What is the 27 club? A brief history of the tragic club and those who are part of it

a collage of kurt cobain jimi hendrix and amy winehouse who all died at the age of 27
What is the 27 club? And who is in it?Getty Images

At one point or another, it's highly likely you'll have heard the phrase 'the 27 club' casually thrown about in conversation. While some are familiar with its bleak origins, others may not be, and as names like Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix are discussed as potential fancy dress options for your mate's upcoming '27 club-themed' birthday party, chances are, you've silently mulled over the term and what it actually means.

In fact, 'the 27 club' is a cultural phenomenon that has cemented itself as one of the most elusive yet equally tragic coincidences in popular culture. And if you will, in all of rock & roll history: it refers to the informal list of celebrities - mostly musicians - who tragically died at the age of 27.

What is the 27 club?

Between the years of 1969 and 1971, four of the biggest musical artists all passed away in their 27th year. Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were at the peaks of their careers, had amassed millions of fans, were incredibly influential, and had - at such a young age - already created music that fans and critics alike knew would leave a huge legacy.

While the untimely deaths of each visionary were all linked thanks to their age, it wasn't until Kurt Cobain took his own life in 1994 that the urban myth of the 27 club infiltrated its way into the popular zeitgeist. Eerily, all of the deaths were either attributed to drug and alcohol abuse, homicide or suicide.

Then, in 2011, when Amy Winehouse was reported dead at 27 after suffering from alcohol poisoning at her home in Camden Town, the significance of the age garnered more attention. This time, from the younger generations.

What famous celebrities are members of the 27 club?

Here are some of the most famous celebrities who are - unfortunately - a member of this very tragic club:

Brian Jones: 1942-1969

musician brian jones in 1968 photo by chris walterwireimage
Chris Walter - Getty Images

Jones was the founder, rhythm/lead guitarist, and OG leader of the iconic band, The Rolling Stones. On 3rd July, 1969, he was discovered face down and motionless in the swimming pool at his home at Cotchford Farm, East Sussex. Following his death, murder theories soon developed, however, a coroner soon stated his death was "a result of misadventure."

Jimi Hendrix: 1942-1970

rock guitarist jimi hendrix 1942 1970 in 1966 in london, england photo by cyrus andrewsmichael ochs archivesgetty images
Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images

Hendrix was, and still is one of the most influential and celebrated electric guitarists in the history of popular music. However, he was also widely known to abuse drugs and alcohol, and was found unresponsive and unconscious on 18 September 1970. After being taken to St Mary Abbots Hospital in Kensington, London, he was pronounced dead, with his eventual cause of death revealed as a barbiturate overdose.

Janis Joplin: 1943-1970

janis joplin in london april 1969 photo by daily mirrormirrorpixmirrorpix via getty images
Mirrorpix - Getty Images

Another highly influential musician, Janis Joplin was (and IMO still is) one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. From her incredible range to the way she could evoke emotion so effortlessly (honestly, listen to her version of 'Little Girl Blue') she also had stage presence like no other performer of her time. Unfortunately, she died of a heroin overdose on 4 October 1970, aged 27.

Jim Morrison: 1943-1971

los angeles january 6 jim morrison of the doors, right, on the smothers brothers comedy hour image dated january 6, 1969 photo by cbs via getty images
CBS Photo Archive - Getty Images

Lead singer of The Doors, Morrison is also regarded as one of the most influential frontmen in rock history. He was known for his poetic lyricism and unpredictable stage presence and has often been coined as one of pop culture's top rebellious icons. His premature death came on the 3 July 1971, when he was found dead in the bathtub of a Paris apartment. The official cause of his death was listed as heart failure.

Kurt Cobain: 1967-1994

kurt cobain of nirvana photo by jeff kravitzfilmmagic
Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images

Cobain was the pioneer of and (is) the face of grunge, after his band, Nirvana, established themselves as part of the Seattle music scene – which has been credited for developing the musical movement. As well his genius in terms of songwriting, he also famously married Courtney Love, the lead singer of alternative rock girl band Hole, and the pair were known for their tumultuous relationship. Tragically, he was found dead in his Seattle home on 5 April 1994 from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.

Amy Winehouse: 1983-2011

amy winehouse performs at shepherds bush empire in london photo by rune hellestadcorbis via getty images
Rune Hellestad - Corbis - Getty Images

Amy Winehouse is another incredible musician who made her mark on popular music, despite only ever releasing two albums. Her sophomore album 'Back to Black' was what catapulted her to global fame, thanks to its blend of jazz, soul, and R&B. Plus, it's stark and honest explorations of grief, guilt, trauma, infidelity and heartbreak. Winehouse's struggles with drugs and alcohol were also widely documented in the mainstream media, and on 23 July 2011, she was found dead in her Camden townhouse, which was later ruled as alcohol poisoning.

While nothing can bring back these incredible icons – whose lives were cut way too short – their talent, influence and legacies live on.

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