Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club

Larry Holzwarth - August 9, 2019

It is not a club to which most members aspired to join, at least not deliberately. Over the years it has become a group in which the members are known not only for their talent, which in the case of most of them was prodigious, but also for the notoriety of their lifestyles. Drug use has been as prerequisite for most, including alcohol. Association with other potential members has also been noted. to many, how Keith Richards avoided entry is an enduring mystery. To become a member, early and usually tragic death, at the age of 27, is required. Some of the members are less well known today than other more recently assigned members; at one time they were all famous for their talent and the musical or artistic legacy which they left behind. Musicians dominate the membership, though the club is unfortunately not limited to musicians alone.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Brian Jones (left) was the founder of the Rolling Stones and an early member of what became known as the 27 Club. Wikimedia

The prevalence of musicians as members has led to the club being celebrated, if that is the word, in song, often by performers which are near-escapees from membership, at least in the public eye. Eric Burdon, formerly of the bands The Animals and War, recorded 27 Forever in memory of the club. Mac Miller recorded the song Brand Name, in which he claimed that he would never be a member of the club. He died of an overdose of fentanyl and cocaine, washed down with booze, at the age of 26, avoiding membership in a club by one year of age. Here are some, but by no means all, of the artists who achieved membership and notoriety in the 27 Club, a distinction which most of them would have no doubt wished to avoid, though the fates ensured that they would be so enshrined, sadly and likely forever. Some are famous, some lesser known, and some more recent, such as the late Amy Winehouse, are omitted here.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Few musicians in history are the subject of more myths and legends than bluesman Robert Johnson. Wikimedia

1. Bluesman Robert Johnson was greatly admired by subsequent members of the club which he is credited as having founded

Robert Johnson is frequently cited as a leading influence on the music of rock’s guitar heroes from the 1960s on, especially those players who identify with the form of music known as the blues. About Johnson himself relatively little is known, other than the legends and myths which surround his life. According to legend he sold his soul to the devil in return for his virtuosity as a blues guitarist, a transaction which occurred at a crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Others cite alternative locations where Johnson and the devil transacted their business, including Memphis, Tennessee, West Memphis, Arkansas, and Saint Louis, Missouri. Johnson was not a performer who appeared before large crowds, most of his performances were on street corners or local hangouts, where he played for tips, a practice which later became known as busking.

His recordings are sparse, though some are available, and his influence has been cited by Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones; Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, English bluesmen of legendary stature, and many others. The Stones recorded covers of many of his songs, including Love in Vain and Stop Breakin’ Down. Johnson died at the age of 27, of causes which are still speculated over. The most accepted version of his death was from strychnine poisoning, ingested after it was added to a bottle of whiskey by a jealous husband. Others claim he died from advanced syphilis. Like the cause of his death, the site of his grave is debated, though his age when he died is agreed upon as 27, somewhat curiously because the date of his birth is also uncertain. Nonetheless, he is considered the founding member of the 27 Club, which dates from August 16, 1938.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Larry Parnes (left, withTommy Steele) created a stable of pop stars with improbable names designed to appeal to pre-teen girls. YouTube

2. Dickie Pride was a forgettable singer largely forgotten today

During the 1960s British music impresario Larry Parnes ran what the press at the time called a stable of performers, many of whom became stars of differing magnitudes. Perhaps his most famous was the singer Billy Fury, who was a huge act for a time in Swinging London, and who managed to die impoverished despite making Parnes a small fortune. Parnes wanted to create acts which were teen idols a la Fabian in the United States, and he gave his performers names such as Johnny Gentle, Vince Eager, and Georgie Fame. Another sobriquet he laid upon one of his performers was Dickie Pride, whose real name was the much more pedestrian Richard Kneller. Dickie had the looks, and the stage moves, to create mayhem during his performances. Unfortunately he had neither good material nor a voice by which to deliver it.

