15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians Who Died At Age 27

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

If you’re a big music fan, you’ve probably heard about the infamous “27 Club.” Sadly, the only way you become a member is if you’re one of the many musicians who’ve died at 27.

Of course, the 27 Club is more about a tragic coincidence than fact. However, it doesn’t make the high number of musicians who’ve died at the young age of 27 any less eerie. 

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and sadly brief careers of 15 of the greatest and most famous musicians who died at age 27.

1. Jim Morrison (The Doors)

Up first we have Jim Morrison who was the lead singer for the American rock band the Doors.

Morrison became popular due to his unique and distinct voice and performances. Although his talent as a lyricist allowed him to stand out among his contemporaries and predecessors, he struggled with addiction for some time before his death. 

Sadly on July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in Paris. Most agree his cause of death was due to heart failure, but some argue that it was actually a heroin overdose. 

Posthumously, he’s been dubbed one of the greatest rock singers of all time in multiple publications.

2. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

Kurt Cobain was the lead singer and guitarist of the 90’s grunge band Nirvana.

With his anti-establishment views and angsty lyrics, Cobain was considered a spokesperson of Generation X and had one of the most recognizable voices of 90s rock.

Sadly, Cobain suffered severe depression and addiction for years leading up to his death. On April 8, 1994, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after checking himself out of a rehab center. 

After his death, Cobain was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and landed on several of Rolling Stone’s top 100 lists.

Nirvana officially disbanded after he died as former bandmates started new ventures.

3. Amy Winehouse

British singer Amy Winehouse was most well-known for her rich voice and ability to blend multiple genres, although her social exploits often caused her to land in the tabloids.

Her rise to fame came with the release of Back to Black, the 2006 album that contained the single, “Rehab.”

But, sadly rehab didn’t work out and on July 23, 2011, Winehouse was found dead in her home in London of alcohol poisoning after years of battling bipolar disorder and addiction. 

Despite a rocky reputation, Winehouse won several awards throughout her 9-year music career.

In addition, many top artists, including Adele and Lady Gaga, credit Winehouse with paving the way to success.

4. Brian Jones (Rolling Stones)

Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, known by his stage name of Brian Jones, is best known as one of the founding members of the British rock band the Rolling Stones.

A gifted musician, Jones battled drug and alcohol addiction for several years before he died.

His addictions ultimately led to his dismissal from the band just one month before his death, as he’d become quite unreliable to his bandmates. He died on July 3, 1969, when he drowned in his swimming pool. 

In 1989, Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with his former bandmates. 

5. Jimi Hendrix

One of the greatest electric guitarists of all time, Johnny Allen “Jimi” Hendrix had a brief but impactful career and was among the headliners for Woodstock in 1969.

A frequent user of drugs and alcohol, Hendrix led a quite self-destructive lifestyle. He died on September 18, 1970, after overdosing on barbiturates, which caused him to asphyxiate

Hendrix had several posthumous releases, including The Cry of Love, the last album he’d been working on before his death.

Despite his short career, he was considered one of the best instrumentalists of all time, clearing a path for other black musicians to pursue success. 

6. Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin was an American rock and soul singer who was well-known for her distinct voice and bright smile.

Her popularity increased in 1967 after a performance at the Monterey Pop Festival with Big Brother and the Holding Company

Several of her songs reached number one on the charts, including her well-known cover of Erma Franklin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

But, sadly Joplin died in 1970 of a heroin overdose. Although Joplin had suffered from addiction before she died, a close acquaintance believed the drugs that led to her overdose were far more potent than others she’d taken.

She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, 25 years after her death.

7. Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson was an American blues singer and guitarist who began his career playing on street corners.

His career was brief, and most of what’s known about him has to do with his music and his associates. Many industry professionals sought out his talent after his death, not knowing he’d died years before. 

Johnson’s death remains a mystery because authorities didn’t complete an autopsy at the time. The prevailing theory is that he had congenital syphilis. However, murder by poison became a local legend.

His fame and contributions continued to grow even in death. Many artists are still influenced by his unique voice, and he’s still considered one of the best on the guitar due to his technical skill.

8. Kristen Pfaff (Hole)

Kristen Pfaff was the bassist for Hole, the alt-rock band fronted by Courtney Love.

Pfaff’s career consisted of a stint with rock band Janitor Joe from 1991-1993, after which she joined Hole, which provided an upward ladder in the music industry.

She stayed with Hole until 1994 when she returned to Janitor Joe until her death in June.

