When Amy Winehouse died this summer, one niggling rumor accompanied the public shows of grief and condemnation -- that the disturbed singer purposely killed herself to join the group of famous musicians known collectively as "the 27 club" -- Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Robert Johnson and Jim Morrison. They all died at 27, just as Amy Winehouse did this year. The legend they spurred was blamed for introducing the fatal idea of a "right" age for sealing one's immortality.
But a group of scientists writing in the British Medical Journal says the pattern is nothing more than illusion. According to results from a comparison of survival rates between the general U.K. population and popular musicians, about as many musicians died between 1956 and 2007 at the age of 27 as they did at 25 and at 26, and even at the ripe old age of 32 :
We identified three deaths at age 27 amongst 522 musicians at risk, giving a rate of 0.57 deaths per 100 musician years. Similar death rates were observed at ages 25 (rate=0.56) and 32 (0.54). There was no peak in risk around age 27, but the risk of death for famous musicians throughout their 20s and 30s was two to three times higher than the general UK population.
Conclusions: The 27 club is unlikely to be a real phenomenon. Fame may increase the risk of death among musicians, but this risk is not limited to age 27.
It's worth noting that the surveyed group -- every solo artist and band member who had a No. 1 album in the UK in that time span -- excludes Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin. Also notable, the researchers used Wikipedia statistics to track the musicians down, using the same defense as college students who've been caught ("Wikipedia had a similar accuracy to Encyclopaedia Britannica"). Out with a dangerous old superstition, in with a contentious new resource that's already registered the debunking. Future, everyone.