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Research Christmas 2011: Death’s Dominion

Is 27 really a dangerous age for famous musicians? Retrospective cohort study

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7799 (Published 20 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7799
  1. Martin Wolkewitz, statistician1,
  2. Arthur Allignol, statistician1,
  3. Nicholas Graves, health economist2,
  4. Adrian G Barnett, statistician2
  1. 1Freiburg Center of Data Analysis and Modelling, University of Freiburg and Institute of Medical Biometry and Medical Informatics, University Medical Center, Freiburg, Germany
  2. 2Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD 4059, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: A G Barnett a.barnett{at}qut.edu.au
  • Accepted 11 November 2011

Abstract

Objective To test the “27 club” hypothesis that famous musicians are at an increased risk of death at age 27.

Design Cohort study using survival analysis with age as a time dependent exposure. Comparison was primarily made within musicians, and secondarily relative to the general UK population.

Setting The popular music scene from a UK perspective.

Participants Musicians (solo artists and band members) who had a number one album in the UK between 1956 and 2007 (n=1046 musicians, with 71 deaths, 7%).

Main outcome measures Risk of death by age of musician, accounting for time dependent study entry and the number of musicians at risk. Risk was estimated using a flexible spline which would allow a bump at age 27 to appear.

Results We identified three deaths at age 27 amongst 522 musicians at risk, giving a rate of 0.57 deaths per 100 musician years. Similar death rates were observed at ages 25 (rate=0.56) and 32 (0.54). There was no peak in risk around age 27, but the risk of death for famous musicians throughout their 20s and 30s was two to three times higher than the general UK population.

Conclusions The 27 club is unlikely to be a real phenomenon. Fame may increase the risk of death among musicians, but this risk is not limited to age 27.

Footnotes

  • We thank Cunrui Huang for entering the data and Jan Beyersmann for discussions about the sampling scheme.

  • Contributors: MW, AA, and AGB had the original idea and designed the sampling scheme. MW, AA, and AGB ran the statistical analyses with input from NG. AGB wrote the first draft with critical input from MW and NG. AGB is the guarantor.

  • Funding: None.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at http://www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Consent was not obtained but the presented data are anonymised.

  • Data sharing: Statistical code and data are available at https://figshare.com/articles/Musician_mortality_data_and_R_code/5725786 with open access.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

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