On June 16, 1994, Pfaff died of a heroin overdose, just two months after fellow musician and good friend, Kurt Cobain. 

A few months after she died, Pfaff was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, and the University of Minnesota’s radio started a yearly scholarship in her name. 

9. Richey Edwards (Manic Street Preachers)

Richard James “Richey” Edwards was the rhythm guitarist for the Welsh alt-rock band Manic Street Preachers.

Although he was a rhythm guitarist, band members said he wasn’t very talented musically. Still, his skills as a lyricist were considered invaluable.

Edwards’ death has never been confirmed, but despite many presumed sightings, many assume he committed suicide. However, his family declared him officially dead in 2008.

In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, Edwards withdrew large amounts of money, causing some to believe he left on his own.

However, authorities found his car at the foot of a bridge that was a common spot for suicide jumps, leading most to assume he was dead.

10. Mia Zapata (The Gits)

As lead singer for Seattle-based band The Gits, Mia Katherine Zapata helped her band gain a following with the grunge and punk scenes.

Zapata was a social butterfly, making her comfortable in her role as lead singer. Although she was only with the band briefly, they were quite successful.

Unfortunately, she died before she could see the success of their second album. On July 7, 1993, Zapata was murdered by Jesus Mezquia on her way home from a show.

Zapata’s murder went unsolved until 2003 when DNA evidence helped convict Jesus Mezquia.

Since her death, her friends created Home Alive, a self-defense group that offers courses on anger management and martial arts, among other things. 

11. Chris Bell (Big Star)

Christopher Branford Bell was an American musician and frontman for Big Star.

Bell started his career with several small bands before joining Big Star in the 60s. He left the band in 1972 to begin his solo career. However, his solo material wasn’t released until more than a decade after his death.

On December 27, 1978, he passed away when he struck a light pole with his car and was killed instantly. 

Bell’s music is classified as a “proto-alternative.” It was a pop style that influenced many artists in the decades following his death, many of whom continued on to release covers of his work.

12. Pete Ham (Badfinger)

Peter Ham was a Welsh singer and lead singer for Badfinger, a rock band that was active throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

He started his music career with The Panthers in 1961 but the band went through several names before settling on Badfinger in 1969.

After the band was discovered by Mal Evans, the Beatles’ personal assistant, they released “Come and Get It,” written by Paul McCartney. 

But, on April 24, 1975, after a long battle with depression, Ham committed suicide.

Ham’s death left a scar on his bandmates, but his prominent spot in the power pop genre allowed him to influence many artists who came after him. 

13. Dave Alexander (The Stooges)

Born in Michigan in 1947, David Michael Alexander was the bassist for The Stooges, a protopunk band formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In 1967, Alexander formed The Stooges with Iggy Pop and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton. According to his bandmates, Alexander was the main composer of several of The Stooges’ biggest hits. 

Alexander’s departure from The Stooges came in 1970 when he showed up to a gig too drunk to play.

His alcoholism ultimately contributed to pancreatitis and in 1975, Alexander was admitted to the emergency room. He later died of pulmonary edema. 

14. Rudy Lewis (The Drifters)

Charles Rudolph Lewis, better known by his stage name, Rudy Lewis, was the lead singer for the rhythm and blues band The Drifters.

Born in Philadelphia, Lewis started his career singing gospel. In 1960, he took over for Ben E. King as frontman for the Drifters, which he held for the next four years.

He died on May 21, 1964, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. 

Although there was no autopsy, authorities claimed his death was drug-related. However, close family and friends attributed his death to an eating disorder compounded by his chronic drug use.

After he died, Johnny Moore, the former lead singer for the Drifters, returned to fill his spot. 

15. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (The Grateful Dead)

Ronald Charles McKernan, also known as Pigpen, was a founding member and original frontman of the Grateful Dead.

A local to San Francisco, McKernan teamed up with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh to form the Grateful Dead in 1965. He was the lead vocalist, but he also played the organ and harmonica.

He struggled a bit to keep up with the many changes in music and ultimately retired at his doctor’s behest in 1972. On March 8, 1973, McKernan died of a GI hemorrhage. 

After his death, McKernan continued to influence the band members who came after him. In 1994, McKernan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Summing Up Our List Of Musicians In The 27 Club

Although there’s no scientific proof that famous figures are more likely to die at age 27 than any other age, it’s an eerie coincidence that continues to repeat itself.

Dozens of artists and actors currently reside on the 27 Club’s membership list, each of whom had significant impacts on the music industry and continues to influence musicians today.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.