60-Second Science

Rock Stars Get Early Tombstones

North American and European music stars are twice as likely to die prematurely as are members of the general population. Steve Mirsky reports.

We all know smoking is dangerous.  But being a smoking hot rock or pop star may be even more dangerous.  Just ask Elvis.  Or John Lennon.  Or Janis Joplin.  Or Jimi Hendrix.  Or Buddy Holly.  Or Tupac Shakur. 

A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at more than a thousand North American and European singers and musicians who became famous between 1956 and 1999.  The researchers found that rock and pop stars are more than twice as likely to die an early death as the rest of us nobodies.  And the first few years after becoming famous are the most dangerous.  Drug and alcohol abuse account for about a quarter of the early deaths.

In all, 100 of the 1050 music stars included in the study were found to die young.  The average age of death for the North Americans was 42.  The Europeans only made it to 35.  If they can stay famous for 25 years after their initial stardom, European stars’ death rates become equal to the general population.  But American idols continue to die sooner than regular folks.

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