The tragedies that forged the 27 Club
For decades, the mystery of the “27 Club” has continued to spark every conspiracy theory and assumption possible. Although the name makes it sound like an elite club, it’s not necessarily one you want to be part of. The list of members features pop culture icons that passed prematurely at 27 years old.
The origin of the 27 Club takes roots during the era of peace and love and carries on into the 2000s. With so many members, it begs the question: Is 27 a cursed number for popular artists? With almost 50 names on the list, it seems like it’s certainly possible.
Most can agree that it wasn’t only Janis Joplin’s music that made her an icon, as she was also loved for her down-to-earth attitude and vulnerability. Her death followed her recording of “A Woman Left Lonely,” which set the tone for her premature passing. A sad and heartbroken Joplin trudged home, easing the pain with the assistance of heroin.
After injecting the lethal drug into her left arm, she dragged herself to the cigarette machine, intent on reflecting in solitude. At 1 a.m. on Oct. 4, 1970, Joplin returned to her room and changed her clothes. As she reached out to put her fresh box of cigarettes on the nightstand, she fell, hitting her head on the table on the way down. She was discovered lifeless the next day on the floor of her motel room.
Mystery has shrouded The Rolling Stones founder’s death since he was discovered face down in his swimming pool in July 1969. Anna Wohlin, Jones’ girlfriend at the time, was convinced that Jones was alive when he was removed from the pool, but by the time doctors arrived, it was too late. The coroner’s report read, “death by misadventure,” and noted that both his liver and heart were enlarged due to past drug and alcohol use.
Since his death, associates of the band have claimed that there is evidence that Jones was murdered, but these claims have yet to be proven. This early member of the 27 Club was buried deep underground (10 feet to be exact) so that those seeking to profit off his remains would be obstructed. Watts and Wyman were the only band members to attend the funeral, as Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were traveling to Australia.
Blues legend Robert Johnson needs no introduction. His unique guitar licks, distinguished vocals, and songwriting skills have directly influenced the progression of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Being that there is very little documented about his life, fans have taken it upon themselves to fill in the blanks with strange theories. Some of the more popular ones involve Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a local crossroads in exchange for a prosperous music career.
Often referred to as “master of the blues,” he recorded less than 50 songs and had very little commercial success during his lifetime. The mystery remains about Johnson’s life and his death on Aug. 16, 1938. Much of what we actually know about him is still being pieced together by historians and researchers. We’ll just stick with the soul-exchanging story though, since that sounds way cooler.
Alan Wilson was co-founder, leader, and composer for blues band Canned Heat. The group experienced commercial success and performed at Woodstock in 1969. Despite the band’s popularity, Wilson, also known as “Blind Owl,” had demons lurking in his closet, similar to many of the other members of the 27 Club. He suffered from depression, had very little confidence, and wasn’t close with his family.
Wilson was also a man with many quirky habits, one of which included sleeping outside. On the morning of his death, he was found by vocalist Bob Hite outside his Los Angeles home. Wilson’s hands were crossed over his chest while a bottle of the barbiturate, Seconal, lay by his side. His death was ruled an accidental overdose of barbiturates, but some members of the band are still convinced it was suicide.
Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan
Ron McKernan, otherwise known as “Pigpen,” was considered to be the underlying soul of the band the Grateful Dead. If there’s one thing McKernan pushed for when it came to making records, it was that regardless of how experimental their sound got, they would still keep one foot in the blues game. Although he was one of the only members of the band that didn’t do psychedelics, he began drinking at the age of 12.
His drinks of choice were whiskey and wine, and by 1971, his liver began to suffer. Following a small hiatus for health purposes, he began touring again with the band but was forced to retire in June 1972. On March 8, 1973, Pigpen died of gastrointestinal hemorrhage in his apartment overlooking San Francisco. When his landlady found his body, he had already been dead for two days.
Dave Alexander was the poster boy for the Rock ‘n’ Roll aesthetic. The nonconformist attitude is a recurring trend in the 27 Club. One of his early antics includes him dropping out of high school 45 minutes into his senior year because he was dared to do so.
Although Iggy Pop credited him with composing grooves like “We Will Fall,” “Little Doll,” “Dirt,” and “1970,” he was fired from The Stooges in August 1970, when he showed up too intoxicated to play at the Goose Lake International Music Festival. It was his constant drinking habit that led him to develop pancreatitis.
Unfortunately, he died of pulmonary edema in 1975, after being admitted to a hospital.
Pete Ham helped form the band The Iveys, which signed with the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968 after the four famous mop-topped lads were astounded by their songwriting abilities. After this, the band decided to rebrand themselves, changing their name to Badfinger; the first single to put them on the map was “Come and Get It,” by Paul McCartney.
