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Despite the huge myth, musicians don't die at 27 — they die at 56

Kurt Cobain in 1990. Cobain, unfortunately, died at 27 years old.
Kurt Cobain in 1990. Cobain, unfortunately, died at 27 years old.
(KMazur/Getty)

Jimi Hendrix overdosed on barbiturates at 27. Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin at 27. Kurt Cobain killed himself at 27. Brian Jones drowned at 27, and Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning at the same age.

All of them were all incredibly influential musicians who coined new genres and changed the course of music history before they died untimely deaths at 27 years old. That coincidence spawned the myth of the 27 Club among music historians and fans. Howard Sounes wrote an entire book about it.

But the 27 Club isn't real.

According to research and a statistical analysis done by Dianna Theadora Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at the University of Sydney, the most common age of death for a musician isn't 27 — it's 56.

27 club is a myth

Chart from the Conversation via research by Dianna Theadora Kenny.

In fact, of the 11,054 musicians Kenny included in her study of those who died between 1950 and 2010, just 1.3 percent died at age 27. More musicians, in fact, die at 28 than at 27, she found. Statistically, there's no reason to believe in the 27 Club. Hell, Otis Redding died at 26.

What's interesting about the existence of the 27 Club myth, though, is that the deaths of these influential and exponentially beloved musicians also prove one of Kenny's other findings — that musicians who die young are more likely to belong to a newer genre.

death of musicians by genre

Chart from the Conversation via research by Dianna Theadora Kenny.

While musicians from older genres such as blues, jazz, and country enjoyed lifespans similar to Americans with the same year of birth and gender, younger genres such as rap, hip-hop, and punk had a significantly wider gap between life expectancy and how long a musician actually lives.

As Kenny writes in her report, "Music genre was associated with distinct causes of mortality, more so than gender or age (not presented here). This suggests that once someone is inducted into the popular music industry, effects of sex and age on mortality may be masked by genre 'membership' and its accompanying lifestyle."

So we can't blame the 27th year for the deaths of some of our history's greatest musicians, but it seems like we can at least partly blame their genres.

You can read the rest of Kenny's research, including a breakdown by cause of death, here.