Unhappy in his profession and his status as a pop star, Dickie’s career started with a fizzle and never really took off as British pop music went the way of the Mersey beat created by The Beatles, or the harder sound from Manchester and London. By 1967 Pride was a well-known aficionado of drugs which included heroin, and his growing health problems led to several stays at mental health facilities. In 1967 he was subjected to a lobotomy. Although he once recorded covers of songs by Little Richard and other rock icons, his biggest hit was Primrose Lane, which cracked the Top 40 in 1959, though it never sent the charts afire. In 1969 Dickie Pride earned entry into the 27 Club via an overdose of sleeping pills, whether deliberate or accidental never determined. Though his fellow members of the Parnes stable admired his talent, he was never hobbled with much success.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Brian Jones was fired by his fellow Rolling Stones just weeks before his death by drowning at his Chelmsford estate in 1969. Wikimedia

3. Brian Jones introduced Robert Johnson’s music to a British guitar player named Keith Richards in 1962

Brian Jones was an English gadabout musician from Cheltenham, an affluent London suburb, who developed a love for American Delta Blues in the late 1950s. By 1961 he was playing bottleneck slide guitar, featuring the music of Robert Johnson and other great American bluesmen, to awestruck young British fans, one of whom was Keith Richards. With Keith, Mick Jagger, and a pianist named Ian Stewart, Jones founded a band which he named the “Rollin’ Stones” (after a Muddy Waters tune) and which became one of the largest acts in Britain by 1964, and the rest of the world the following year. As the band’s fame spread and its audience expanded, Jones became a lesser influence in the band which he created as it strayed from his beloved blues. He performed on record playing instruments which included keyboards, harmonica, harp, recorder, dulcimer, zither, autoharp, synthesizers, saxophone, and guitars. He also became one of England’s and rock and roll’s most notorious users of illicit drugs.

Fame, drugs, alcohol, and disagreement over the musical direction of the Rolling Stones in the mid-to-late 1960s led to Jones becoming a pariah in the band he created. Often too intoxicated to perform, he showed up at gigs or recording sessions unable to contribute. When his legal problems led to his being unable to obtain a visa to tour America in 1969 the band fired him. Despondent according to some, rejuvenated according to others, Jones holed up at his home, Cotchford Farm, formerly the home of A. A. Milne and lavishly decorated with the images of characters from Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. He died there in July, 1969, just weeks after being fired from The Rolling Stones, drowning in his swimming pool. Since his death rumors of murder have persisted, and while several writers have claimed to have proof of his murder, officially he joined the 27 Club through “death by misadventure” according to the coroners who performed his autopsy.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Canned Heat with Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (second from right) just weeks before his death. Wikimedia

4. Alan Wilson’s voice can still be heard in some insurance commercials

Alan Wilson, who was known as “Blind Owl” to his fellow musicians and his fans, was a vocalist and talented musician (guitar and harmonica) for the American blues band Canned Heat. His distinctive vocals, particularly in songs such as Going up the Country, led the group to develop a following which though relatively small was fervid in its support of the band. He possessed a wide vocal range, which he demonstrated on blues classics such as On the Road Again, further creating a cult-like following for the band. As with Brian Jones and other founders of bands in the 1960s, Wilson was a fan of the founder of the 27 Club, Robert Johnson, and joined those who adapted and expanded on Johnson’s interpretation of the blues, including the legendary Son House, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf.

Wilson also emulated their lifestyle, in the form of a fondness for drugs and alcohol. A music major at Boston University, Wilson readily adapted to the life of clubs followed by all night drinking sessions, followed by the ingestions of chemicals to ensure further functioning. To calm down barbiturates were added to the mix. In September, 1970, with Canned Heat at the peak of their success (which included a critically acclaimed performance at Woodstock), Wilson died from an overdose described by the coroner as acute barbiturate intoxication. The death followed what was interpreted by some as a suicide attempt when he tried to drive his car off an LA freeway at high speed. Wilson died on September 3, 1970, becoming the latest member of the 27 Club, though in a few short days his death would be erased from the papers and news magazines when another new member joined.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Jimi Hendrix played with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and others before his emergence as a star with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1967. Wikimedia

5. Jimi Hendrix’s early death vaulted him into the pantheon of rock gods

At the time of his death on September 18, 1970, American guitarist Jimi Hendrix was the highest paid performer in the world, celebrated on the heels of legendary performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and Woodstock in 1969. Hendrix reinvented the electric guitar, both in his style of play and his use of the instrument as a stage prop. He first achieved fame in London, after having failed to attract much attention in his native United States, where he once, in a surreal pairing, served briefly as the opening act for The Monkees. The screaming tennyboppers dying for an appearance by their beloved Davy Jones failed to appreciate the innovations which were part of Hendrix’s onstage persona. By 1970 he was widely acclaimed by fellow guitarists and the music press as the greatest guitar player in the world.