As the story goes, Ham fell into a depression after Warner Bros. records sued Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley. When Polley suddenly vanished, he left the band broke and confused. Following this event, and believing there were no longer any funds left to finance the band, Ham hung himself in his garage.
His last words were written on a scrap of paper reading, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S., Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”
Musician D. Boon’s death was a sudden and tragic one. It reminded the masses that celebrities are not invincible, and no one is safe from the merciless jaws of death. Boon formed a trio called “Minutemen” in January 1980 with childhood friend Mike Watt, and George Hurley.
The band’s reign came to an end when Boon was killed on Dec. 22, 1985. During the time of his death, Boon had been sick with a fever, and so he laid down in the back of the band van that was driving through Interstate 10 in Arizona. His girlfriend, who was driving, fell asleep at the wheel. As the van flipped, Boon flew out of the back of the vehicle, and died on impact.
At the young age of 20, Basquiat became a self-taught art icon, hanging with the likes of Andy Warhol and Madonna. Hailing from Brooklyn, the neo-expressionist artist started off painting graffiti around SoHo, eventually allowing his paintings to make appearances in art shows. Basquiat was also known for molding the temperamental artist stereotype, as he would often destroy his work after finishing.
During his tumultuous relationship with fame, he developed a taste for the high life and indulged in opioids and cocaine. He died in 1988 due to acute mixed drug intoxication. Art fanatics still celebrate his work, and there is talk of a biopic in the near future.
One of Basquiat’s biggest fans is none other than Jay Z, who mentions Basquiat in many of his songs.
When the punk scene was at its peak, Mia Zapata, from Seattle punk band The Gits, was a trailblazing force on the grunge scene. The Gits quickly gained notoriety, placed on the same pedestal as Nirvana and Pearl Jam by fans. The group was set to do an international tour in 1990. Mia gave punk lovers a more feminine twist on punk, something that listeners and critics had never seen before in the genre.
On July 7, 1993, Mia Zapata left a bar to walk a few blocks to visit a friend when she was attacked and killed. The Seattle music community raised $70,000 to hire a private investigator to find the attacker, but no advances were made on the case before the money ran out.
Getting his start as a young child in Hollywood could be partly to blame for Brandis’ unfortunate death. This member of the 27 Club started his career on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live and played Bill Denbrough in Stephen King’s It. He became an instant favorite amongst teen girls and regularly appeared in the demographic’s magazines.
His depression began when his career began to waver and decline. When his comeback appearance in the 2002 film Hart’s War was cut from the final product, he began drinking heavily, falling deeper into a melancholy state. On Nov. 11, 2003, he hung himself in the hallway of his apartment building in Los Angeles. There was no suicide note found at the scene, leaving questions across all fronts.
In 2011, the news of Amy Winehouse’s death simultaneously shocked and disturbed the masses. The announcement came less than two months after she was released from a rehabilitation program, and weeks after a performance in Serbia where she was booed off the stage. Journalists reported that Winehouse’s blood alcohol level was more than five times the legal limit when she passed.
Although her eating disorder may have been a key player in her death, lying next to her on the floor were two empty bottles of vodka, prompting many to believe her demise was due to alcohol toxicity. It’s a strong possibility she was suffering from depression at the time. Winehouse repeatedly refused psychiatric help, citing that it would stifle her creativity.
In an eerie fashion, her last words were “I don’t want to die.”
Reggie Lewis was an American professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics from 1987 until his untimely death in 1993. The Boston Celtics drafted Lewis in the first round in the 1987 NBA draft, and he would go on to average 20.8 points a game in his last two seasons. After showing symptoms of heart problems, he went into sudden cardiac arrest on the court during practice on July 27, 1993, leading to his death.
His autopsy revealed his untimely passing was caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a heart defect often diagnosed in young athletes. After his death, the NBA retired Lewis’ jersey, as he had worn the number 35 since the beginning of his career. Today, Lewis is located in an unmarked grave in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Richard James ‘Richey’ Edwards
Richey James was a Welsh musician who played guitar in the band Manic Street Preachers. To this day, he is still considered by many to be one of the best lyricists of his time, thanks to his intriguing, politically-fueled, and clever songwriting. The world around noted that his death was a peculiar one.
On Feb. 1, 1995, Edwards was declared missing and was never seen again.
Although he was legally declared dead on Nov. 23, 2008, there have been alleged sightings of Edwards in Goa, India following his disappearance. None of these sightings have been confirmed, and the case has since garnered a large media following and many conspiracy theories.
There are many conspiracy theories about Cobain’s death, one of the most popular claiming that he was murdered—just ask the authors of “Who Killed Kurt Cobain?”.
As far as we know, Kurt Cobain was found dead on April 8, 1994, with a shotgun and a suicide letter. Before his death, Cobain checked out of a rehabilitation facility and was reported to be suicidal by his wife, Courtney Love.
