Rock stars who died young more likely to have had rough childhoods

Those dead at 27 were not at greater risk

A newly published research study in a British medical journal doesn't find any support for the idea that 27 is a dangerous age for rock stars and young celebrities. But it does show that these idols are more apt to meet their deaths at a prematurely young age than similar people in the general population. It also concludes that those who work solo as opposed to with others in a group run twice the risk of passing at a young age as their band member peers.



British researchers looked at nearly 1,500 music stars who were famous between 1956 and 2006 and died, such as Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison. They found that the mortality rate for this select group was almost 10%, considerably higher than for the general population, and that the death rate was twice as high within this group for solo artists. But they did not find statistical evidence for the widely accepted belief that more musicians are dead at 27 than at any other age – the average age at death for all in the studied group was about 45.


However, for the first time in a major academic study, the life histories of each person was examined and adverse childhood events were tallied. These might include abuse, divorce of parents at a young age, severe illness or other traumas. It was found that those who had suffered through at least one such life experience had a greater provability of dying from drug and alcohol abuse or other causes related to taking risks such as accidents and impulsive behaviors.



A theory is advanced in the study that the combination of negative events in childhood and the early attainment of wealth and fame led these celebrities to live a life of substance abuse and indulge in dangerous behaviors. The study also theorizes that creativity might become dependent on a destructive lifestyle for many of these musicians, leading to an early death. This theory can be applied to a smaller subset of the group that was studied, those who actually died at 27 or within a few years of that age either way. It joins all of the other theories about why this might be a pattern – arrested development, the curse of hubris, a numerological phenomenon, and so on.



But one more interesting thing is clear from the findings - that while age doesn't seem to matter, the longer a celebrity lives, the better his or her chances are of living to a statistically normal age before dying. So there is a dangerous stretch of years in the life of a famous rocker in which, especially if there were traumatic childhood experiences, he or she is much more likely to die from unnatural causes related to wealth and fame. Once past those years, some kind of normalization happens, and some reach a ripe old age.