The 27 Club is a group that contains some of the most beloved, revered, and influential musicians of all time — and yet it’s a collective nobody should want to be a part of. The name comes from the fact that all of its members are cultural icons who died at the age of 27, and they are remembered for leaving this world far too early, though their impact and their work lives on long after them.
Typically, the 27 Club is thought of as a musical phenomenon, though more modern interpretations include a variety of high-profile figures, including actors and athletes. A string of headline-grabbing deaths in the late ’60s and early ’70s caused music lovers to begin grouping the tragic events together, and the idea of the 27 Club later picked up steam and reached the general consciousness. In the years since, many others who died prior to then have been “inducted,” as the idea wasn’t around when they departed.
There are dozens of musicians, athletes, actors, and other personalities that died at the age of 27 who are worth remembering for their incredible contributions, but below are 11 names who are most often associated with the tragic club.
In just a few years, Kurt Cobain achieved a level of celebrity, critical acclaim, and legendary status that most musicians work their whole lives for. He is still considered one of the most influential figures in alternative rock history, and it’s very possible that the grunge music movement never would have gone mainstream in the way it did without his genius.
The singer, songwriter, and guitarist founded Nirvana, which quickly became one of the biggest bands in the world. The grunge rock group’s album Nevermind is heralded as a landmark release in the history of the genre, and their single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is still as powerful and important today as it was when it was first unleashed in the ’90s.
During his lifetime, Cobain faced many issues, and in the end, they enveloped him and led to his untimely death. He became addicted to heroin, struggled with severe depression, and suffered due to his fame and his status as a symbol of, well, anything. In March 1994, he entered a detox program after an overdose, and one month later, he was found dead in his Seattle home. His death was ruled a suicide.
As the Manic Street Preachers were just getting started, they were lucky enough to have Richey Edwards join their ranks as both a rhythm guitarist and lyricist. His contributions helped catapult the punk/alternative Welsh band to international fame, and in their home market of the United Kingdom, they became superstars. While Edwards was still a member of the group, the band landed several top 10 albums and at least a dozen top 40 hits in their native land. They also helped push a new sound into the mainstream and they weren’t afraid to remain politically minded in their art.
Edwards’ is perhaps the most mysterious of all the deaths in the 27 Club, as his body was never found. For several days, he traveled around the United Kingdom, leaving important items and documents in his home in Cardiff and in a hotel room, and eventually his car was found abandoned near a bridge. Those close to him assert that he was not suicidal, and though many fans throughout the years have claimed they’ve seen him all around the world, nothing has ever been confirmed.
Jimi Hendrix is perhaps the musician who really sparked the idea of the 27 Club, as his death was the second in a tragic stretch that took place over the next year or so, during which time a number of high-profile recording artists died. Many musicians before him departed at the age of 27, but after Hendrix’s untimely death, the idea of the group was launched.
To this day, even the biggest and best guitar players cite Hendrix as an influence and as someone they look up to. Sadly, his career in the mainstream only lasted four years, but the work he released during that time made electric guitars more popular than ever. There’s no telling where rock music would be without his genius and his impeccable playing.
Hendrix died in September 1970 in London. The musician’s girlfriend Monika Dannemann woke up to find him breathing but unresponsive, and though he was rushed to a local hospital, he didn’t make it. The star had taken well beyond the recommended dosage of sleeping pills, and it appears that while sleeping, he vomited, and then choked to death.
He doesn’t often receive the credit he deserves, but Brian Jones is responsible for founding one of the most successful and influential rock bands of all time: the Rolling Stones. He originally led the troupe, in addition to playing guitar. After a while, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards became more powerful, and they are now recognized as the two best-known names in the act.
Jones developed problems with both drugs and alcohol, and things got worse very quickly for the musician. Eventually, his bandmates could no longer rely on him to perform well or even show up at the right time, and in 1969, he was kicked out of the Rolling Stones. That rejection took a heavy toll on him, and Jones died just one month later. His death was declared a drowning.
As the world was still mourning the loss of the great Jimi Hendrix, the music industry was forced to cope with another insurmountable loss. Janis Joplin, who may very well have been the single most beloved and critically acclaimed woman in rock at the time, died less than one month after the guitar player. She revolutionized mixing blues, soul, and rock, and she’s remembered as much for her instantly recognizable vocals as for her songwriting talents.
Like far too many musicians, Joplin died in October 1970 of a drug overdose. She was found in her hotel room in Hollywood, California, by her manager, and toxicology reports show that she had been using heroin and possibly alcohol just before her death. Apparently, several others who bought the drug from the same dealer also died around the same time, as the product was much stronger than they were used to.
