"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Rockers really are more likely to die young

Sept. 4, 2005

Rock stars — no­to­ri­ous for their “crash and burn” lifestyles — really are more likely than oth­er peo­ple to die be­fore reach­ing old age, a study has found.

The study of more than 1,000 mainly Brit­ish and North Amer­i­can artists, span­ning the era from El­vis Pres­ley to rap­per Em­inem, found they were two to three times more likely to suf­fer a prem­a­ture death than the gene­ral popula­t­ion.

A study has found that rock and pop stars real­ly do die young­er, on av­er­age, than the rest of us. The study sur­veyed the lives of 1,000 mu­si­cians be­tween 1956 and 2005. (Cour­te­sy Ar­jun Im­ages)

Be­tween 1956 and 2005 there were 100 deaths among the 1,064 mu­si­cians ex­am­ined by re­search­ers at the Cen­tre for Pub­lic Health at Liv­er­pool John Moores Un­ivers­ity. As well as Pres­ley, the toll of those dy­ing be­fore their time in­clud­ed Doors sing­er Jim Mor­ri­son, gui­tar he­ro Jimi Hen­drix, T Rex star Marc Bolan and Nir­vana’s Kurt Cobain.

More than a quar­ter of all the deaths were re­lat­ed to drugs or al­co­hol abuse, said the study in the Jour­nal of Epi­demial Com­mun­ity Health. “The pa­per clearly de­scribes a popula­t­ion of rock and pop stars who are at a dis­pro­por­tion­ate risk of al­co­hol- and drug-re­lat­ed deaths,” said Mark Bel­lis, lead au­thor of the stu­dy.

He said the study raised ques­tions about the suit­abil­ity of us­ing rock stars for pub­lic health mes­sages such as an­ti-drug cam­paigns when their own lifestyles were so dan­ger­ous.

“In the mu­sic in­dus­try, fac­tors such as stress, changes from pop­u­lar­ity to ob­scur­ity, and ex­po­sure to en­vi­ron­ments where al­co­hol and drugs are easily avail­a­ble, can all con­trib­ute to sub­stance use as well as oth­er self-destructive be­hav­iors,” the re­port said. It found that mu­si­cians were most at risk in the first five years af­ter achiev­ing fame, with death rates more than three times high­er than nor­mal.

Hen­drix, Bon Scott of AC/DC and punk rock­er Sid Vi­cious all died with­in five years of hit­ting the big time, said Bel­lis. Among Brit­ish artists the risk of dy­ing re­mains high un­til around 25 years af­ter their first suc­cess, when they re­turn to near nor­mal life ex­pect­an­cy.

That bodes well for rock sur­vivors like The Who’s 63-year-old Rog­er Dal­trey, who fa­mously first sang “I hope I die be­fore I get old” in the song “My Genera­t­ion” back in 1965. But this trend was not found in North Amer­i­ca, where ag­ing rock­ers re­main al­most twice as likely to suf­fer a prem­a­ture de­mise, par­tic­u­larly from heart at­tack or stroke. Amer­i­can stars Jer­ry Gar­cia of the Grate­ful Dead, Carl Wil­son of the Beach Boys and John­ny Ra­mone of the Ra­mones all died in their 50s. 

Bel­lis sug­gested that the high death rate among old­er Amer­i­can mu­si­cians could be re­lat­ed to the con­ti­nen­t’s great­er ap­pe­tite for re­un­ion tours, ex­pos­ing the artists for more years to an un­healthy “rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle. It could al­so be due to the poor med­i­cal out­look for im­pov­er­ished Amer­i­can ex-pop stars who have no health insur­ance, he said.

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Rock stars — notorious for their “crash and burn” lifestyles — really are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age, a study has found.