Welcome To Club 27

There is some debate as to the criterion used to include musicians who died at the age of 27 in the “27 Club”. The impetus for the Club’s creation were the deaths of an unusual number of prominent 27-year-old musicians within a two-year period of time . These include Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. All four of these musicians died between 1969 and 1971. Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison all died within a ten month period. Morrison and Jones died on the same date two years apart. Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994, was later included by some, probably due to his popularity and his death occurring at the pinnacle of his career. According to the book Heavier Than Heaven, when Cobain died, his sister claimed that as a kid he would talk about how he wanted to join the 27 Club. That to me immediately takes him off. But that’s just me. But it all started a long time ago, At a crossroads in Mississippi.

“Robert” Leroy Johnson (8 May 1911 – 16 August 1938). American singer and guitarist.
Drank whiskey laced with strychnine at a country crossroads near Greenwood, Mississippi. The details are unknown, and there are a number of accounts and theories. Researcher Mack McCormick claims to have interviewed Johnson’s alleged poisoner in the 1970s, and obtained an implicit admission of guilt. When Johnson was offered an open bottle of whiskey, his friend and fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson knocked it out of his hand, and told him that he should never drink from an open bottle. Johnson allegedly said, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand”. Soon after, he was offered another open bottle and accepted it. That bottle was laced with strychnine. Johnson is reported to have started to feel ill throughout the evening and had to be helped back to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days, his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain—symptoms which are consistent with strychnine poisoning. Strychnine was readily available at the time as it was a common pesticide and, although it is very bitter-tasting and extremely toxic, a small quantity dissolved in a harsh-tasting solution such as whiskey could possibly have gone unnoticed but still produced the symptoms and eventual death that Johnson experienced.

Lewis “Brian” Hopkin Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969). English guitarist.
Drowned in the swimming pool of his home in Hartfield, Sussex, England. After a second arrest for marijuana possession, sporadic contributions to the Rolling Stones (which he co-formed), substance abuse and mood swings, Jones was informed by the other members of the band that a new guitarist would be added to the lineup, and that a tour of the US would go ahead without him. The last known photographs show him looking bloated, with deep-set eyes, but other witnesses state that he was “happier than he had ever been” and “excited about his own plans”. The circumstances of his death are unknown. The coroner’s report stated “Death by misadventure”, and noted his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse. There have been theories of suicide and murder. Shame. An extremely talented man who cold basically play anything with strings on it.

Jimi Hendrix (Johnny Allen Hendrix then James Marshall Hendrix) (27 November 1942 – 18 September 1970). American guitarist, singer, songwriter. And guitarist. Did I mention that?
Died in a London hotel room under circumstances which have never been fully explained. According to the doctor who initially attended to him, Hendrix asphyxiated (literally drowned) in his own vomit, mainly red wine. His girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, claimed that he had taken her prescribed sleeping pills, but her comments about that morning were often contradictory, and there have been suggestions of blame cast on her. In 1996, in the face of legal action, Dannemann committed suicide.

“Janis” Lyn Joplin (19 January 1943 – 4 October 1970). American singer, songwriter.
Died in a Los Angeles motel room of a heroin overdose, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. She had recently become engaged, and was involved in recording her band’s album Pearl. The song “Mercedes Benz” on the album was the last thing she recorded. (The producer of the album was Paul A Rothchild, who had previously worked with The Doors and who would later produce the soundtracks for The Rose (loosely based on Joplin’s life). A sad life for an extraordinary performer.

James Douglas Morrison “Jim” (8 December 1943 – 3 July 1971). American singer, poet, songwriter.
Died in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. Under French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The cause of death was officially listed as “heart failure”, but heroin use was probably involved, possibly inhaled because he thought it was cocaine. His girlfriend, Pamela Courson, gave numerous contradictory versions of his death. Courson died of a heroin overdose three years later, at the age of – you guessed it – 27.

 

James Douglas Morrison (8 December 1943 – 3 July 1971). American singer, poet, songwriter.
Died in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. Under French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The cause of death was officially listed as “heart failure”, but heroin use was probably involved, possibly inhaled because he thought it was cocaine. His girlfriend, Pamela Courson, gave numerous contradictory versions of his death. Courson died of a heroin overdose three years later, at the age of – you guessed it – 27.