His use of drugs and alcohol were in the long established tradition of American bluesmen, and by the end of his career his performances were often marked by his intoxicated state. Flamboyant and flashy, Hendrix was noted for playing the guitar with his teeth, setting the instrument afire, and smashing it to pieces as part of his act. A perfectionist in the recording studio, the amount of his published work was minimal during his short lifetime, and following his death he became a cottage industry, with both live and studio recordings released by his estate and an assortment of bootleggers. He died of an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates, either in the London apartment of a friend, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, or in the hospital itself, depending upon which version of events one chooses to believe. His death was officially attributed to asphyxia from choking on his own vomit.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin, was one of several San Francisco based bands to emerge in the late 1960s. Wikimedia

6. The Pearl died just two weeks following the death of Jimi Hendrix

Just sixteen days after the death of Jimi Hendrix in the early autumn of 1970, the world of rock was yet again jolted by the loss – at the age of 27 – of one of its most dynamic performers. Janice Joplin developed an audience with her astonishing vocals with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and added to it through live performances which became legendary, including a performance at Woodstock. Long before her musical career took off Janice was known to the law, having been arrested multiple times for drug possession as well as shoplifting and other petty offenses. A known heroin user, Janice used drugs of many types, and her reputation as a heavy drinker was reinforced through her use of alcohol both onstage and off. She was frequently photographed holding a bottle of Southern Comfort, though her intoxicant of choice for many years was methamphetamine, which she preferred to inject.

Janis displayed sexuality onstage as part of her act, emulating and expanding on the pelvic thrusts and grinds once performed by Elvis Presley. Frequently appearing onstage both stoned and drunk, her reputation as a substance abuser was well established when she was found dead of a heroin overdose on the floor of her room in the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, California on October 4, 1970. It was her death, coming so soon upon the heels of the deaths of Alan Wilson and Jimi Hendrix, all at the age of 27, which first drew the attention of writers, who began printing articles describing the 27 Club, of which she was but the latest member. Her subsequent posthumous record album, entitled Pearl, became the largest seller of her career.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Speculation and myths that Jim Morrison (in front with the Doors) faked his 1971 death have persisted for almost five decades. Wikimedia

7. Jim Morrison was and is believed by some to have faked his own death

When Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Los Angeles based band The Doors, was found dead in Paris on July 3, 1971 (the second anniversary of the death of Brian Jones), rumors immediately began circulating that he had faked his demise. Morrison was buried in Paris at Pere Lachaise cemetery before an autopsy was performed on his body, making his cause of death, if in fact he died, a matter of speculation. Rumors that he had made arrangements to vanish from the world, which he conveyed to his fellow members of The Doors, have been debated ever since. Officially the French authorities attributed his death to heart failure after his body was found in a bathtub in a girlfriend’s Paris apartment.

As with other rockstars who died at the beginning of the 1970s, Morrison created a cottage industry which included not only the recordings by The Doors, but copies of his poetry, and reminiscences of those who knew him and believed that he may have faked his death to avoid legal issues in the United States. Notebooks and other personal items containing his writings and memorabilia continued to surface for many years after his death, in Paris and in Los Angeles. The romantic image of Morrison faking his death and remaining watchful over his work was loosely borrowed in the film Eddie and the Cruisers in 1983. Nonetheless, since July 1971, Jim Morrison has been considered a member of the 27 Club, his grave a shrine in Paris for fans of his music and souvenir hunters who have frequently vandalized his resting place.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
A 1967 promotional shot of vocalist Linda Jones who died of complications of diabetes at 27. pinterest

