Addiction recovery is possible, but not everyone manages to recover. Sometimes, addiction overwhelms the ability to carry on sober.
Families and friends impacted mourn the deaths of thousands of overdose victims every year. High-profile or celebrity deaths attract disproportionate attention including from the media, giving society the opportunity for endless analysis and interpretation.
What is The 27 Club?
“The 27 Club” list draws special attention to drug-related deaths from the music world. Each member of this unfortunate club died at the age of 27. Each of these musicians enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. Like stars, they burned bright but did not burn for long.
A hedonistic lifestyle full of drugs, alcohol, wild parties, and drama precipitated their untimely deaths. Though we admire and aspire to be like celebrities, their deaths are grim lessons on how not to live.
How Did The 27 Club Become Infamous?
The first members of The 27 Club “joined” more than a century ago. The stories of their dramatic ends made each death a media sensation. The pattern in the media repeated over decades gathered much attention. Music fans looking back on stars that died too soon saw an inordinate number of deaths at the age of 27.
Statistically, 27 has no more significance than 26, 28, or any other age. That said, celebrity musicians are two to three times more likely to die in their twenties and thirties than the general population.
Who is in The 27 Club?
Many discussions of The 27 Club refer to “the big six:”
- Amy Winehouse
- Brian Jones
- Janis Joplin
- Jim Morrison
- Jimi Hendrix
- Kurt Cobain
The media sensation around their high-profile deaths built The 27 Club. Journalists and celebrity lovers have contributed their industry input when deciding who to add to The 27 Club; the current list has too many to name here.
The 27 Club began more than 100 years ago with the death of Robert Johnson. Unlike many members of the club, doctors never confirmed the cause of death. Modern medicine speculates that the long fingers that made him a legend on the guitar indicate Marfan’s Syndrome. This connective tissue disorder can cause aortic dissection, a deadly rip in the heart that leaks blood into the chest cavity.
The lead singer of The Drifters choked in his sleep after a binge-eating session and drug overdose. The second member of the club died in 1964 after a four-year run with the R&B vocal group. This nasty combination of mental illness and drug use is all too common today.
Less than a month after his 1969 departure from The Rolling Stones, Brian Johnson drowned in his pool. He developed a drinking and drug problem over the band’s tumultuous history, which led to his death. The coroner’s report confirmed a potent combination of HIV medication (“pep pills”), sleeping tablets, and alcohol in his system. Polydrug use poses an even greater threat than individual drugs, which killed Brian Jones.
Addicted to heroin as he toured the country, Jimi Hendrix enjoyed a brief career as one of the ultimate guitarists of the 1960s. A combination of alcohol and barbiturate sleeping pills led to an overdose that killed him two days before his twenty-eighth birthday. Hendrix choked on his own vomit in his sleep.
Like many members of The 27 Club, legal issues and major stresses plagued his last days.
Joplin and Hendrix both died in 1970. A heroin overdose took her life after four years of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” The counter-cultural philosophy of drug use, music, and social change rampant in the 60s butchered one of its strongest proponents before a morning recording session.
French officials declared The Doors’ lead singer’s cause of death was congestive heart failure. He developed a drinking problem after an indecent exposure conviction and a series of disastrous shows, which may have contributed to the decline in his health.
The lead vocalist and keyboardist of the Grateful Dead quit drinking in 1972 as his health failed. While he died of an unrelated congenital condition, his romance with fellow 27 Club member Janis Joplin and his publicized drinking issues grant him full membership in this undesirable club. Before his death, he cut off all relationships to protect his bandmates and loved ones from his miserable alcoholic state.
NYC neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988. His prolific career attracted the attention of prominent names like Andy Warhol and earned acclaim as the youngest artist to ever exhibit work at multiple prestigious showcases.
Basquiat began his life as a brilliant academic and experienced an adolescence of early drug use, incestuous sex, and homelessness. As a young adult, he thundered into the wealthy New York art scene he once despised. Uncontrolled spending, explosive cocaine use, promiscuity, and grief-driven heroin abuse after Warhol’s death killed him just as fast as he rose to prominence.
The newest member, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. Her death put The 27 Club back in the spotlight. Winehouse refused to accept mental health treatment, contrary to her doctor’s advice. She was famous for her determination to carve her own path through life, but this admirable independence led her to ignore resources that could have saved her life.
What Did Members of The 27 Club Have in Common?
Fame, fortune, glitz, glamor, and a lifestyle full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll fill the biographies of most 27 Club members. Several became famous overnight. Many came from poor and underserved backgrounds. Unfamiliar with their newfound fame, drugs, and alcohol become their best friends in a whirlwind of fake friends and lavish, high-speed lifestyles.
Lessons We Can Learn From the 27 Club
Despite their early deaths, members of The 27 Club teach us lessons by acting as cautionary tales.
Unhealthy choices killed Jones, Hendrix, and Joplin. More than unconscious health choices, they chose to court promiscuous sex, heavy drug abuse, drinking, and partying. We glamorize this kind of celebrity life that has repeatedly shown to be deadly in excess.
In polysubstance use, drug users ingest multiple substances at the same time as a way to enhance the benefits or reduce side effects. The unpredictable chemical results of these combinations intensify side effects and have unknown consequences. The bodies of multiple members of The 27 Club had multiple drugs when autopsied—a clear indicator that combined drugs are deadly.
Jim Morrison turned to alcohol to deal with multiple stressors rather than develop healthier coping mechanisms. We can’t avoid stressors, but we can learn new ways to face them.
Build a Genuine Support Network
Loneliness accompanies fame. Yes-men, business magnates, and recording labels ready to squeeze artists for every last time come from every side. A support network of families and peers improves addiction recovery.
Basquiat, who ran away from home, had no healthy relationships to rely on when his mentor and friend Andy Warhol died. His friends enabled his addictions, rather than give him an honest assessment of his actions. Things might have turned out differently if he had a more sensible and genuine social circle.
Step Into the Light with Never Alone Recovery
Regardless of age, wealth, or fame, people suffering from addiction are on a dark trajectory. Never Alone Recovery provides a free online support group to help patients worldwide meet with others who understand. Our free drug rehab placement programs treat patients individually and direct them to facilities that best meet their needs. Contact us to learn more about our programs and how they can help you.