If there’s one membership no one wanted to be part of, it’s the infamous 27 Club – the most famous musicians who died at age 27. Let’s face it, at this time of your life; you’ve hardly got going. However, the sad fact is that so many musicians have failed to reach a ripe old age and didn’t manage to live their best lives.
It is a tragic waste. So, with some obvious sadness, let’s take a look a look at some famous musicians dead at 27.
6 Most Famous Musicians Who Died At Age 27
I can remember first hearing her perform after an interview on a UK chat show, “Jonathan Ross,” in 2004. I didn’t pay too much attention during the interview, but once she started singing and playing, I was all ears.
She sang, “I Heard Love is Bind,” a track from her debut album, Frank, released in 2003. For whatever reason, the track wasn’t released as a single, though I think it should have been. She sang and accompanied herself on the guitar with some simple fingerpicking. I was transfixed, and I can honestly say I thought she had one of the best Soul/Jazz voices I’d heard in my life.
She was still just 20 years of age…
Her follow-up album to Frank was Back to Black, and this was nothing short of sensational. I bought that, too, and I was far from alone. It went on to make #1 in the UK and peaked at #2 in the US. It sold 18 million albums worldwide, making it her most successful album.
Sadly, that was the last album she released whilst she was still alive. Her best-selling and best-known single, “Rehab,” was taken from this album.
Amy Whinehouse, as well as an unbelievable vocalist, was a wonderful songwriter. Her talent was immense, and she had the world at her feet. But, sadly, it all too quickly came crashing down.
So, what went wrong?
Sadly, Amy Winehouse’s personal life was an absolute train wreck. She was a heavy drinker and habitual drug user. As the fame came, her drug-taking rapidly spiraled out of control. Her relationships and life also became increasingly hectic.
She was urged on many occasions to get help and to go into rehabilitation, which was the inspiration for her song, “Rehab.” Sometimes, she relented and went to rehab. However, there were all too many times when she steadfastly refused.
She should have listened…
In 2011, her lifestyle got the better of her, and she died of an alcohol overdose. Her family and friends had a loved one taken from them.
Much less importantly, the world lost one of the generation’s greatest singers. She died at the age of 27 years, ten months, and nine days. And, to this day, we all mourn the loss of a great musician who died when they were 27.
There are very few other musicians who made such a contribution to Blues Music. Robert Johnson was born in 1911, and in a relatively short period, his guitar playing, songwriting, and singing would go on to inspire generations of musicians to come.
With such an incredible resume, it might at first glance seem rather surprising that he recorded so little. However, when we consider that he only recorded music over a seven-month period, that makes a lot more sense.
It makes yet more sense when you consider the facilities and opportunities were very limited at the time. Despite all these barriers, he thankfully still managed to record at least some of his music.
One of the most important sessions…
This famously took place in San Antonio, in room 414, at the Gunter Hotel. During the session, sixteen songs were recorded. One of these songs was “Terraplane Blues.”
Many of the other songs are still available, and many of these went on to become Blues standards. They include such classics as “Crossroad Blues” and “Sweet Home Chicago.”
These songs, along with several others from room 414, have since been covered multiple times by just about every Blues artist you can think of.
The recordings were made in the late 1930s…
But, thanks to the work of Columbia Records that they ever found a larger audience. This is because, after much work, they managed to put a compilation album together of Robert Johnson’s best songs. It was called King of the Delta Blues Singers and was released in 1961.
What is striking is that, given all the obstacles in the way of the original recordings, Robert Johnson’s incredible voice and musical ability shone through. It’s a real testament to his talent, given the rudimentary nature of the equipment and the surroundings of the recordings.
The King of the Delta Blues was an extraordinary man who left behind an extraordinary legacy. He died of unknown causes at the age of 27 years, three months, and eight days. Possibly the first musician in the 27 Club.
He was born in Aberdeen, Washington State, in 1967, which, importantly, was very close to Seattle. When he was just 20 years old, he formed Nirvana as their lead singer and was instrumental in shaping the musical direction of the band.