8. Linda Jones was one of the few to join the Club due to natural causes

Relatively unknown to all but the most fervid fans of American soul music, Linda Jones was a singer heavily influenced by American gospel music as performed in the rural south. Her first professionally released solo recording was destined to be her biggest hit, in terms of sales. In 1967 she released Hypnotized, a ballad which managed to hit the number four spot in Billboard Magazine’s R & B lists, and number 21 overall. Though solo success eluded her she was always in demand as a vocalist, performing as a backup singer and guest vocalist in hundreds of recordings. She achieved additional success as a recording artist with the posthumous release of many of her records following her untimely death in 1972.

Linda achieved a triumph by selling out Harlem’s Apollo Theater in the late winter of 1972, after having completed a successful tour in support of her album Your Precious Love. The album sold fairly well, though it had little success in the mainstream market, achieving minimal airplay. The Harlem shows were intended as a celebratory series of performances, and while resting between shows on March 14, 1972, the then 27 year old Linda slipped into a diabetic coma and succumbed to complications from the disease. Most attributed her death to insulin shock. In the 21st century several previously unreleased recordings were given airplay and one, Baby I Know was nominated for a Grammy award in 2008.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Although it is often claimed that Les Harvey died onstage during a performance, he actually succumbed later at a hospital. Wikipedia

9. A bizarre accident led to the membership of Leslie Harvey in the 27 Club

Leslie Harvey was a guitar player of note in the 1970s, performing with the Alex Harvey Soul Band after declining an invitation to join the popular group the Animals in the 1960s. In 1965 he joined a group known as Blues Council, which toured in the UK and recorded a minor hit, Baby Don’t Look Down. While touring in Scotland in support of the record the band’s van crashed, killing two members. Having cheated death, Harvey began working as a session musician before joining the band Cartoone, which gained fame as the opening act for Led Zeppelin during the latter group’s first United States’ tour. Later that same year, 1969, he was one of the forming members of the band Stone the Crows.

Harvey remained with Stone the Crows into 1972. When the band was performing at Swansea that year, Harvey touched a microphone onstage which was improperly grounded, and in a flash of blue light the guitarist was electrocuted. An urban myth arose regarding the accident, in which it was presented that Harvey had been standing in a rain puddle on stage, but the accident occurred within an indoor venue (Swansea Top Rank was indoors in 1972), and the contact between guitar and microphone stand led to the fatal accident. Ironically Stone the Crows is an expression used by the English to express shock and surprise. Leslie was, of course, 27 years of age at the time of his fatal encounter with an ungrounded microphone stand, entering the 27 Club through an unfortunate accident.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Grateful Dead, circa 1970, famous for their indulgence in intoxicants of all types and flavors. Wikimedia

10. The 27 Club was joined by a member of the Grateful Dead in 1973

In the 1960s, San Francisco’s Grateful Dead developed a reputation as a local jam band, living together in a house in the Haight-Ashbury district, and contributing significantly to the period known as the heyday of the hippie movement and what was eventually known as the Summer of Love. The band also developed the reputation of being devoted users of various drugs, including the newly developed and for a time legal chemical LSD. Pot was also a drug of choice for members of the band and their devoted followers. For Ron McKernan, a founding member of the group and for a time its leader and lead singer, alcohol was the consciousness altering ingestible of choice, and he ingested it with an almost religious fervor.

Known as Pigpen to his fellow band members and fans (for reasons which were often self-evident), McKernan often resisted the tendencies of his fellow band members to expand on free-flowing jams, preferring to complete more structured pieces as the band’s musical direction. He also continued to imbibe freely, favoring a cheap but popular wine known as Thunderbird, as well as Southern Comfort, both of which he quaffed with enthusiasm. By his mid-twenties he exhibited several of the health effects connected with chronic alcohol abuse, and after an enforced sabbatical from the band he returned in late 1971, touring with them the following year, often passing out onstage. He died in March, 1973, of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage brought on by years of alcohol abuse. Grateful Dead guitarist and legend Jerry Garcialater called Pigpen’s death “…the end of the original Grateful Dead”.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Prodigious talent, The Beatles, mismanagement, and financial fraud are all part of the tragic tale of the band Badfinger. Youtube