The chilling last words scribbled on the note read, “Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter [sic]. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!” Few words in history have left as haunting of an impact as the ones Cobain scrawled on paper during his last few moments.
Jones began singing at the age of six in her family’s gospel group. One of the few female members of the 27 Club, her career didn’t take off until 1967, when she was signed to Warner Bros. Records R&B label, Loma Records, in 1967. Jones insisted on remaining loyal to her gospel roots throughout her career.
Her 1972 album housed hits such as ‘Dancing in the Street,’ and ‘I Can’t Make It Alone.’ While touring for the album, she passed away on March 14, 1972, while resting in between shows at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Since Jones had been diabetic most of her life, her cause of death wasn’t too surprising: She slipped into a diabetic coma while sleeping.
This acclaimed rock god is one of the most well-known members of the 27 Club. Jimi Hendrix passed away quietly in London on the bleak Friday morning of Sept. 18, 1970, during a visit to see his girlfriend. Before going to sleep, Hendrix took a handful of Vesparax, a strong barbiturate. No one is sure how many he consumed on the night he died, but it’s important to note that taking only half a pill could put someone to sleep for over eight hours.
As if the tablets hadn’t already sealed his fate, Hendrix also had a few drinks that night. Those who were with him did not consider this behavior to be out of the ordinary. Hendrix was known to play Russian Roulette with drugs, and many times he didn’t know—or care to know—the contents of his cocktail.
Although the news shattered the masses, Hendrix’s legacy is tattooed on the heart of music lovers everywhere, and he is still considered one of the best electric guitarists in history.
Recognized for being a member of the band Hole, Pfaff graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Women’s Studies. She worked as a counselor for rape victims and took part in the annual 24 Hour Rape Free Zone in 1990. She taught herself to play bass guitar and joined a band named Janitor Joe, before going on to play with Hole.
By the time she joined the group, they had already established a following in England and were signed onto Geffen Records. On June 16, 1994, Pfaff was discovered in her apartment surrounded by syringes and other drug paraphernalia. Her death was attributed to acute opiate intoxication.
Her death was devastating, seeing as it came two months after Kurt Cobain’s death, who was married to the singer of Hole, Courtney Love.
Randy Walker, a.k.a “Stretch,” was a rapper and producer often seen hanging out with Tupac Shakur. He and his brother Majesty were members of the Live Squad. Exactly a year after the publicized shooting of Tupac Shakur, on Nov. 30, 1995, Stretch was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
He was found dead with four bullet wounds in his back. A theory suggests that Stretch stole 10 bricks (kilograms) of cocaine from a drug dealer, and refused to give them back. A target was placed on his back following his refusal to cooperate. This theory has yet to be proven by investigators.
Pete de Freitas
Peter Louis Vincent de Freitas was an English musician and producer, best known for drumming in the band Echo & the Bunnymen. He played with the band on their first five albums, replacing their former drummer, a drum machine. In 1982, he funded, produced, and drummed under the name Louis Vincent to play for The Wild Swans from Zoo Records.
In 1985, he left Echo & the Bunnymen and decided to go to New Orleans to form a new group called The Sex Gods. He passed away in a motorcycle accident in 1989 on his way to Liverpool from London. His ashes are buried in Goring-on-Thames.
Maria Serrano Serrano
Passion Fruit was a popular European pop band from the late ’90s. The band name, after the sweet fruit, was fitting for fun songs such as “The Rigga-Ding-Dong-Song,” “Wonderland,” “Sun Fun Baby,” and “Bongo Man.” The band consisted of three original female members and a male member who did all the rapping parts.
On Nov. 24, 2001, the group boarded the Crossair Flight 3597 from Berlin to Zurich. The plane crashed upon arrival to the Zurich International Airport. Maria Serrano-Serrano and Nathaly van het Ende died upon impact. In December 2001, the management of the group donated proceeds from their single “I’m Dreaming of… A Winter Wonderland” to victims of the crash.
Antoine Ashley, better known as Sahara Davenport, was a famous American drag queen, singer, television personality, and dancer. She is most recognized for her appearance on popular reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race during the second season. She was eliminated during the sixth episode for not displaying a “rock ‘n’ roll attitude,” but went on to have a brief music career.
In 2011, Davenport released her second single called “Go Off.” The song was remixed and peaked at number 35 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs. Davenport had displayed her struggle with drugs such as ketamine on the reality show and mentioned that her mother was assisting her in overcoming her addiction. She died of heart failure, assumed to be an outcome of her drug use, in Baltimore on Oct. 1, 2012.
Evangelina Sobredo Galanes, known as Cecilia, was born in Madrid and was a singer who contributed to the feminist movements of Spanish protest songs throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She caused controversy when many of her lyrics and photographs had to be changed or removed to fit the confines of General Franco’s government censorship.
Songs that had feminist or political undertones caused waves and were not allowed air time.
