The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Study of rock star deaths finds solo artists at greater risk than groups

  • Print

LONDON - Rock 'n' roll will never die — but it's a hazardous occupation.

An academic study published Thursday confirms that rock and pop musicians are more likely to die prematurely than the general population, and finds that solo artists are twice as likely to die young as members of bands.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and Britain's Health Department studied 1,489 rock, pop, punk, R&B, rap, electronica and New Age stars who became famous between 1956 and 2006 — from Elvis Presley to the Arctic Monkeys.

They found that 137 of the stars, or 9.2 per cent, had died, representing "higher levels of mortality than demographically matched individuals in the general population."

The researchers dismissed the "fanciful but unsubstantiated" popular myth that rock stars tend to die at 27 — as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all did. The average age of death was 45.2 years for North American stars and 39.6 for European ones.

Solo performers had twice the death risk of members of bands. Lead researcher Mark Bellis speculated that could be because bands provide peer support at stressful times.

"Solo artists, even though they have huge followings, may be relatively isolated," said Bellis, director of the Center for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

Music critic John Aizlewood agreed that solo artists receive more attention and adulation — and also more pressure.

"And when you are a solo act, irrespective of what they say in interviews, it's an incredibly egotistical thing," he said. "So you tend to be dealing with people who are more emotionally extreme.

"They have an ego in the way a drummer or even a lead guitarist in a band doesn't."

In good news for aging rockers, the study found that, after 25 years of fame, stars' death rates began to return to normal — at least in Europe. A European star still living 36 years after achieving fame faces a similar mortality rate to the European public. But U.S. artists continue to die in greater numbers.

Bellis said factors contributing to the difference could include longer careers — and thus longer exposure to rock 'n' roll excess — in the U.S., a huge, populous country with greater opportunities for aging stars to stay on the road. Europe's stronger social safety net and socialized medicine may also play a role, he said.

The research, which updates a 2007 study by the same team, was published in the online journal BMJ Open.

The study suggests the infamous rock 'n' roll lifestyle may not be entirely to blame for rock stars' death risk.

The researchers looked for the first time at the role of "adverse childhood experiences" — such as physical or sexual abuse — on stars' later behaviour.

They found that performers who had had at least one adverse childhood experience were more likely to die from drug and alcohol use or "risk-related causes."

"Substance abuse and risk-taking in stars are largely discussed in terms of hedonism, music industry culture, responses to the pressures of fame or even part of the creative process," the researchers said.

However, they said, "adverse experiences in early life may leave some predisposed to health-damaging behaviours, with fame and extreme wealth providing greater opportunities to engage in risk-taking."

But Ellis Cashmore, a cultural studies professor at Staffordshire University and author of the book "Celebrity/Culture," said it would be wrong to overlook "artistic frustration" as a factor in artistic self-destruction.

He said troubled artists from Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway to the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson all illustrate "the torment that creativity brings with it."

"Perhaps it is the continual striving for some sort of unattainable artistic perfection that drives them," he said.

___

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Raw video: Wading through flooded underpass at Main and Higgins

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Ruth Bonneville Winnipeg Free Press January 18, 2011 Local Standup -
  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comment that Tina Fontaine’s slaying was a crime, and not part of a larger sociological problem?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google