What (& Who) is the 27 Club?

27 Club by Eduardo Kobra

Dane O'Leary June 5, 2020

In the aftermath of pop culture icon Kurt Cobain’s death, his bereaved mother Wendy O’Connor said: “He’s gone and joined that stupid club, I told him not to join that stupid club.” Cobain’s death in April 1994 added his name to a list of tragic deaths of 27-year old artists, known as the 27 Club. 

27 Club members all share a version of the same story – an artist with a budding career that’s cut short at 27 as they lose a backstage battle against alcohol and drug addiction. 

Besides the age similarity, addiction struggles, and the common cause of their deaths (most 27 Club members died from overdose or suicide), there’s also a thread of the suffocating effects of stardom weaved into the lives of 27 Club artists. These heart-breaking yet bizarre coincidences are often discussed in rock music history literature. 

Who else, other than Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, is in the 27 Club? We put together a list of well-known 27 Club members. 

Who Are the Members of the 27 Club?

Famous members of the 27 Club include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse, to name a few. Here’s a list of influential artists who, using the words of Wendy O’Connor, joined the 27 Club.  

Rudy Lewis

August 23, 1936 – May 20, 1964

Lewis was a 1960s R&B singer remembered for his lead vocals on many Drifters hits, including “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway”. He was found dead in a Harlem hotel room from what was believed to be a drug overdose. Lewis was one of the first well-known members of the 27 Club.  

Brian Jones

February 28, 1942 – July 3, 1969

Jones was the founder and original leader of the Rolling Stones. He drowned in a swimming pool at his house in England less than a month after his exit from the band. 

Jimi Hendrix

November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970

Hendrix was a legendary guitarist whose short-lived career was one of the most influential in rock music history. Hendrix died from an overdose of sleeping pills.

Janis Joplin

January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970

Joplin was a soul and blues singer-songwriter with a stage presence second to none. She died of a heroin overdose.

"Basquiat" by Eduardo Kobra
“Basquiat” by 27 Club by Eduardo Kobra, photographed by Duncan C., CC BY 2.0

Jean-Michel Basquiat

December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988

Basquiat was a Brooklyn-born neo-expressionist artist known for his trademark graffiti across the SoHo area of Manhattan. Called the prodigy of the New York art scene, his paintings were and remain influential artworks in attacking systemic racism. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose.

Kurt Cobain

February 20, 1967 April 5, 1994

Cobain was a grunge music idol. The lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana’s death was officially ruled as suicide but the violent nature of the act (a gunshot to the head) continues to elicit controversy. 

Amy Winehouse

September 14, 1983 July 23, 2011

Winehouse was a hugely successful soul and R&B singer-songwriter. She died of alcohol poisoning in her London apartment. 

Debunking the Myth

The 27 Club remains an intriguing phenomenon underpinning the devastating effects of substance abuse.

Some believe that there is something transcendental about the 27 Club. Others debunk the myth with statistics that show the highest celebrity death rate seems to occur at age 56. Statistics aside, the 27 Club remains an intriguing phenomenon underpinning the devastating effects of substance abuse. 

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