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Winehouse, Cobain, Hendrix: What is it about age 27?

Amy Winehouse performs at the Brit Awards at Earls Court in London February 20, 2008.


What is it about the year 27? As speculation swirls about the death of British singer Amy Winehouse this weekend, one theme is her membership in the mythic "27 Club" of musicians who have died at the same age.

Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Kurt Cobain. According to a book on the topic called The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll, more musicians have died at the age of 27 than any other age.

But why 27 and not 29, 36?

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Forbes blogger Kiri Blakeley took an early stab at understanding the phenomenon.

"Perhaps there is something subconscious and karmic about dying at the age of your idols: Chris Farley and John Belushi both died at age 33. I certainly hope it's not intentional."

As Ms. Blakeley writes,

"Cobain's mother even reportedly once said to her son, 'Don't join that stupid club,' before he committed suicide at age 27. According to Cobain's biography, Heavier Than Heaven, Cobain's sister said that, as a child, Cobain talked about wanting to join the club."

In an interesting wrinkle, Ms. Blakeley added a note to her blog post pointing out that her post may have been the first to make the 27 Club connection - she wrote it in less than half an hour after the news broke, after finding no references to the coincidence. In the lightening-speed world of social media, this counts for something.

"So I wrote the blog in about 15 minutes, and updated it a couple of times... I'm not saying that my idea was original, it was not. But it was for that brief time before everyone else did it. And I'm adding this because, if all of the stories were out there that are out there now about Amy and the "27 Club," I never would have written it. Just sayin'."

Well, we still will. It's pretty haunting.

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At least one scholarly paper appears to have addressed the phenomenon, but it places the deaths under an umbrella of substance abuse among celebrities. In 2009, an American doctor S. Robert Lathan, presented a paper which suggested the two often make a toxic cocktail. He started with Elvis.

"The common denominator in all these young celebrity deaths is substance abuse, a disease that can result in depression, insomnia, personality changes, impaired judgment, and poor relationships.

"In some of these cases, medical care was somewhat questionable and inadequate, and self-medication was frequent. The deaths in many cases were shrouded in mystery due to cover-up attempts."

While we don't yet know all the details in Ms. Winehouse's death, even if substance abuse was a factor, to what degree does her age play a role?

Is the 27th birthday somehow the equivalent of marriage's seven-year-itch? Too old for naive hedonism, but too late to change your ways? Tell us what you think

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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