The 27 Club

February 3, 1959, is what many refer to as, “The day the music died.” It was on that day a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa claimed the lives of three popular Rock and Roll Stars. Buddy Holly, age 22, Ritchie Valens, age 17, and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), age 28.

(Bit of trivia. Did you know Country Music legend Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper?)

Their deaths are a few of the many music stars who have died young—many as the result of plane crashes. Others include Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Ronnie Van Zant, Rick Nelson, and John Denver. One might conclude it’s not safe for singers to travel by air.

But there is another group of singers who have died young. Some of the more well-known are:

  • Blues singer Robert Johnson—1938 (For a fascinating story about Johnson, check out Mae Clair’s January 11 post.)
  • Founding member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones–1969
  • Alan Wilson of Canned Heat—1970
  • Jimi Hendrix—1970
  • Janis Joplin—1970
  • Jim Morrison—1971
  • Ron McKernan of the Grateful Dead—1973
  • Badfinger’s Pete Ham—1975
  • Kurt Cobain—1994
  • Amy Winehouse—2011

None of these singers died in plane crashes and the cause of the death varies, including drug overdoses, suicide, and alcohol poisoning. But there is one common factor. All of them died at the age of twenty-seven.

Coincidence?

Promotional photo of The Doors with Morrison in front. Attribution: Elektra Records-Joel Brodsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison within a few short months caused some talk and speculation. However, it wasn’t until Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide years later that the term “27 Club” came about. Some have even referred to it as “The Curse of Twenty-Seven.”

A statement from Cobain’s mother, Wendy Cobain O’Connor, appeared in the Aberdeen Washington newspaper Daily World. “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club.” According to Cobain’s biographer, Charles R. Cross, she was referring to the deaths of Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison.

Eric Segalstad, author of The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock and Roll disagrees. He believes Cobain’s mother referred to the deaths of his two uncles and a great-uncle who all died as the result of suicide.

Curse or coincidence there is an extraordinary number of singers who died at the age of twenty-seven. Some singers never reached that age including Valens, Holly, and Otis Redding. Living to the age of twenty-eight and beyond is no guarantee of survival. With the exception of Redding who was twenty-six at the time of his death, the ages of other singers I mentioned who died in plane crashes ranged from twenty-eight to fifty-three.

But still, there are probably several singers who breathe sighs of relief on their twenty-eighth birthday.

34 thoughts on “The 27 Club

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  1. Wow, Joan. Very interesting (and kinda creepy) stuff here. I remember the Day the Music Died very, very clearly, as I was a big fan of Buddy Holly at the time. (Liked all three, but something about Holly was kind of endearing to me.) As I go through the rest of these sad passings, I find I remember each and every one. Several hit me especially hard at the time. I’d always wanted to see Janis Joplin in concert, sitting down close enough that I could see her sweat! (She did a lot of that!!) Ricky Nelson was a favorite of mine clear back before he started singing, when he was part of the Ozzie and Harriet Show. And one of the highlights of visiting my daughter in Denver a couple of years ago was the gorgeous statue of John Denver outside a museum we visited. Who didn’t love him?? Every name on these lists brings back memories to me, and though I never heard of the 27 Club thing, it’s another shivery list, isn’t it?

    Thanks for this post, Joan. It really brought back the tears I shed for many of these gifted entertainers, but mostly, it brought back memories of their music, and I’m happy to have been a fan of many of them.

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    1. My brother was a big fan of Buddy Holly. Sad about so many of these. I remember you sharing the photo of John Denver’s statue. I loved his music. Ricky Nelson as well… and so many others. Thanks for stopping by, Marcia.

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  2. This was a combination of fascinating and so sad. 27 – we’re still babies at 27! I knew about many of these musicians’ deaths, but not about the “27 club.” Macabre. I think singers should tour by bus . . . and stay clear of drugs and alcohol!!!

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  3. It is very eerie they were all 27, except for those who died in plane crashes. It does make you wonder if somewhere it waa part of the “deal “for fame.

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    1. That’s an interesting theory, Denise. Funny I just thought of a line from a John Denver song (who died at age 53). “He was born in the summer of his 27th year.”

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  4. Very interesting. Yes, I did know about Waylon giving up his seat and I’ve seen interviews where he talks about it and how he felt a heavy burden of guilt for years. The magic age of 27 is too frequent to just coincidental. Stevie Ray Vaughan was another who died in a helicopter crash, but he was 35. Fascinating!

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    1. Stevie Ray was another singer we lost way too early. I had heard Waylon felt a lot of guilt about his decision. It is strange that so many died at age 27. Thanks, Jan.

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  5. I was familiar with the 27 Club but had no idea about the quote from Kurt Corbain’s mother (or that Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper). I wonder if she really was referring to the 27 Club. So sad that his uncles and great-uncle also died by suicide.

    So many great rock legends left us way too early. An excellent post, Joan!
    And thanks for the shout-out to my Robert Johnson post as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was only recently that I heard of it. I knew Joplin and Hendrix died within a short time of one another. Didn’t stop to think that Morrison was only a few months later and that they were all 27. Weird. Thanks for stopping by, Harmony.

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