On the same day (July 3), two years apart, Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the popular rock band, The Doors, and Brian Jones, the original leader of the legendary Rolling Stones, died – Jones in 1969, Morrison in 1971 – and the cause of both deaths remains unclear. The coroner said Jones, who was found dead in his swimming pool, died due to “Misadventure,” but Jones was a heavy drug user. Morrison’s was attributed to a heart attack in his bathtub, but he also was a druggie.
Also connecting the two is the fact both were 27 years old when they died, meaning they would be charter members of what is now called “The 27 Club,” a group of superstar musicians, all dead at 27.
Jimi Hendrix, voted the greatest rock guitar player by Rolling Stone magazine, died in 1970, age 27, choking to death on his vomit while sleeping. Also a heavy drug user, before dying he had mixed a handful of sleeping pills with alcohol.
Three weeks later, Janis Joplin, age 27, whose rise to fame was meteoric, died of a heroin overdose while recording her album “Pearl,” which included her biggest hit, “Me and Bobby McGee.” She died before recording the album’s last song, ironically named, “Buried Alive in the Blues,” which became the album’s only instrumental.
In 1973, Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan of The Grateful Dead died, age 27, of an internal hemorrhage brought on by liver cirrhosis caused by heavy drinking. Also ironically, he was the one band member not dependent on drugs.
In 1994, Kurt Cobain, founder of the superstar grunge band Nirvana, age 27, committed suicide after a longtime struggle with mental illness and heroin. He closed his suicide note with a plea to his wife, Courtney Love, “Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me.” Frances was their 1-year-old daughter.
Finally, Amy Winehouse, age 27, the British singer-songwriter whose second (and last) album, “Back to Black,” won five Grammy Awards and sold 12 million copies, died in her sleep in London in 2011. Her death was also attributed to “Misadventure,” but she had long struggled with alcohol, and her blood-alcohol level at the time of her death was five times the legal limit. Once again ironically, the song “Rehab” on “Back to Black,” begins, “They tried to get me to go to rehab, but I said no, no, no.”
The life of a rock star is a double-edged sword. Fame and fortune come with obligations – to the record company, management, concert promoters, the stark-raving groupies – and the expectations and pressure build, and drink and drugs become a crutch to lean on to cope with it.
Bruce G. Kauffmann’s e-mail address is email@example.com.