Rockers Who Died at Age 27

(Reprinted from Ultimate Classic Rock)

by Matthew Wilkening

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Of all the rockers who died at age 27, perhaps none left the world with such a gaping sense of “what could have been” than Jimi Hendrix, who died of asphyxiation in his girlfriend’s London apartment on Sept. 18, 1970.

His unparalleled ability to express and innovate on the guitar, as well as his endless desire to redefine everything about what rock music could be and how it was presented, make it all but certain that the four original albums we got to hear from Hendrix were only the tip of what he could have accomplished with more time. Sadly, a combination of red wine and sleeping pills (reportedly, stronger than expected) took that all away from us.

brian jonesOn July 3, 1969, just a month after being kicked out of the famous group he had helped form — the Rolling Stones — guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones drowned in his own swimming pool.

Jones, a slide guitar genius who intended to be the Stones’ leader as they performed more traditional blues-based music, was slowly pushed to the side in favor of the impressive songwriting abilities (and charismatic on-stage presences) of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  After he contributed to just two songs on 1969′s ‘Let it Bleed’ album, Jones’ substance abuse problems — including an arrest that threatened his ability to tour overseas — became too much for his bandmates. Those same abuse problems are also believed to have contributed to his drowning death.

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The sense of mystery created by the music of the Doors, specifically their charismatic frontman Jim Morrison, has helped make it hard for some people to believe that he’s truly dead. Of course, the fact that an autopsy was never performed doesn’t help, either.

The singer reportedly died on July 3, 1971 — again, at the age of 27 — of heart failure in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. In accordance with French law, since there was no sign of foul play, no further investigation was performed. However many people suspect that Morrison in fact died of a heroin overdose, possibly in the bathroom stall of a nearby club. Or… maybe he faked the whole thing and is raising horses in Oregon.

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Janis Joplin, solo star and singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company, died at age 27 on Oct. 4, 1970 of a heroin overdose. The distinctive vocalist had endured a long history of drug and alcohol problems.

According to Rolling Stone’s account, Joplin was found dead in L.A.’s Landmark Hotel, with fresh needle marks on her arm and $4.50 clutched in her hand. It has been suggested that her dealer accidentally sold her and several other clients an overly strong dose of the drug. She was in the process of finishing up what would turn out to be the her posthumously-released 1971 solo album ‘Pearl,’ having just completed the a cappella track ‘Mercedes Benz‘ three days earlier.

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It was the Shot Heard Around the World, only it wasn’t until days later that somebody discovered he was dead. The April 5, 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain was a dreadful paradox: totally unexpected, yet in retrospect somehow all too predictable. The Nirvana singer had been in the public spotlight for less than three years when he took his life, both cementing the theory of the 27 Club and silencing the wary voice of a generation with a single shotgun blast.

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Amy Winehouse was already considered a tragic figure when she passed away from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011. Winehouse had very publicly suffered from serious drug and alcohol abuse issues, all-the-while thumbing her nose at them with her breakout hit, ‘Rehab’ (“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”) Nobody seemed too surprised by her untimely passing — which, in a way, made everybody feel guilty about it. Our celebrity culture loves to see stars fall hard, then recover gracefully, but Winehouse sadly just fell.

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Keyboardist and vocalist Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan of the Grateful Dead died at age 27 on March 8, 1973 from internal hemorrhaging caused by excessive drinking.

Pigpen, who apparently earned his nickname as you might suspect, from a lack of personal hygiene and a generally unkempt approach to life, is credited with pulling the Dead together in the mid-’60s, and served as their first frontman. After touring with the band for years and performing on several of their important early albums, failing health brought on by his addiction forced him to leave the Dead in 1972. Less than a year later, he passed away.

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On April 23, 1975, just three days shy of his 28th birthday, Badfinger singer and guitarist Pete Ham killed himself, reportedly because he was despondent over his poor financial situation and an ongoing battle with the band’s manager, Stan Polley.

According to Rolling Stone, Ham left a note near his body declaring, ‘Stan Polley is a soulless bastard.’ His bandmates said the manager had withheld financial information from them. Despite writing several of the band’s hit singles, including ‘Day After Day’ and ‘No Matter What,’ Ham apparently found himself broke and concerned as to how to help support his about-to-be born child, which apparently led to his tragic decision.

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Legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, whose songs have been recorded by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers and many other classic rockers, died at age 27 in 1938.

Since so little is known about Johnson — who recorded barely more than two dozen songs, including ‘Dust My Broom’ and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ in his unnaturally short life — some pretty crazy myths and rumors about him have taken hold in many people’s minds.  He’s rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil, and to have died after being poisoned by the jealous boyfriend of a woman he was talking to, just as famed talent scout John Hammond was trying to hand him a one-way ticket to fame and fortune.

Others who died at age 27 include:

Dave Alexander (Iggy Pop and The Stooges)

Kristen Pfaff (Hole)

Chris Bell (Big Star)

Jeremy Michael Ward (The Mars Volta)

D. Boon (The Minutemen)

Richard Turner (Friendly Fires)

Richey James Edwards (Manic Street Preachers)

Mia Zapata (The Gits)

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