Death, drugs, and rock and roll

A recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health confirms the hazards of musical stardom. The study examined the lives of 1,064 successful musicians in the rock, punk, rap, R&B, electronica, and new age genres. All became famous between 1956 and 1999 and all had records that were included in a ‘Top 1000 records of all time’ list from 2000.

It found that the median age of death for North American celebrities was an unimpressive 41.78. Europeans do even worse, at just 35.18. All told, successful musicians are nearly twice as likely to die early as members of the normal population.

The regional breakdown by cause of death is also interesting:

Cause – % in the US – % in Europe
Suicide – 2.8% – 3.6%
Drug or alcohol overdose – 15.3% – 28.6%
Chronic drug or alcohol disorder – 9.7% – 3.6%
Drug or alcohol related accident – 2.8% – 7.1%
Cancer – 19.4% – 21.4%
Heart disease – 18.0% – 3.6%
Accidents – 13.9% – 21.4%
Violence – 6.9% – 3.6%
Other – 11.1% – 7.1%

The largest single discrepancy is the probability of dying of a drug overdose, but lots of other significant differences exist. Neither regional profile suggests that music is a healthy profession: at least for those at the top.


Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Death, drugs, and rock and roll”

  1. Which way does the causation run? Death can be a real career boost…

    That’s an interesting question. Is there any kind of statistical design that could strip out that effect?

  2. The Urge to End It All

    Animating their efforts is one of the most peculiar — in fact, downright perverse — aspects to the premeditation-versus-passion dichotomy in suicide. Put simply, those methods that require forethought or exertion on the actor’s part (taking an overdose of pills, say, or cutting your wrists), and thus most strongly suggest premeditation, happen to be the methods with the least chance of “success.” Conversely, those methods that require the least effort or planning (shooting yourself, jumping from a precipice) happen to be the deadliest. The natural inference, then, is that the person who best fits the classic definition of “being suicidal” might actually be safer than one acting in the heat of the moment — at least 40 times safer in the case of someone opting for an overdose of pills over shooting himself.

    As illogical as this might seem, it is a phenomenon confirmed by research. According to statistics collected by the Injury Control Research Center on nearly 4,000 suicides across the United States, those who had killed themselves with firearms — by far the most lethal common method of suicide — had a markedly lower history of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, previous suicide attempts or drug or alcohol abuse than those who died by the least lethal methods. On the flip side, those who ranked the highest for at-risk factors tended to choose those methods with low “success” rates.

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