The “27 Club” is a myth. Pop stars are not more likely than the general population to die at age 27. But they do tend to die much younger than the rest of us.
Now, we might have a better idea why.
Dianna Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at the University of Sydney, studied over 12,000 pop musicians who have died since 1950 to examine whether pop stars really do die younger than others—and if so, why. She found that pop stars live roughly 25 years fewer than the general American population.
She also found that pop stars were five to 10 times more likely than the general U.S. population to die from accidental death, and two to seven times more likely to commit suicide.
Percentage of Deaths by Accident
Fortunately, both accidental deaths and suicides (in addition to homicides, which pop musicians also experience at a higher rate than the general public) are trending downward. Accidental deaths peaked in the 1960s, while suicides and homicides both peaked during the 1990s.
Percentage of Deaths by Suicide
The reason for all this? Kenny says it’s because pop stars do not receive nearly enough support in order to cope with the lifestyle that they are not yet emotionally mature enough to deal with. “The pop music ‘scene’ fails to provide boundaries and to model and expect acceptable behavior,” Kenny says in the report. “It actually does the reverse–it valorizes outrageous behavior.”
Drugs, alcohol, and suicide may be the ultimate cause of death for many pop musicians, but the root of the problem runs much deeper. The music industry, according to Kenny, needs to put support systems in place so that distress can be recognized in young musicians. “The pop music scene,” she said, “is toxic and needs rehabilitation.”