Since songs have been written musicians have, much like the rest of us, mused about their own mortality. Oasis, Queen and Genesis all wanted to live forever; Robbie Williams and the Beatles pondered on old age; The Who, Blondie and Beyoncé all extolled the virtues of dying young. Many of the above mentioned artists have lived to sing another day, but there are some notable and obvious exceptions – what are the odds of survival for the average rock and pop star?
The British Medical Journal recently published a paper on the longevity of rock and pop stars and it would seem that being a famous musician certainly does no favours for your chances of survival. In a survey of nearly 1,500 musical stars from 1953 to 2006, the study, entitled “Dying to be famous: retrospective cohort study of rock and pop star mortality and its association with adverse childhood experiences” found that famous musicians were up to 8% more likely to die at a younger age than the general population with the shortest lifespan being likely to come from North American solo artists.
If you’re going to be a star at all, make sure you do it in Europe. We’re only 3% more likely to die young after being famous for 25 years (at our worst), but with a greater than average chance of survival after 37/38 years of fame (which I imagine we can put down to money and stability of lifestyle after so long in the limelight). Since Europeans tend to survive longer than North Americans anyway (healthcare, right?), if you’re an Average Joe in Europe you’re 15% more likely to outlast an American chart-topper. It never felt so good to be average. And European.
One outstanding factor seemed to be adverse childhood experiences which increased the chance of substance abuse in the under 25s (as it does across the population) but with the likelihood of death from such abuse being a lot higher amongst the famous (more fame, more drugs – the rock n’ roll lifestyle fully realised).
Finally, the survey dispelled the myth of the “27 club” being the age at which a rock star is likely to snuff it. In fact, it looks as though US stars tend to tread carefully in their 27th year… which may well result in them going mad the next year when there’s a bit of a drop. Whoops!
If you’re feeling like getting your science on, the full report is here.