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Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D. Headshot

Do Musicians Have A "27 Curse"?

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Why have famous musicians died at 27?

The news of Amy Winehouse's death is tragic not only due to the fact that she had so much talent, but also because she was young, and her death was most likely brought on by her addictions.

Amy Winehouse was 27 years old when she died. There are a number of other famous musicians who died at 27. Those musicians include:

  • Amy Winehouse
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Janis Joplin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Jim Morrison
  • Brian Jones
  • Robert Johnson

Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison, and Jones all died within two years of each other.

Why does it seem that young musicians have died at 27? There is a "Forever 27 Club" listing on Wikipedia, and people have created websites about a "27 Curse."

Are these musician deaths at the age of 27 just a coincidence? Or is there really a "27 Curse"?

There is a social psychology phenomenon known as causal attribution. This is when a person (or society) attributes outcomes to particular causes. When there is a tragic death, such as that of a famous young person, we tend to look for a reason why it happened. We try to make sense of it. And when we can't make sense of it, we find a way for it to make sense. And when a number of famous musicians have died young, we try to find a common thread, in order to make sense of it all. So the "27 Curse" began.

Finding a reason or cause for an event after the event has happened, such as with the "27 Curse," can be a form of self-protection. If you have to get through your work day with the knowledge that a tragic event has occurred, it makes sense that attributing a reason or cause to that event would help keep your mood level enough that you could get through the day. Sometimes we just aren't ready to challenge those attributions -- maybe not now, maybe not ever.

Attributing causality helps give us order and predictability to our lives. Without it, the unpredictability of life would bring many of us to our knees. Attributing causality is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's part of being human.

So when you are wondering if the "27 Curse" exists, consider:

  • A majority of famous musicians, many of whom who have admitted to past drug use, have lived well past 27 years old.
  • Musicians tend to be most famous in their early years. The chances that a famous musician will die young may just naturally be increased because famous musicians tend to be, well, young.
  • All of the musicians listed above had a history of drug use, with Joplin, Morrison, and Hendrix (and possibly Winehouse) either directly or indirectly dying as a result of drug use. Drug use is just more likely to cause health issues, like death, whether you are a musician or not.
  • It is possible that in a person's late 20s, drug use starts catching up with the body. People who have been using since their late teens and early 20s have really built up a tolerance for the drugs they are using. More drugs needed to produce the same high equals more chance of an overdose.
  • Famous musicians tend to do things that the general population does not. For example, famous musicians tend fly in small aircraft more than the general population, and several famous musicians, of varying ages, have died in small aircraft crashes.
  • There are a number of famous musicians who died at 21, but there is no "21 Curse." One could argue that they weren't as famous as the musicians listed above. Deaths of very famous people (especially unexpected ones) tend to be more memorable to us overall. Therefore, we try even harder to find a reason why they happened.

Causal attribution helps us feel better by giving predictability to an unpredictable world, but our attributions are not always completely accurate.