11. Pete Ham was one of two members of Badfinger to commit suicide

When The Beatles were officially no more beginning in 1970, a portion of the void their absence created was filled by a band which recorded on their Apple Records label, with some of their work written by and produced by Paul McCartney. The band, which came to Apple as the Iveys, was known as Badfinger, and in the early to mid-1970s they produced a string of hits, including Come and Get It, No Matter What, Baby Blue, and Day After Day. Badfinger guitarist Pet Ham also wrote a song, Without You, which became a global hit for singer Harry Nilsson. Despite the band’s success in recording, songwriting, and touring, they found themselves the victims of mismanagement, including fraud, and the money they earned never seemed to find its way into their pockets. The result was dissension and distrust, as well as financial collapse.

By 1975 Pete Ham, despite the professional support of Paul McCartney and the expressed admiration by several of his contemporaries, found the pressures of the band’s success to be incompatible with his financial condition. Ham enjoyed the fame of a rock star, especially in Great Britain, but malfeasance by managers left him with little money with which to enjoy his status. In April 1975, just three days before he would have reached the age of 28, Ham hanged himself, leaving behind a suicide note in which he described manager Stan Polley as a “soulless bastard”. Ham was one of two members of Badfinger to commit suicide in the aftermath of their musical success. In 1983, fellow band member Tom Evans, with whom Ham had written several of Badfinger’s hits, likewise hanged himself.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Uriah Heep’s Gary Thain also survived a severe shock from an ungrounded microphone before succumbing to complications of heart disease brought on by heroin. YouTube

12. Gary Thain survived electrocution only to die later of heart problems

Gary Thain was a bassist and background vocalist from New Zealand, who worked with several local bands down under in the 1960s before moving to Swinging London to seek his fortune in the burgeoning rock and pop scene. His musical abilities were widely respected, and he performed with several of the rock gods of the local scene at various clubs. Among the artists with whom he worked, although informally, were Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, and several others including the group the Pretty Things. Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s he officially joined the Keef Hartley Band as their full-time bass player. Keef Hartley released several recordings to marginal success with Thain as bassist, and in 1971 embarked on a tour as the backup for Uriah Heep.

In the late winter of 1972 Thain joined Uriah Heep as a full time member, and through heavy touring and recording developed a loyal following. Thain appeared with the band on their four most popular albums, in terms of sales, and during the tours supporting each (the albums were Demons & Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday, Sweet Freedom, and Wonder World, along with the live recording Uriah Heep Live). In 1974 he was seriously injured when he was subjected to an electric shock onstage, and subsequently was released by the band, officially due to injury, but unofficially (and truthfully) because his addiction to heroin had become so debilitating that he could no longer perform. On December 8, 1975, he died of complications of heroin addiction, specifically respiratory failure, at his home in London, achieving membership in the 27 Club.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Dave Alexander’s consumption of alcohol and drugs was deemed excessive even by Iggy and the Stooges, who fired him. Wikipedia

13. Dave Alexander was fired by Iggy Pop and the Stooges prior to his untimely death

Dave Alexander was unconventional enough to quit high school early, not because he despised education but in order to win a bet. He left school less than an hour after beginning his senior year. An unabashed fan of The Beatles, he tried in vain to attract that band’s attention, though his status as a bass player ensured that the Fab Four, with Paul McCartney occupying that role, were not in need of his services. As a member of the Stooges, a band which saw more than one death decimate its original lineup, Alexander managed to alienate his bandmates through his fondness for chemical stimulation, often appearing at gigs too intoxicated to perform. By 1970 Iggy had had enough, and Alexander was fired after he appeared at the Goose Island International Music Festival too drunk to communicate with the rest of the band, let alone play his instrument.

