By Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief
When I was young, I loved the iconography and look of the whole Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll thing. It was glamorous and indulgent, with its excess, sexuality, and freedom. The 27 Club seemed like the height of that. The six most well-known members—Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse—are known for both their incredible talent, and for dying at the young age of 27. They burned so bright, but went out so early. As the Who so memorably put it: “I hope I die before I get old.”
However, as I’ve grown older, that glory has slowly faded. Back when I was a teenager, 27 seemed so far away. I’m nearly 25 now. 27 is no longer a far-off age, some mystical number. It’s really fucking young. And the lives of these stars, beyond their music, were filled with difficulty.
Brian Jones, the founder and original frontman of the Rolling Stones, suffered declining mental health and began using drugs and drinking excessively as his role in the band he formed became overshadowed by his more-famous band mates. When he was found dead at the age of 27 in his pool months after being asked to leave the band, his heart was found to be enlarged from his substance abuse.
Jimi Hendrix, after being discharged from the military in 1962, began drinking, a habit that turned what people described as a man full of love into one full of anger and violence. One night, while drunk and jealous, he even hit his girlfriend in the head with a vodka bottle. By the late ’60s, he was using many different drugs, and to this day is still closely associated with drug culture. He died at the age of 27 after taking 18 times the recommended dose of Vesperax, a barbiturate, and choked on his own vomit in his sleep.
Janis Joplin was one of the greatest singers of her time. She was known for seeming carefree, but she also dealt with self-doubt and mental health problems such as body dysmorphia. She was bullied mercilessly in high school and college, being voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” by fraternities. Although she dated women, she faced anxiety over this and felt she had to settle down with a man. She was addicted to amphetamines, and was open about her alcohol and drug use. She died at the age of 27, 16 days after Jimi, of a heroin overdose in her motel room. It’s suspected that the heroin she received from her dealer was much more potent than usual, making it very accidental.
Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was also well-known for his substance abuse. The band was named after The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, which was about experimenting with mescaline, a psychedelic found in peyote. Morrison used this, and other psychedelics, to open his perception and improve his lyrics. He would record albums drunk, resulting in his trademark slurry singing. At concerts, he used every kind of drug given to him, one time even passing out unconscious on stage. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t keep up, and he became out of shape and unhealthy. At the age of 27, he was found in his Paris apartment’s bathtub. His heart had stopped. Although an autopsy was never performed, it is suspected by some that he died from a heroin overdose.
All four of these deaths happened within three years. More than 20 years later, another, very prominent musician joined them: Kurt Cobain. His band, Nirvana, was hugely famous in the early ’90s. Like the others on the list, he used drugs gratuitously, including LSD and solvents. He turned to heroin to self-medicate for chronic stomach pain. With a family history of mental health problems and alcoholism, he suffered from depression, worsened by his substance abuse and fame. He was found dead in his home, days after he shot himself with a shotgun. In his suicide note, he stated that he had not felt joy from creating or listening to music for many years.
In 2011, the last member joined the club. After suffering from five years of substance abuse and from mental health problems, Amy Winehouse died of an accidental overdose. Like the rest, she was well-known for her substance abuse. She had bipolar depression and bulimia. In the public eye, she spiraled out of control, one time overdosing on heroin, ketamine, ecstasy, cocaine, and alcohol. Although she had quit using illegal substances by the time of her death, her bulimia had left her body weak, and she was found dead in her bed with a blood alcohol level of .416 per cent.
The suffering and subsequent early deaths of these six should not be glorified with posters and murals declaring them members of some secret club. These were people who suffered greatly from addiction, some of whom were ostracized by their peers and suffered alone with mental health issues. Many of them lived in a time that glorified excess, and were sad symptoms of a time when we knew less about the results of it.
They were young people like us who dealt with way more than anyone our age should have to. They were also all musical geniuses who created some of the best music of ours and their lifetimes. That is what should be idolized.