27 Candles and None for Good Luck: Top 5 Rockers Who Died at 27

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The idea of ranking most interesting deaths is, well, a bit morbid – morose, even. But in a pop culture world, one surefire way of solidifying your place in the musical canon is to have an interesting death. In researching the complete list of rockers who died at 27 years of age (apparently, an age right when the brain makes one final chemical/hormonal development – figures, right?) proved that there were plenty of musicians who never made it past that age. Whether it’s something inherent in our brain chemistry, or the doomed stars of time, these five artists were the most influential of those who died at age 27.

5 Brian Jones: 28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969

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Last but not least, Brian Jones, founding member of The Rolling Stones, was prolific musician and brilliant innovator. Sadly enough, Jones couldn’t quite handle being overshadowed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and was eventually asked to leave the band. Bad luck, eh Bri? Brian Jones’ bad luck wouldn’t stop there – his drug habit and depression spiraled out of control in the wake of losing his footing in The Rolling Stones. Who knows whether or not if Jones’ had stayed where The Rolling Stones would be now. His departure removed the aspect of experimentalism from the group, the result of which was twofold. On the one hand, they lost that experimentalism. On the other hand, they were able to truly refine their sound, which is undoubtedly unique – the fact that they’re around 50 years later proves that point. Jones’ death reflected his life – found motionless at the bottom of a swimming pool, all the effort Jones had put into crafting his music, and his life, ended up submerged under murky blue, and chemically altered waters.

4 Jim Morrison: December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971

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Closer to the bottom rank, Jim takes number four for one simple fact – he boasted of his own death. Sure, the other artists waxed poetic about how they weren’t meant for this earth, and their time was numbered, better to burn out than fade away, blah blahblah. But Jim Morrison apparently toasted his own death, adding that he’d be joining Janis and Jimi soon. So when one year later he was found dead in a bathtub, it wasn’t surprising. However, Jim Morrison’s death is interesting because of how radical his own transformation was in the years leading up to it. Besides gaining a ton of weight and a very ugly beard, the art he was putting out in the latter years of his life was completely different from what made The Doors such an amazing group. The Lizard King had broken down the doors of perception, and as such he needed a new identity. In life, there was no way he could claim it. He would always be The Lizard King, Jim Morrison: the modern day Dionysus, and to escape the shackles of those labels he shuffled loose his mortal coil, leaving us deeply saddened, holding the chains.

3 Janis Joplin: January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970

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Out livingHendrix by three weeks, Janis Joplin – the queen of the blues – takes the number three spot of the top five rockers to die before at 27. Janis’ life was tragic from the moment it started, or so it seemed. Janis was famous for saying something to the effect of: “to sing the blues you have to live the blues.” Well, not only did she live the blues but she certainly died them, too. Her voice was powerful enough to break down walls – and people had to stand back as the tidal wave of passion came crashing down over them. No one has claimed as much vocal fervor as Janis had, and that no one can take up her mantle proves that her unique quality is inimitable, and her death makes that all the more sad.

2 Jimi Hendrix: November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970

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Often noted as one of the most radical musicians of his time, Jimi Hendrix’s death was a blow to the musical world that it would never quite recover from. However, as a person, Hendrix wasn’t noted to be one of the nicest — often flying into drug addled rages. He was a womanizer, but he was also the greatest electric guitarist of the 20thcentury. Regardless of whether or not you can rationalize the gap between Hendrix the man and Hendrix the Voodoo Child doesn’t matter, because his death equalizes that great divide. Since Hendrix has passed on, the world doesn’t have to witness his downwards spiral – his potential arrests for domestic violence, the subsequent experimental albums everyone wanted to love but just didn’t… instead we get to remember the Voodoo Child in his prime – as one of the most talented musicians of the 60s, a man who broke down barriers across psychological worlds, and who elevated our musical understanding to a higher consciousness.

1 Kurt Cobain: February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994

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Forget the conspiracy theories for a second – the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who pulled the trigger, Kurt Cobain is dead. That fact is, also, one of the most tragic ones to strike our musical era. Nirvana’s influence could have gone on to be as great as The Beatles’ or The Rolling Stones’. Recently, Chuck Klosterman wrote an article detailing where Kurt Cobain would be now if he were still alive. My bets are that he’d be a hermit, writing interesting (albeit supremely strange) poetry, and taking up a hobby like whittling, or building wooden ships-in-a-bottle. The reason Kurt takes the top spot is because of one simple fact: sure, he may have been one of the more recent comers into the 27 Club, but his prowess while he was alive was so radically game changing that who knows what he would have done now. Kurt Cobain, with Nirvana, managed to turn the musical world of 80s hair metal on their overly coiffed heads. Now, with faceless DJs and dubstep ruling the air waves, who knows what Cobain would’ve invented to bring us back to earth. It is that unknowing that makes his death the top in the most absolutely depressing way.

There are a surprising number of musicians who passed away at 27. Perhaps I should have included the likes of Robert Johnson, one of the most prolific blues singers who died in 1938. But let’s be frank, the five names on this list are the ones everyone remembers, they are the ones that make that list what it is. Or should I have added Amy Winehouse? Sure, why not. She was 27 when she died and that is very sad – and yes she had a decent voice, but how did her death impact the musical world? It didn’t. That is the point. Death is not enough to merit inclusion on this list – it is the wake of what was lost, what was left behind, and never known that makes these artists the top five rockers who died at 27.

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