For the rest of his short life, Alexander hung around on the fringes of the music industry, indulging his taste for alcohol and barbiturates, an all too often lethal combination. His musical abilities faded as his drug use expanded, and though Iggy and the Stooges (themselves no strangers to intoxicants) disbanded and reformed several times, Alexander’s services were not solicited. By 1975 he was suffering from several alcohol related health issues, including an infection of the pancreas known as pancreatitis. While hospitalized for the condition his lungs filled with fluid, leading to his death at 27 of what was called pulmonary edema. His death was attributed to drinking by friends, who were unable to encourage him to address the issue in life.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
West Germany’s Triumvirat did not survive the loss of Helmut Kollen to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Triumvirat

14. Hemut Kollen’s death was a warning against a practice which was once commonplace

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for music lovers to listen to their favorite artists on the cassette player in their car as the vehicle sat in driveway or garage. Privacy and the opportunity to listen at high volume were both incentives. One could also enjoy the opportunity to listen to a single track over and over without incurring the ire of one’s spouse or roommate. Often, in colder climes, one listened with the car running, allowing the heater to ensure comfort, while the listener enjoyed the music, cigarettes of both legal and illegal content, and often a libation or two. If the car was in good mechanical repair, and parked outside, such activity was safe enough, other than potential complaints from neighbors over the volume or selection of the music being played.

Helmut Kollen was a West German progressive rock musician, a bass player by trade, and a member of the band Triumvirat for a time, before disagreements over musical direction led him to pursue a solo career in 1975. Before that decision changed his career path, Triumvirat had performed as an opening act for both Fleetwood Mac and Grand Funk Railroad, earning them a small but loyal following in the United States. In 1976 Kollen released his first solo album, followed by work on another as well as recording with other musicians through early 1977. In May of that year he was listening to several recently recorded tracks on his car’s cassette player, though he unfortunately overlooked opening the garage door as the vehicle idled inside. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning, ruled accidental, on May 3, 1977 at the age of 27.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
The relatively unknown Chris Bell influenced bands whose fame far exceeded his own, including REM and Beck. Wikimedia

15. Chris Bell and the band Big Star helped birth the power pop genre in the 1970s

Chris Bell was a songwriter, singer, and guitar player at the forefront of a musical movement which was known as power pop, and which eventually included bands such as REM, the Afghan Wigs, and Beck (as well as the execrable The Knack). Bell was less well-known in life than he became after his death, and his main contribution to the music world, at least on record, was 1972’s #1 Record, released by Big Star that year. Although other recordings with Big Star followed, and fellow musicians cited the band and Bell as influences throughout the decade, major commercial success was elusive. By the latter part of the decade, Bell was working almost exclusively as a solo performer and recording new recordings which emphasized his growing empathy with Christian music, some of which was released posthumously.

Bell was 27 year of age when he was killed in a car accident on, ironically, December 27, 1978. The sports car he was driving inexplicably left the road in the wee hours of that date as he was returning home following a recording session, striking a telephone pole, killing the artist instantly. Following his death his work found a new audience, chiefly among musicians, among them the bands The Posies and Cheap Trick. By the late 1990s one of Bell’s songs was featured on the television sleeper hit That Seventies Show. His music also appeared in film soundtracks and in covers by other power pop bands of the 1980s. By the summer of 2013 Bell’s life and the music of Big Star were the subject of a documentary film entitled Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Jacob Miller sits to the right of Bob Marley (exhaling smoke) in Kingston, Jamaica, 1979. pinterest

16. Jacob Miller was a star in Jamaica of similar magnitude as Bob Marley

Rastafarian and reggae star Jacob Miller was all but unknown in the United States over the course of his career, other than to fans of the style of music known as reggae, first popularized in America by Bob Marley and the Wailers. In Jamaica he was a popular performer and his services as a musician were in high demand. His band, Inner Circle, gained a level of fame by performing popular American tunes in reggae style, drawing the attention of, among others, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and blues guitarist Eric Clapton. Miller was a singer, and his humorous repartee between his fellow performers and members of his audience became a signature part of his appearances. By the late 1970s he had recorded albums released internationally by Capitol Records, and he appeared to be poised for greater recognition and success.

