. While on the highway, a car cut him off and in a fit of rage, he chased the vehicle. Sadly, while trying to pass the car, he rammed into a barrier and his SUV tumbled. He was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown out of the car, along with another musician passenger. He died instantly.
35. James Laurence
James Laurence, producer and member of the California hip hop duo Friendzone, is perhaps the most recently inducted member of the 27 Club. The two were pioneers in the dreamy, lo-fi genry of Cloud Rap and first gained notoriety for producing music for hip hop group Main Attrakionz and later for ASAP Rocky.
Friendzone released one album of its own original, instrumental work. However, on January 30, 2017, Laurence tragically passed away, though it was never disclosed what he died from. The surviving member, Dylan Reznick, has since let the group dissolve, needless to say.
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