On Aug. 2, 1976, Cecilia and her band were on the road after a concert when they were involved in a car crash. Both Cecilia and José Luis González, a musician in the group, died. Her songs have since been covered by artists such as Merche Corisco, Miguel Bosé, Ana Belén, Manolo Tena, and Julio Iglesias.
One of the more recent members to the 27 Club, Anton Yelchin was born in the Soviet Union on March 11, 1989. He began acting and made his way onto red carpets in the late 1990s. The big push in his career was thanks to his role in Steven Spielberg’s miniseries, Taken. He is mostly known for his role as Pavel Chekov in Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond.
The cause of Yelchin’s death on June 19, 2016, was a freak accident.
As Yelchin was getting out of his car, it rolled backward down his driveway and pinned him against a pillar and a security fence. A lawsuit quickly followed against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as there was a high rate of rollaway incidents due to gear shift design recorded between 2014 and 2015. On March 22, 2018, it was announced that Yelchin’s family and Fiat Chrysler settled the lawsuit.
On June 28, 1971, this member of the 27 Club was captured on film with his girlfriend Pamela Courson, and, five days later, he was found dead. As the story goes, he and Courson spent the night together, and he died of heart failure after overdosing on heroin. Over the years, multiple conspiracy theories have popped up due to a lack of conclusive evidence from his autopsy.
Some fans of Morrison believe that he faked his death and he is still roaming about on the streets amongst the masses. Others believe that he moved to Oregon and opened up the Jim Morrison Sanctuary ranch under the name of Bill Loyer. Regardless of what people think happened, a figure resembling Morrison was buried in Paris three days after his death.
Tahliq Raymond Rogers, otherwise known as Freaky Tah, was a well-known promoter, hype man, and member of hip hop group called the Lost Boyz (along with Mr. Cheeks, DJ Spigg Nice, and Pretty Lou). Together, the group did three albums: “Legal Drug Money,” “Love, Peace & Nappiness,” and “NB IV Life.” A man named Kelvin Jones fatally shot and killed Tah on March 28, 1999, after he was seen leaving Mr. Cheeks’ birthday party in Queens, New York.
EMTs pronounced Tah dead at the scene. Later, investigators discovered that the cause of the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. Raheem Fletcher, who was driving the getaway car, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Jones pleaded guilty to murder.
Jong-hyun was a South Korean singer and frontman of the boy band, Shinee, for nine years. The group released 12 albums and two EPs together and participated in SM Entertainment’s project group, SM the Ballad. Aside from his boy band ventures, Jonghyun released a solo album called Base, which peaked at number one on the Billboard World Album Chart and the Gaon Album Chart.
In December 2017, Jonghyun rented an apartment for two days in Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam District in Seoul, which did not seem very strange at first. Authorities were only alerted after his sister, Kim So-dam, reported that he left her multiple messages suggesting suicide. Jonghyun was found unconscious in his apartment and later passed due to smoke inhalation.
Rockin’ Robin Roberts
Rockin’ Robin Roberts, full name Lawrence Fewell Roberts III, was an American singer known for his work in the 1960s with Rock ‘n’ Roll band, Rockin’ Robin Roberts & The Fabulous Wailers. Their best-known record was their cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie.”
Although he decided to discontinue his music career due to his service in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, he reunited with the Wailers in 1966 to record the single “You Don’t Love Me.” On Dec. 22, 1967, a head-on car accident killed him after he left a party. Roberts was sitting on the passenger side when the driver took a wrong turn onto a divided freeway, killing him upon impact.
Masako Natsume was a famous actress in Tokyo who gained worldwide fame after portraying Tripitaka in the series Monkey. She inspired a song in 1977 called “Oh! Cookie Face,” after she was chosen by Kanebo Cosmetics to play a topless “Kooky Face” girl in a commercial.
Although her acting skills were often criticized, she changed the minds of critics when she appeared in the TV drama Shousha and when she played the daughter of a Yakuza leader in the film Onimasa. The phrase, “Don’t you look down on me!” translated in Japanese as “if you look down [on me], it would be regrettable,” became a heavily used in Japan. Unfortunately, she died of acute leukemia in 1985.
Valentin Elizalde Valencia
Valentin Elizalde Valencia was a Mexican banda singer known as “El Gallo de Oro.” His chart-topping hits include “Vete Ya,” “Ebrio de Amor,” “Vete Con El,” and “Vuelve Carnito.” Many of his songs were odes to Mexican drug lords such as Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, and this notoriety may have played into his downfall.
On Nov. 25, 2006, someone gunned down Elizalde’s car after the band’s concert in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Many people believe that he was killed due to his performance of “A Mis Enemigos,” which references the drug trafficking gang Loz Zetas. Authorities arrested Raúl Hernández Barrón for the murder of Valentin Elizalde on March 22, 2008.