Additionally, he also became one of the most influential musicians in establishing the Seattle music scene and Grunge.
Within two years of forming Nirvana…
And, armed with songs he had written as a child, the band released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. The album felt raw and polished but exciting and relatable. Not surprisingly, it charted well on the Indie charts and sold two million copies.
Their 1991 follow-up album, Nevermind, was very different. It was their first record working with a major label, DCG, and the result was a more elaborate and better-produced album. It quickly caught the attention of the mainstream buying public and reached #1 on the US Billboard 200 charts.
Its success was fueled by some phenomenal tracks, including “Lithium” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” They captured the imagination of a whole new army of fans. An army of 30 million who bothered to put their hand in their pockets to buy a copy.
Two years later…
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana released their third and final album, In Utero. This was also a big commercial success. It went #1 in the US and the UK, selling over 15 million albums.
At this point, Kurt Cobain was facing a series of ever-increasing severe physical and mental health issues. From a young age, he’d been plagued with a painful stomach condition as well as bronchitis. He also suffered from recurrent depression.
His health difficulties subsequently became exacerbated by heavy drinking and drug taking. He eventually began taking heroin, which, although it gave temporary relief to his stomach pain, only served to make things worse.
In the months that followed…
The drug-taking and drinking spiraled out of control. He subsequently made several suicide attempts trying to use a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. However, on the 5th of April 1994, he gained access to a shotgun and shot himself.
A sad end to an immensely talented and troubled young man. He died at the age of 27 years, one month, and 13 days. All told, Cobain is known as one of the most famous musicians who died at age 27.
Jim Morrison spent virtually all of his adult life in California, although he was born in Florida in 1943. It wasn’t until he turned eighteen that he moved to the Golden State to study film at UCLA. Having a keen interest in poetry, he also used the time to develop his fascination with writing.
After graduating, he stayed in California on Venice Beach. He hung out with a group of friends and lived a carefree Bohemian lifestyle by the beach. He also used the time to continue writing poems that would later become lyrics for future songs.
Fate ultimately brought Jim Morrison into contact with a group of friends who, in 1965, formed The Doors. Jim Morrison became their unlikely lead vocalist and the band’s lyricist.
Despite his undoubted artistic talent…
Jim Morrison was essentially shy and not naturally predisposed to performing. His lack of confidence manifested itself with bad bouts of stage fright. In the early days, things were so bad that he couldn’t even turn to face his audience when performing.
Luckily, the keyboard player, Ray Manzarek, took the time to help Morrison work through his anxieties and help him create an on-stage persona. The result was the unleashing of an enigmatic and charismatic performer.
The band was, in some ways, a product of their time and place…
They played a combination of Psychedelic Rock, Jazz, and Blues. Plus, like many bands of the time, they actively experimented with a series of different sounds.
The Door’s debut album, the self-titled The Doors, was released in 1967. It contained the incredible singles “Light My Fire” and “The End,” which I consider to be their best song. It was a magnificent album and one that many still regard as the greatest debut album in music history.
Five more albums were released whilst Jim Morrison was still alive…
The last of these was L.A. Woman, which came out in 1971. It became their second best-selling album with 10 million sales. However, their debut album, The Doors, remained their most successful album, with 14 million in sales.
Jim Morrison had the world at his feet, but sadly, his erratic behavior would be his downfall. As his success grew, his drinking and drug-taking grew with it. In an all too familiar story, this ultimately proved to be his undoing.
He drank heavily and regularly and was also prone to taking LSD and amphetamines, which only added fuel to the fire. As this all increased and got more out of hand, his personal and mental health also understandably deteriorated.
On the 3rd of July 1971…
The Rock and Roll lifestyle caught up with him. After a heavy drinking and drug-taking session, he collapsed and was later found dead in his Paris hotel room.
The fire was out, and for this unique individual, it was the end. He left us after just 27 years, six months, and 26 days. But he remains a legendary musician who died at 27 years old.
Jimi Hendrix was born in 1942, clutching a guitar in his tiny hands. He was born in Seattle, but after a brief spell in the army, moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1962. During this time, he played on an established music circuit that was almost entirely dedicated to African American audiences.