.

Ronald C. “Pigpen” McKernan (September 8, 1945 – March 8, 1973)

The Grateful Dead Keyboard player was found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at his home in Corte Madera, California. McKernan is buried at the Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto, California. His grave marker is inscribed:

RONALD C. McKERNAN
1945–1973
PIGPEN WAS
AND IS NOW FOREVER
ONE OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD

Pete Ham (27 April 1947 – 24 April 1975)
Badfinger and it’s de facto leader became embroiled in many internal, financial, and managerial problems and their music was stifled. By 1975, with no income and the band’s business manager non-communicative, Ham became despondent and he hanged himself in the garage of his Enland home. Ham was 27. At the time of his death, his Blood alcohol content was estimated to have been 0.27%. He left behind a pregnant girlfriend (his daughter was born one month after his death). His suicide note had the statement “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.” And an accusatory blast toward Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley, with Ham writing: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.” Others of Polley’s artist and business clients accused him of corruption over the years. His Partner and co-writer in Badfinger, Tom Evans hung himself to death as well 9 years later.

“Kurt” Donald Cobain (20 February 1967 – c 5 April 1994). American singer, guitarist, and songwriter.
Committed suicide by gunshot in his home in Seattle. After “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Cobain was referred to as the “spokesman of a generation”. He was uncomfortable with the attention. In the last years of his life, he struggled with drug addiction. On 8 April, Cobain’s body was discovered at his Lake Washington home by an electrician who had arrived to install a security system. Apart from a minor amount of blood coming out of Cobain’s ear, the electrician reported seeing no visible signs of trauma, and initially believed that Cobain was asleep until he saw the shotgun pointing at his chin. A suicide note was found that said, “I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music, along with really writing … for too many years now”. A high concentration of heroin and traces of Valium were also found in his body. Cobain’s body had been lying there for days; the coroner’s report estimated Cobain to have died on 5 April. Whether he really was a spokesman of a generation will be up for debate. But he was a good songwriter, and it would have been interesting to see what he would have done.

“Amy” Jade Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011) was an English singer-songwriter known for her powerful contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres including R&B, soul and jazz.
At 3:54 pm on 23 July 2011, two ambulances were called to Winehouse’s home in Camden, London. Winehouse had been found by a member of her security team and was pronounced dead at the scene. Shortly afterwards, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that she had died. A post-mortem with inconclusive results was completed on 25 July, and no cause of death could be established. But everybody knows she had drug and mental problems for years, and the reasons are pretty self-explanatory.
She had one great album. Whether that puts her firmly on this list is also up for debate.

Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943) is an English musician, songwriter and founding member of The Rolling Stones.
Oh yeah, he’s not dead yet. Or nobody told him.
Bullet proof.

Any thoughts on the 27 Club?

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4 responses

  1. One of my favorites narrowly missed this list. Gram Parsons dead at 26.

    July 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

  2. JOHN MANN

    As I have mentioned before, I don’t believe Winehouse belongs in the Forever 27 Club because (IMHO) she doesn’t meet the ‘influential musician’ criteria. It may truthfully be said that because she was somewhat successful she opened doors for other female musicians (i.e.; Adele) she has not changed or ‘influenced’ the genre of music she performed. She may have had a powerful voice, but so did Jim Nabors and he certainly didn’t influence or create a group of singers who followed in his footsteps. I also heard the term ‘sultry’ used to describe her voice. I think whiskey-soaked is a better description. I believe her body of work was derivative and followed those who went before, rather than breaking new ground for those to come.

    July 30, 2011 at 1:08 am

  3. Lorraine

    Isn’t Jim Nabors still alive?

    August 2, 2011 at 8:10 pm

  4. JOHN MANN

    Having just reread this, I am compelled to point out that Monika Dannemann was not facing legal action in relation to Jimi’s death but for harrassing Kathy Etchingham and breaking a British High Court order not to repeat allegations that Ms. Etchingham was an “inveterate liar” for accusing her of playing a role in Hendrix’s death. She was not facing jail time but was found in her car dead by exhaust fumes a few days later.
    And the investigation in 1970 determined that Jimi took 9 Vesperax sleeping pills before his death (normal dosage is 1/2 to 1 pill.)

    January 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm

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