The Forever 27 Club | Articles | Features | Fortean Times UK
The Forever 27 Club
Amy Winehouse was the latest star to join the so-called '27 club'. Christian Saunders ponders the pop-cultural curse that makes 27 a particularly dangerous age for musicians
On the afternoon of Saturday 23 July 2011, five-time Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home at the age of 27. At the time of writing, the circumstances surrounding her death are still under investigation. But Winehouse, often described as a ‘lost soul’, never seemed entirely comfortable with stardom and her battles with drugs and alcohol are well documented. The passing of this popular and unique talent is a tragic loss indeed, but her premature demise solidifies her position not just in pop culture but also within the realms of folklore – because only in death could she be granted entry into the fabled 27 Club.
The 27 Club – variously known as Club 27, the Curse of 27 and the Forever 27 Club – comprises an eclectic and exclusive collection of influential musicians, all of whom died at the age of 27. Some of the most notable previous additions include Rolling Stone Brian Jones (died 3 July 1969), Jimi Hendrix (18 September 1970), Janis Joplin (4 October 1970), Jim Morrison (3 July 1971) and Kurt Cobain (5 April 1994).
It should be noted, too, that most of these deaths occurred under mysterious circumstances and, to this day, speculation and controversy rage about many of them. As recently as August 2009, Sussex police launched a review of the Brian Jones case, 40 years after he was found dead in his swimming pool, when new allegations were levelled at a builder working on Jones’s property at the time of his death. Presumably, the review is ongoing.
Another member, Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers, only officially joined the 27 Club when he was declared dead on 23 November 2008, having gone missing over 13 years earlier. He is believed to have committed suicide by throwing himself from the Severn Bridge, though no body was ever found.
Many of the celebrity deaths above are linked by some bizarre and unlikely correlations. For example, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison all knew each other and died within a 10-month period. Jones and Morrison died on the same day, two years apart. And Cobain was married to Courtney Love, who was pictured as a five-year-old child on the back of the Grateful Dead’s 1969 albumAoxomoxoa along with Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan (who joined the 27 Club on 8 March 1973), and played in the grunge band Hole with Kristen Pfaff (who became a member on 16 June 1994) (1).Hendrix, who was born on 27 November, counted astrology as one of his hobbies and said many times that he expected to die at 27. This kind of foresight or foreboding seems to have been mirrored in Winehouse’s behaviour in the final weeks of her life. Though she stopped short of openly predicting her death (unless you believe some of the more bizarre Internet theories) (2) she is known to have spent time tracking down long-lost friends and acquaintances, as if wanting to say goodbye.
Wikipedia lists over 40 other musicians who met their end at 27. The Drifters, Canned Heat, the Stooges, Badfinger, Uriah Heep, the Minutemen, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Mars Volta and American Head Charge have all lost members, as have a plethora of lesser-known acts. Admittedly, most are hardly household names, and sceptics would argue that if you took the trouble to research how old every musician was when they died, statistically no more would have died at 26, say, or 28 than 27. But even the most cursory research blows this theory out of the water. There are a few other ages with slightly higher results, such as 29 and 33, but even these pale in comparison. As biographer Charles R Cross says, “The number of musicians who passed away at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. Though humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for those who die at 27.” (3),,,,,,,,,,,,,