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''Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse!'' is one of the most famous lines in Hollywood, said by actor John Derek at the end of the 1940s. The ominous statement summarizes an entire generation's view on life - live on your terms with no regard to consequences. This is the story of the '27 Club' curse.
The 'Club 27' curse: Rock's darkest story
Excess, drugs, alcohol and fame are the main ingredients that make up the deadly cocktail that claimed the lives of so many legendary rock figures. The last factor in this sinister story would be the age when they all died, 27. Coincidence or curse? Many people want to believe that aside from the direct causes of death, this could be the result of a curse.
Some of the artists died because of overdosing, other committed suicide or were murdered, but the fact remains that the long list of people deceased at the age of 27 has sparked conspiracy theories regarding a cursed generation. One thing that we can be sure of is that they all shared a similar path in life: worldwide recognition and instant wealth that threw them into the pits of existential crises. One way to mitigate this was to use drugs and alcohol as a way of escapism.
We want to present the eight most famous cases, and perhaps reveal more of the coincidences that intertwined the tragic destinies of the members of 'Club 27'.
Robert Johnson, The King of the Delta Blues, an African American guitar player from Mississipi, was the dramatic pioneer that started the now famous 'Club 27'. His incredible and unexpected talent gave way to a new and improved style of blues in the '30, a new wave that was mixing an array of techniques such as triplets, sliding, and carefully crafted harmonies that made up groundbreaking compositions. Many consider him to be the father of ''guitar slide'', where a metal tube is placed against the strings while playing to create glissando effects.
The reality is that Johnson's life was just as controversial as his death. People believed that the musician, having had a mediocre start to his career, had made a pact with the Devil in exchange for talent. This theory was reinforced by the fact that after Johnson's wife died giving birth to a stillborn child, he allegedly renounced God in favor of the Devil.
Some records indicate that he died after he was poisoned by a jealous husband, others claim he died of syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease). The fact of the matter is that his death certificate, dated 16th August 1938, states that an autopsy was not performed.
These are the mysterious events that started the infamous 'Club 27'.
Musician and founder of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, who passed away thirty years after Johnson, was also 27 years old when he died, in the summer of 1969. Similarly to all the artists on this list, Jones' death happened under peculiar circumstances: he was found face down, floating in his pool. Police records of the time stated that asthma was the cause of death, but the fact that he died alone led people to believe there was more to the story than beat the eye, and a new conspiracy theory was born.
Although Jones didn't write any of the Rolling Stones hits, the creativity and energy that he infused the band with during his time as bassist remains unmatched to this day.
The problem was the contrast between his incredible talent and his hectic personality: constantly partying and doing drugs, a sullen character that would cause endless arguments with the other band members which eventually caused Jones to drift from the band.
In June 1969, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger saw him for the last time before he turned up a month later, floating in the pool of his farm in Sussex. Was it death by natural causes or murder?
Born the same year at Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, now a member of the 27 Club, died only months after a turbulent yet incredibly successful year.
Jimi's experimental spirit and his unassailable talent marked him down in history as one of the best guitar players, rivaled only by legendary B.B. King and Jimmi Page. Despite his talent, Jimi's career only lasted four years.
Hendrix made a name for himself in 1965 when he played with Little Richard, and only two years after that, in 1966, his musical career officially took off when three of his songs made the Top 10 in British charts. His performance at Monterrey pop festival brought him fame across the United States and marked the beginning of a series of tours that would transform Hendrix in a symbol of the hippie movement. The Woodstock festival in 1969 was the cherry on top and further solidified Jimi's status as a rock god.
Hendrix had already started his affair with drugs years before, but his dramatic ascend to the top of the rock world caused a process of self-destruction which culminated on the night of September 17, 1970, when he died of an overdose of barbiturates. He was 27 years old.
The same year as Hendrix died, the world lost another music icon, but this time it was the first woman to conquer the rock world. Janis Joplin, who had a similar career to Hendrix, and was also a symbol of the hippie movement.
Janis did not possess the natural talent or music studies that her fellow musicians had, but her experimental and psychedelic approach to music and her irresistible charisma turned her into a role model for the American counterculture. Aside from her fierce activism against the abuses of capitalism, war and the violation of human rights, Janis Joplin was loved by an entire generation due to her unique voice.