By the beginning of the 1980s Miller was known for both his often outrageous performance antics, which included smoking pot onstage while wearing a policeman’s hat, and exchanging humorous barbs with fellow reggae artists including Marley and Peter Tosh. In 1980 his career came to an abrupt end when he was killed in a car accident, along with his son, in Kingston, Jamaica on March 23, 1980. Miller had been in rehearsals for an upcoming American tour with his friend and sometime collaborator, Bob Marley, who would himself succumb to cancer less than a year later. A concert documentary film, Heartland Reggae, recorded in 1978, remains one of the defining artifacts of his short career.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Masako Natsume, Japanese actress and star of Monkey. Wall of Celebrities

17. Masako Natsume earned fame in the west from the TV series Monkey

Masako Natsume was a Japanese actress whose first big break occurred when she appeared in commercials for a sunscreen product, in the role of “Kooky Face”. The ads proved so popular that she recorded a song which became a minor hit in Japan, using a play on the preceding character name in the title Oh! Cookie Face. A celebrity in Japan, she achieved international acclaim when the BBC broadcast the television series known in Japan as Saiyuki. English dialogue was overdubbed and the program broadcast on BBC 4 under the title Monkey. Eventually the program was broadcast in South America, Europe, and the United States, though as of 2019 the English dubbed version had yet to be seen in America. Japanese language versions have been broadcast in California.

By the mid-1980s Masako was in demand as an actress in Japan, and was a cult heroine in several English speaking countries due to the BBC version of Monkey. In 1985 the young star died, of complications from leukemia, but not before having uttered several lines in Japanese films which became popular catchphrases in her home country. She was 27, and her popularity in Japan, England, and Western Europe led to her inclusion in the 27 Club. She is not the only actor to be a member, Anton Yelchin of Star Trek fame (the reboot version of Pavel Chekov), Jonathan Brandis, and Joseph Merrick – who gained worldwide fame as the Elephant Man – are among others.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Sam Cooke is but one member of a similar group of celebrities who died at the age of 33, including John Belushi and AC/DC’s Bon Scott. Billboard.


18. There is a similar group to the 27 Club known as the 33 Club

The 27 Club first gained extensive notice with the rapid succession of deaths which included Brian Jones (forgotten today, but the most popular of the Rolling Stones in the 1960s), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and others. The coincidence of their similar ages at the time of their demise became fodder for writers and occultists following their deaths. Recently more notice has been given to another number, 33, already attractive to mythologists as it was the age at which Jesus of Nazareth died, at least according to most Christians. Several stars have met their ends at the same age, leading to the belief in yet another club, which has become known as, unsurprisingly, the 33 Club. As with their eternally younger comrades, there are several noted performers holding membership in the club, for similarly diverse reasons.

Sam Cooke is one such member (justifiable homicide by a female acquaintance). Actress, comedienne and wife of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard makes the list of the 33 Club (plane crash). Bon Scott, who with AC/DC sang of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, presumably while on the Highway to Hell, is another member (acute alcohol poisoning leading to death by misadventure). Actor John Belushi (overdose of heroin and cocaine mixture), King Richard II of England (starved to death in captivity), and Eva Braun (picked the wrong boyfriend), are all members of the 33 Club, the list of which also includes David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh, Chris Farley, Evita Peron, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Mama Cass Elliott, to name just a few.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
A reportedly despondent Kurt Cobain committed suicide with a shotgun in this house he owned, adding his name to the list known as the 27 Club. Wikimedia

19. The 27 Club shows no indication of slowing down its membership drive

Though many members of the 27 Club are listed on most sites which describe the phenomena based on their age, rather than the fame or notoriety they achieved in life, new members are assigned to the group with somewhat disturbing regularity. Following the addition of Badfinger’s Pete Ham, few of the members of the group enjoyed a similar level of fame in life as the earlier members until one day in the spring of 1994, when Nirvana front man and to many the face of the grunge movement joined the group by committing suicide with a shotgun. Kurt Cobain’s death re-invigorated curiosity regarding the 27 Club, and since his entry several others have unfortunately occurred which have kept interest in the group in the public eye.

