25 Jul 2011
This weekend, Amy Winehouse joined the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain in the tragic 27 Club. Her passing was unfortunate and inspired countless musings on the curse of being 27 and a rock star. Is there a curse? Is there even a pattern? Virtually every mainstream news outlet only offered up lines like this (from WaPo):
And then there was the “27” — rock-and-roll’s most dangerous number.
Dangerous, yes. Most dangerous? A few science blogs have looked at the reason we latch on to the coincidence of these deaths, but there’s virtually nothing on the arithmetic comparing 27 to other ages.
Here’s a breakdown (by age) of the deaths of pop musicians:
The process: I took every performance artist associated with the top 100 songs of each year since 1958, plus the top 30 of each since 1950. Just over 2700 names surfaced, of which 1920 have publicly available birthdays.
Conclusion: Even though the distribution of mortality isn’t normal, 27 doesn’t stick out at all. The 45 Club is even more prolific and includes Freddie Mercury, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Ricky Nelson, and Vicky Sue Robinson.
But the six that died at 27 were all very well known… perhaps their fame offsets the low count:
The process: I used the size of each artist’s Wikipedia bio as a rough estimate of their popularity. It’s messy, but not entirely inaccurate.
This, combined with the fact that many of these artists may now be more famous because they died young or at 27, implies The 27 Club may be little more confirmation bias of something we want to believe. Tragic in any case.
As a bonus, here are the biggest Wikipedia articles (used in the second chart about) of deceased pop music artists. Interestingly, six of the top 30 were 27:
|Artist||Date of Death||Age at Death||Size of Bio (bytes)|
|1||Michael Jackson||June 25, 2009||50||678205|
|2||Larry Norman||February 24, 2008||60||567654|
|3||Elvis Presley||August 16, 1977||42||489759|
|4||George Harrison||November 29, 2001||58||473953|
|5||Perry Como||May 12, 2001||89||459965|
|6||John Lennon||December 8, 1980||40||430026|
|7||Jimi Hendrix||September 18, 1970||27||347781|
|8||Amy Winehouse||July 23, 2011||27||340050|
|9||Frank Sinatra||May 14, 1998||82||334649|
|10||Brian Jones||July 3, 1969||27||274835|
|11||Freddie Mercury||November 24, 1991||45||267406|
|12||Billy Preston||June 6, 2006||59||261701|
|13||Linda McCartney||April 17, 1998||56||242898|
|14||Marvin Gaye||April 1, 1984||45||235208|
|15||James Brown||December 25, 2006||73||235144|
|16||Nicky Hopkins||September 6, 1994||50||233422|
|17||2Pac||September 13, 1996||25||232234|
|18||Aaliyah||August 25, 2001||22||228570|
|19||Jo Stafford||July 16, 2008||90||221186|
|20||Dusty Springfield||March 2, 1999||59||216142|
|21||Notorious B.I.G.||March 9, 1997||24||213507|
|22||Johnny Cash||September 12, 2003||73||212470|
|23||Kurt Cobain||April 5, 1994||27||195379|
|24||Jim Jones||November 18, 1978||47||190806|
|25||Ray Charles||June 10, 2004||73||185208|
|26||Bing Crosby||October 14, 1977||74||182754|
|27||Frankie Laine||February 6, 2007||93||182509|
|28||Jim Morrison||July 3, 1971||27||181778|
|29||Janis Joplin||October 4, 1970||27||176099|
|30||Louis Armstrong||July 6, 1971||71||174824|