Unfortunately, she was haunted by the same demons as Hendrix and was unable to stop the voracious excesses that were so in fashion at the time. Sources close to the singer claim that she had a strange fascination with death and enjoyed talking about what the world would be like if she was gone.
The prophecy was fulfilled on the morning of October 4, 1970, when Janis passed away, mysteriously alone just like the other artists. She overdosed on heroin, that was allegedly purer than what she had used before. The strange thing, however, is that investigators did not find any syringes next to the body. Many believe this to be another suspicious element in this dark history of rock.
Those fateful months became even more tragic as the world experienced another loss. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors and rock icon of the decade, was found dead.
His enigmatic aura mixed with his artistic personality, the rebel poet and the psychedelic musician, fit in perfectly with the counterculture of the times. Hendrix became a living legend that, much like the rest of the artists of his generation, was consumed by its own tragic fate.
His life and death are captured in the lyrics of his songs, messengers of dark and pessimistic poems, with a distressing message for a generation stuck at a crossroads. ''Walk on through to the other side'', was Morrison's invitation to cross over into the dark side of life, a vital life philosophy that suggested rebelling against a boring and comfortable existence, surrounded by the hypocrisy and frustration that the technological advancements of the '60 were causing.
Aside from a promiscuous lifestyle, peppered with orgies and constant liaisons with his groupies, Jim Morrison was a textbook alcoholic. His partner, Pamela Courson found him dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment, on July 3, 1971. French laws did not require an autopsy, so it was never performed thus sparking controversy once again.
Although he wasn't as known as the last three artists, Alan Wilson was a young musician who stood out because of his artistry in performing blues music. Lider and founder of the group Canned Heat, Wilson used this platform to showcase his incredible talent for playing the guitar.
Although overshadowed by the mammoths of the time, Alan Wilson did enjoy his success in the American charts of the time. His performance at the Monterrey festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969, together with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, stands testament to his talent. His incredible skill with the guitar allowed him to make a name for himself in a style of music dominated by African American artists.
His star, however, did not shine for long. On September 3, 1970, his body was found in the house of band member Bob Hite. Cause of death overdose. The curse on the band had just started: Bob Hite died in 1980, Vestine in 1997 and Richard Hite in 2001.
The deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison represented the pinnacle of the 'Club 27' curse, and in the following next two decades, there was no other similar death reported. It wasn't until April 5, 1994, that America's bad boy, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide in his house and restarted the curse.
Kurt Cobain was the poster child for a generation of misfits; he represented the uprise against society's rules and restraints. Aside from being good looking and sporting a disheveled look, Cobain had also been fueling his bad boy image by turning into a grunge icon, a fusion genre of alternative rock, that came to life in the form of the band Nirvana.
The overnight success that 'grunge' had achieved came with a price. The American media turned Cobain, and his band members into cannon fodder and what had started as the rebellious boy rising against society eventually turned into nothing more than a commercial commodity.
Sources claim this was the tipping point for Cobain, who had been already riddled with depression and anxiety. Twenty-three years after the last recorded 'Club 27' death, Kurt Cobain left a suicide note for his wife and then shot himself in the head.
The last addition to the '27 Club' was a tormented soul, whose passing, although anticipated, shook the world to its core. The name of the artist: Amy Winehouse.
Her voice, just as powerful as her spirit, was doomed by an extremely frail personality that couldn't cope with the pressure of fame. Her second album, Back to Black, received incredible reviews and propelled her into stardom leaving the whole world at her feet.
Amy grew up in a modest middle-class environment and had always had a rebel streak in her. The world was smitten with her careless look, transgressive fashion sense, and bright tattoos. Deep down, however, she was struggling with demons that would eventually lead her to alcohol an drug abuse.
A frequent user of crack, cocaine, and vodka, the world witnessed in shock her physical deterioration that became apparent during the catastrophic performances she gave in the months leading to her death. On July 23, 2011, her bodyguard found her body in her house, the official cause of death was accidental alcohol poisoning.
Despite the rumors surrounding the death of her predecessors and members of Club 27, in Amy's case, the causes of her death were quite clear: sadness and loneliness.