His musical talent was colossal. But, outside of this small community, he was completely unknown, and his guitar prowess was frequently poorly utilized. Ironically, it took a move to London in 1966 for Jimi Hendrix to get the platform to play his music to a wider audience.
It was Chas Chandler, the bass player of The Animals and future manager, who persuaded him to move to London. During this time, Jimi Hendrix rubbed shoulders with Rock legends of the UK, including Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.
Jimi further developed his Psychedelic guitar style…
And, in the same year that he arrived in London, he released Are You Experienced. Albums followed in the next two years with Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland.
Incredibly, other than his live album, Band of Gypsies, released in 1970, there were no more albums. He released just four albums which seems so little given that he was arguably the greatest Rock guitarist of all time.
His life quickly unraveled once he moved to London…
Before this time, he wasn’t known for regularly taking drugs. Possibly because they were not readily available, however, his move to England in the swinging 60s soon changed that. Ironically, as his success grew, so did his drug taking. And, like so many Rock stars before and since, it proved to be fatal.
On the 18th of September 1970, he joined the most famous musicians who died at age 27 club. He died of an accidental drug overdose and was 27 years, eight months, and 21 days old.
Janis Joplin was one of very few female Rock singers of her generation. She was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943 and was very much a free spirit. She was always passionate about singing and performing, even from an early age. Although unusual for a white girl, she was drawn to Blues music.
Her inspirations of the time were Lead Belly and Ma Rainey. Janis’ association with black music and her quirky, unconventional nature made her the subject of bullying during high school. Her clothes, hair, and general looks appeared Bohemian and not what was expected in Texas during the 50s.
Janis attended college but dropped out as her true love was music…
She ended up in San Francisco in 1963, and this was when her music and drugs career got started. She began recording with other bands and performing live. But it wasn’t until six years later that she began recording with her own band.
Sadly, in the next two years, her drug-taking reached dangerous levels, to the point that she became almost skeletal and in danger of losing her life. Fortunately, she returned home, and the drug-taking subsequently stopped.
However, music proved to be too big a lure to stay away from…
In 1966, convinced she had shaken off the demon attraction of drugs, she returned to San Francisco. This time she hooked up with Big Brother & The Holding Company.
Blown away by her powerful and Bluesy voice, they recruited her as their lead singer and released two albums. Big Brother & The Holding Company in 1967 and then Cheap Thrills in 1968. The second of these went #1 and sold two million copies in the US.
A solo career followed, and sadly so did the drugs in ever-increasing quantities. What also followed was possibly one of the most iconic Rock performances at the Woodstock Festival. Despite being wasted on drink and drugs, she put together a performance that will never be forgotten.
Only two studio albums were released during her solo career…
The second of these, Pearl, came out just three months after her death. It went to #1 and sold over four million copies making it her most successful studio album.
Sadly, she would become one of the most recognized musicians to die at 27, and she also happened to be female. Her body finally gave way to a drug overdose on the 4th of October 1970. She was 27 years, eight months, and 26 days old.
Want to Discover More Famous Musicians?
If so, have a look at our detailed articles on Famous Blind Musicians, the Most Famous Black Singers Of The 1960s, the Most Famous Female Singers Of The 1970s, the Most Famous American Singers Of All Time, and Who is the Famous One Arm Drummer for more information.
Most Famous Musicians Who Died At Age 27 – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. This is all a rather sad look at some well-known musicians who died at 27. However, despite their short lives, they created and did so much, leaving behind an amazing legacy and an amazing catalog of music.
Sadly, they also left behind friends and family…
Plus, they left behind so much potential for a better future. It’s all tragic, and there is absolutely nothing glamorous and nothing to be celebrated in any of this. Almost without exception, the one thing that all of these deaths have in common is drugs. They are easy to get into but a damn sight harder to get off.
If you’re caught up with this or any other mental health issues, talk to a friend, a family member, or a professional. People are out there and want to help.
Until next time, take care of yourselves, and happy listening.