Two months after Cobain’s untimely though self-inflicted demise, Kristen Pfaff, another Seattle grunge scene musician and well-acquainted with Cobain (they were close friends according to some accounts), died of a heroin overdose. She too was 27. Several rap stars and rising stars have joined the club, including Stretch, Freaky Tah, and Fat Pat, all of whom gained entry by being the victims of murder. In 2011 singer Amy Winehouse became a member after her death from alcohol poisoning. The list continues to grow in the 21st century, and substance abuse, or the negative side-effects of substance abuse, continues to be the leading cause of death which provides unfortunates with the somewhat dubious honor of being members of the 27 Club.

Here are some of the Tragic Members of the 27 Club
Buddy Holly died much too young for inclusion in the 27 Club, despite widespread belief to the contrary. Wikimedia

20. Some are believed to be in the club that are not

Buddy Holly is sometimes attributed as being a member of the 27 Club, though he is not, having lost his life at the age of 22 in a plane crash. Richie Valens, of La Bamba fame, and a victim of the same accident, was but 17 years of age. Eddie Cochran (Summertime Blues) was 22 when he was killed in a car accident, and Patsy Cline was already 30 years of age when she died in a plane crash. On the other hand Rudy Lewis, who was the lead vocalist for the Drifters’ hits Up On the Roof, and On Broadway, was 27 at the time of his death in 1964, though he is often not included in lists of the 27 Club, for reasons unknown. Otis Redding died in an airplane crash in 1967 at the age of 26, and is often included in lists of the 27 Club, at least less well-researched editions.

Guitarist Duane Allman, killed in a motorcycle accident in Georgia in 1971, was 24. Berry Oakley, Allman’s bandmate, close friend, and fellow motorcyclist, was killed in a similar accident only three blocks from the scene of Allman’s. He too was 24. Guitarist Tommy Bolin died of a drug overdose at the age of 25, Marc Bolan at 29, and Sid Vicious, who made punk much more than just a musical style, was 21 when his heroin use got the better of him. The 27 Club is an unusual list of several coincidences, but it is by no means the complete list of early deaths endured by rock’s musical stars and those who aspired to be stars before the fates intervened.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Devil’s Music: The Life and Legacy of Robert Johnson”. Richard Havers, Discovermusic. May 8, 2019. Online

“Dicky Pride”. Steve Walker, TIM This is My Story. Online

“Obituary: Brian Jones”. Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone. August 9, 1969 (erroneously lists Jones’ age as 26)

“Alan Wilson of Canned Heat – Rockers Who Died at Age 27”. Dave Lifton, Ultimate Classic Rock. August 22, 2013

“Jimi Hendrix: The Intimate Story of a Betrayed Musical Legend”. Sharon Lawrence. 2005

“Janis Joplin Friend Says She Didn’t Die By Overdose”. Martin Kielty, Ultimate Classic Rock. October 2, 2018. Online

“Riders on the Storm” My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors”. John Densmore. 1991

“Linda Jones”. Biography, Soul Walking. Online

“Les Harvey – Electrocuted During a Concert”. Matthew Wilkening, Ultimate Classic Rock. May 3, 2013. Online

“‘Pigpen’ McKernan Dead at 27”. Editors, Rolling Stone. April, 1973

“The History of Pete Ham And Badfinger, Ultimate Classic Rock. April 24, 2015. Online

“Gary Thain Biography”. Gary Hill, Online

“Return to the Fun House”. Keith Cameron, Mojo. April, 2007

“Helmut Kollen of Triumvirat”. Dave Lifton, Ultimate Classic Rock. August 22, 2013

“It Came From Memphis”. Robert Gordon. 1995

“Ex-Candies member Tanaka dies”. The Japan Times. April 23, 2011

“Famous People who Died at 33”. The Famous People. Online

“The 27 Club: A Brief History”. Editors, Rolling Stone. November 12, 2013

“Rock and Roll’s Strangest Moments: Extraordinary but True Tales from 50 Years of Rock & Roll History”. Mike Evans. 2016