Perhaps the most recent addition to the 27 Club, Kim Jong-hyun isn’t as well known in the Western world as some of the other members, but his impact is incredibly important, and when he died, millions of fans were devastated by the loss.
Kim served as the vocalist of the K-pop band Shinee for nearly a decade, during which time the quintet released more than a dozen projects. The group was one of the biggest in South Korea, and they amassed millions in single and album sales during their time together. While the group has carried on as a foursome (after a hiatus following his death), fans still remember Kim fondly.
Due to troubling messages sent by the musician to friends, fellow musicians, and even family members, it is believed that the Shinee star died by suicide. It looks like he suffered from depression, and his body was found by emergency health workers, who were contacted by his sister. A postmortem was not carried out, at the request of his family, so the exact cause isn’t known.
Tomas Lowe isn’t known so much as an individual in the 27 Club, but the story of his death is one that is remembered by many in the U.K. music industry. The bassist was the only member of the indie rock band Viola Beach who was 27 when they all died at the same time. The group was driving back from playing a festival in February 2016 when their van drove off a bridge in Sweden. All six members and their manager were killed, and the accident was never fully explained.
The reaction in the United Kingdom was swift, as the band was just beginning to develop a sizable following. The group’s self-titled debut album was released a few months after their death, and it went right to No. 1 in the country, as millions rushed to buy and stream the set in support of their dream.
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan
Despite the fact that two of the most beloved and important members of the band have been gone for many years, the Grateful Dead is still going strong, playing concerts (under a different name, usually) and releasing successful live albums from decades past. Their legacy lives on, and that’s thanks in large part to founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who formed the group with Jerry Garcia back in the mid-’60s.
McKernan drank too much for his own health, and it wasn’t long before he wasn’t able to tour with the band he helped put together any longer. By that point, he wasn’t as influential as other members, and the Grateful Dead’s sound had changed, but he was still loved by the musicians as one of their own. He died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage in March 1973.
Jim Morrison, the lead singer and songwriter for pioneering rock band The Doors, is one of the most recognizable musical figures who left this world too soon. The poet recorded six albums with the group, but his legacy extends far beyond the music he created, and he stands as an enduring symbol of living artistically and creatively.
Morrison was found unresponsive in a bathtub in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. His cause of death was listed as heart failure, though ever since that was declared, fans have taken issue with the idea as no autopsy was conducted (which was in accordance with French law at the time). Several people who knew the star suggest the real cause may have been a heroin overdose. Courson died after ODing on the drug several years later, also at the age of 27.
The Doors frontman’s death followed Joplin’s and Hendrix’s by less than a year.
Two blues aficionados, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite, decided to form a band called Canned Heat in 1965 to help promote the music they loved, and they quickly found serious success with their inventive melding of the traditional style with rock. It didn’t take long before the group became a favorite among the growing hippie community, and they were must-haves at many major music events. Though they’re still making music today, the lineup is very different and Canned Heat is largely remembered for their original members.
Wilson, who also went by the nickname Blind Owl, was found dead by a tree on Hite’s property in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles, California. He had only been with the band for five years, and his death was ruled a possible suicide by overdose of barbiturates. Many believe it was a suicide, as he had unsuccessfully attempted to end his life months earlier, but since no note was ever found, it’s impossible to say whether it was an accident or not.
The musician’s death happened just two weeks before Hendrix’s and only one month before Joplin’s.
Amy Winehouse was truly a once-in-a-generation musician, as there had never been anyone before who sounded just like her and there will never be another who can do it like she did. The U.K.-based singer-songwriter blended jazz, pop, and soul into something completely fresh and new, and her album Back to Black remains one of the best releases of all time. Sadly, during her very short time in the spotlight (she only released two albums during her lifetime, and only one while she was a global figure), she was also known for her troubles with addiction to both alcohol and drugs, and they would eventually lead to her death.
Winehouse’s bodyguard tried to rouse her on the morning of July 23, 2011, but she didn’t wake up. At first, this wasn’t surprising, as it was still early, but when he tried again several hours later, she hadn’t moved, and that worried the man hired to protect her. He quickly realized she wasn’t breathing, and emergency services declared her dead a short time later.
The singer’s legacy will live on. During her lifetime, she won five Grammys for her most beloved collection, and she posthumously earned another prize alongside Tony Bennett for their collaboration “Body and Soul,” which is reportedly the last song she recorded.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.