Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? Retrospective cohort study

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Abstract

Objective

To test the “27 club” hypothesis that famous musicians are at an increased risk of death at age 27.

Design

Cohort study using survival analysis with age as a time dependent exposure. Comparison was primarily made within musicians, and secondarily relative to the general UK population.

Setting

The popular music scene from a UK perspective.

Participants

Musicians (solo artists and band members) who had a number one album in the UK between 1956 and 2007 (n=1046 musicians, with 71 deaths, 7%).

Main outcome measures

Risk of death by age of musician, accounting for time dependent study entry and the number of musicians at risk. Risk was estimated using a flexible spline which would allow a bump at age 27 to appear.

Results

We identified three deaths at age 27 amongst 522 musicians at risk, giving a rate of 0.57 deaths per 100 musician years. Similar death rates were observed at ages 25 (rate=0.56) and 32 (0.54). There was no peak in risk around age 27, but the risk of death for famous musicians throughout their 20s and 30s was two to three times higher than the general UK population.

Conclusions

The 27 club is unlikely to be a real phenomenon. Fame may increase the risk of death among musicians, but this risk is not limited to age 27.

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