The “rock star” lifestyle is notoriously grueling. For many people living that type of life, drugs and alcohol began as a way to party, to have fun with friends and fans alike. But over time, the substance abuse and addiction evolved as a way to cope with depression, anxiety or the intense pressure of trying to make the charts or stay on top of them.
There’s even a history of rock stars succumbing to the disease of addiction and dying by the age of 27. It’s called The 27 Club and here are some of its most famous members.
Musicians of The 27 Club
Famous for her smoky, powerful voice, Amy Winehouse had a tumultuous life and an ongoing struggle with substance abuse and mental health for many years.
She put many of her battles into her lyrics, with songs like “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab.”
She was pronounced dead at her London home on July 23, 2011. “A verdict of misadventure” is what the coroner’s report stated, noting that her blood alcohol level, at 0.416 percent, was enough to be fatal.
A Seattle “grunge rock” legend, Kurt Cobain was among the generation of musicians that brought alternative rock to the masses.
In the early ’90s, the album Nevermind was released with the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Cobain became iconic.
Sadly, in his last years, the singer songwriter and musician battled from the co-occurring illnesses of depression and heroin addiction.
He took his own life and was found in his Seattle home days after his death, on April 5, 1994.
Best known as the bassist for the band Hole, an alternative rock band fronted by Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife, Kristen Pfaff‘s career got its start in the Minneapolis band Janitor Joe.
During her time with Hole, in Seattle, Pfaff grew close with Cobain and others and dabbled in what some friends observed to be moderate drug use.
Nonetheless, in February ’94, Pfaff went to a Minneapolis treatment center for heroin addiction and got clean.
In June ’94, however, she was found dead in her Seattle apartment from acute opiate intoxication.
A staple during the cultural revolution of the late 1960s, Janis Joplin was a blues and rock legend who gained notoriety as the front-woman of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She later left the band for a solo career and performed at the iconic concert Woodstock.
Throughout her career, Joplin was known as a heavy drinker and drug user. She had a period of sobriety in the mid-60s when she stepped away from the music industry, even telling a counselor she didn’t see how to stay in the music business without using drugs and alcohol.
After failing to appear for a recording session on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in a Hollywood Hotel she was staying at, the victim of a heroin overdose.
Though most of his success came in a four-year timespan, Jimi Hendrix was a lifelong guitarist, picking the instrument up in his teens. He’s now considered a pioneer and one of the most celebrated musicians in all of rock music.
With too many hits to name, his distorted, feedback-heavy rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” captured the minds of a generation rebelling against the Vietnam War.
Friends have said over the years that Hendrix struggled with drug and alcohol use, sometimes becoming violent when intoxicated. He was pronounced dead on September 18, 1970, after an apparent overdose to barbiturates.
Lead singer of the counterculture band The Doors, Jim Morrison‘s unique voice helped launch the group to fame, singing and co-writing songs like “Light My Fire,” “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm.”
His erratic and unpredictable behavior during concerts was often attributed to a dependency on alcohol he developed during the ’60s.
Just nine months after the deaths of Joplin and Hendrix, Morrison was found dead in a Paris apartment on July 3, 1971, in what French officials referred to only as heart failure, though no autopsy was ever performed.
He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery one of the most visited attractions in Paris.
Founder of The Rolling Stones and the band’s original leader, Brian Jones started out as a slide guitarist.
Along with the help of Keith Richards, Jones established the band’s original rock and roll, blues style of having two rhythm and lead guitarists playing simultaneously.
Jones, however, developed substance abuse issues in the mid to late ’60s and by the end of the decade, the band asked him to leave.
A month later, on the second or third night of July 1969, Jones was found at the bottom of his swimming pool.
Doctors pronounced him dead at the scene, noting in the coroner’s report that his heart and liver were enlarged due to alcohol and drug abuse, though rumors of foul play still surround his passing.
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan
A founding member of the band The Grateful Dead, Ron McKernan, known affectionately by the band and Deadheads alike as “Pigpen,” was a piano and harmonica player on the San Francisco music scene.
Pigpen had a close relationship with Janis Joplin, with both preferring booze to drugs at the time.
He was one of the only band members not arrested in a 1970 police drug-raid that led to the group’s song Truckin’.
Despite his distaste for drugs, McKernan drank so heavily that he developed health issues by his early 20’s. He was found dead on March 8, 1973, as a result of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
Legend has it that American blues pioneer Robert Johnson, born in 1911, sold his soul to the devil at the local crossroads to gain his success.
Though he’s recognized as a master of the Delta Blue style of music, he received little public recognition while alive, participating in only two known recording sessions.
His death was even more mysterious, passing on August 16, 1938, of unknown causes and disappearing.
Some three decades after his death, a researcher found his death certificate that showed no cause of death and listed him as a dead black man by the side of the road near a farm.
These are just some of the most famous musicians who sadly became part of the 27 Club due to the use of drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, there are celebrities in other creative fields who also were caught in the grips of substance use and had their lives cut short far too soon.