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Dead at 27: Music Icons Who Left Us Too Soon

Amy Winehouse's death puts her in tragically esteemed company – here's a list of musical greats who passed at 27.

Soul singer Amy Winehouse's recent demise comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with her recurring crack binges and various narcotic escapades/relapses. However, her passing signifies an alignment with a number of other high-profile musicians who succumbed to substances at the age of 27: Jimi Hendrix. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on.

To hell with "27 Club" curses and hexes – what follows is a collection of artists who left us at the peak of their powers and prowess, a sad and all-too-common occurrence, but the tragedy isn't confined to a magical number. For every Kurt Cobain there's a handful of additional painful losses like Bradley Nowell (Sublime) and Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), who both died of heroin overdoses at 28. Unable to ride the wildly thrashing live wire of brilliant creativity, especially under the microscope of the world, what reads below is a who's-who of truncated talent who burned too brightly and went too deep with the poison that fueled their engine, dying at 27 years young.

AMY WINEHOUSE

Amy Winehouse reportedly passed away of a drug overdose on Saturday, July 23. Her onstage performances in recent years displayed an atrocious lack of professionalism, and she was consistently unable to shake her reputation as the Crackie of Camden despite numerous trips to rehab. Kicking off a European tour in hopes of reviving her floundering career, she was booed off stage at her first gig for being obviously intoxicated and unable to remember her lyrics. Her tour was cancelled following the incident to give her more time to recover, which she never did. Is she a true icon? In history's broad lens, no. But her arrival ushered in a neo-soul revival that many rose to fame on.

 

KURT COBAIN

Grunge icon Kurt Cobain of Nirvana met a tragic, self-inflicted shotgun demise at his Seattle home in April of 1994 after an escape from a rehab facility. Struggling with the pressures of staggeringly massive success as well as a crippling, recurring stomach condition, Cobain's well-documented troubles with heroin were no doubt exacerbated by his volatile relationship with his equally substance-addled wife Courtney Love. In a rambling suicide letter, Kurt bemoaned his daily pain as well as his jaded attitude towards his own art, claiming to have lost the will to continue under the weight of expectation.

 

JIM MORRISON

Legendarily volatile Doors frontman Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971 after hitting a high mark of success in the late '60s. Morrison spiraled out of control with drugs and alcohol, compromising live performances and leading to well-documented tensions within the band. In 1971, Jim moved to Paris, where he died in his bathtub months after his arrival. An autopsy was never performed, though the cause of death was believed to have been heart failure due to heroin and alcohol.

 

JANIS JOPLIN

Spitfire queen with lungs of steel, songstress Janis Joplin died of a heroine overdose in her apartment October of 1970. Famous for her passionate performance and free-spirited lifestyle, Joplin is said to have performed at Woodstock while deep in a heroin stupor. She achieved sobriety overseas on the year of her death, but upon returning to the States her drug habits resurfaced and claimed her life.

 

Jimi Hendrix and more on Page 2…


JIMI HENDRIX

Often regarded as the greatest guitar player who ever lived, Jimi Hendrix died one of the most inglorious deaths a man can: he choked to death on his own vomit on September 18, 1970, after combining sleeping pills with wine. After earning the adulation and imitation of some of the most revered names to ever pick up a guitar, and one year after headlining the most epic music festival in history – Woodstock – Jimi got on the wrong side of self-medication and slipped away from us.

 

BRIAN JONES

Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones drowned in a swimming pool in 1969. The man who named the band that would go on to become one of the most adored in all of rock n' roll history was tormented by his reduced role in the band's evolution, leading to excessive drug and alcohol abuse. Further creative differences led to his split from The Rolling Stones, and just one month later, he was found face down in his swimming pool.

 

ROBERT JOHNSON

Bluesman Robert Johnson died on August 16, 1938, another great talent who left a legacy behind after his demise at the young age of 27. Ranked 5th in Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Johnson has been cited by guitar legend Eric Clapton as "the most important blues singer that ever lived". Fitting for such a blues pioneer, Robert met a chillingly dark end: he was reportedly poisoned with strychnine – by a lover's jealous husband.