An unusual number of notable people, some well-known, others less so, died at the age of 27. I have omitted some other musicians and actors (who would otherwise dominate the list) to make a broader and (hopefully) more interesting list. The “biographies” are necessarily short and cannot go into the speculations and conspiracy theories that have arisen around some of the deaths. The list is in alphabetical order by last name.
Jean-Michel Basquiat – drug overdose
Jean-Michel Basquiat (22 December 1960 – 12 August 1988). American artist.
Died of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, known as “speed-balling”) in his Manhattan loft/studio. In 1982, Basquiat became friends with pop artist Andy Warhol and the two made a number of collaborative works. They also painted together, influencing each other’s work. By 1984, many of Basquiat’s friends were concerned about his excessive drug use and increasingly erratic behavior, including signs of paranoia. Warhol died in 1987 and Basquiat the following year. (In the 1996 film Basquiat, Warhol was played by David Bowie.)
Rupert Brooke – sepsis
Rupert Chawner Brooke (3 August 1887 – 23 April 1915). English poet, known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War.
Died of sepsis from an infected mosquito bite on a British navy ship off Lemnos in the Aegean Sea, en route to Gallipoli, Turkey. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried the same night on Skyros. His most famous line of poetry, perhaps fittingly, is: “If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England.” (Australian and New Zealand readers will understand the significance of the date and his destination.)
Lea De Mae – brain cancer
Andrea Absolonová (aka Lea De Mae and other pseudonyms) (26 December 1976 – 9 December 2004). Czech athlete, model and pornographic actress.
Died from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Absolonová was a member of the Czech diving team and injured her spine in an accident while training for the 1996 Olympics. She partially recovered and qualified for the 2000 Olympics, but persistent problems forced her to retire. She was later persuaded by a photographer to pose nude and eventually to participate in the adult film industry. She appeared in over 80 adult films. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma in July 2004. During her battle for life, fans from around the world and fellow porn actors supported a medical fund that had been set up for her in Prague, but she died 17 days short of her 28th birthday.
Andrés Escobar – murder
Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga (13 March 1967 – 2 July 1994). Colombian soccer player.
Shot outside a bar in a suburb of Medellín, Colombia, possibly in retaliation for scoring an own goal in a world cup match, which resulted in Colombia’s elimination from the tournament and caused heavy gambling losses for underworld figures. Humberto Muñoz Castro, a bodyguard, was convicted of Escobar’s murder and sentenced to 43 years in prison, but was released after serving approximately 11 years.
Jimi Hendrix – asphyxiation
(Johnny Allen Hendrix then James Marshall Hendrix) (27 November 1942 – 18 September 1970). American guitarist, singer, songwriter and record producer.
Died in a London hotel room under circumstances which have never been fully explained. According to the doctor who initially attended to him, Hendrix asphyxiated (literally drowned) in his own vomit, mainly red wine. His girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, claimed that he had taken her prescribed sleeping pills, but her comments about that morning were often contradictory, and there have been suggestions of blame cast on her. In 1996, in the face of legal action, Dannemann committed suicide.
Robert Johnson – poisoning(?)
Robert Leroy Johnson (8 May 1911 – 16 August 1938). American singer and guitarist.
Drank whiskey laced with strychnine at a country crossroads near Greenwood, Mississippi. The details are unknown, and there are a number of accounts and theories. Researcher Mack McCormick claims to have interviewed Johnson’s alleged poisoner in the 1970s, and obtained an implicit admission of guilt. When Johnson was offered an open bottle of whiskey, his friend and fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson knocked it out of his hand, and told him that he should never drink from an open bottle. Johnson allegedly said, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand”. Soon after, he was offered another open bottle and accepted it. That bottle was laced with strychnine. Johnson is reported to have started to feel ill throughout the evening and had to be helped back to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days, his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain—symptoms which are consistent with strychnine poisoning. Strychnine was readily available at the time as it was a common pesticide and, although it is very bitter-tasting and extremely toxic, a small quantity dissolved in a harsh-tasting solution such as whiskey could possibly have gone unnoticed but still produced the symptoms and eventual death that Johnson experienced.
Janis Joplin – drug overdose
Janis Lyn Joplin (19 January 1943 – 4 October 1970). American singer, songwriter, and music arranger.
Died in a Los Angeles motel room of a heroin overdose, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. She had recently become engaged, and was involved in recording her band’s album Pearl. The song “Mercedes Benz” on the album was the last thing she recorded. (The producer of the album was Paul A Rothchild, who had previously worked with The Doors (no 4) and who would later produce the soundtracks for The Rose (loosely based on Joplin’s life) and The Doors.)
television, and Jim Morrison (no 4) wrote a poem entitled Ode To LA While Thinking Of Brian Jones, Deceased.
William Lane “Master Juba” – cause unknown
William Henry Lane “Master Juba” (c 1825 – c 1852/1853) American dancer and entertainer
Master Juba was one of the first black performers in the United States to play onstage for white audiences and the only one of the era to tour with a white minstrel group. He may have been seen and written about in 1842 by Charles Dickens, during his tour of the US. After a sensational tour of Britain in 1848 (albeit with “an element of exploitation”) he returned to the US, where the critics were less kind. He faded from the limelight and died in 1852 or 1853, likely from overwork and malnutrition. Because of the scarcity of records, he may have been older or younger, or the lives of two or more similar people may have been conflated.
Jim Morrison – cause unknown
James Douglas Morrison (8 December 1943 – 3 July 1971). American singer, poet, songwriter, writer and film director.
Died in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. Under French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The cause of death was officially listed as “heart failure”, but heroin use was probably involved, possibly inhaled because he thought it was cocaine. His girlfriend, Pamela Courson, gave numerous contradictory versions of his death. Courson died of a heroin overdose three years later, at the age of – you guessed it – 27.
Bobby Sands – starvation
Sands Bobby 050581Robert Gerard Sands (9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981). Irish Republican Army volunteer, prison hunger striker and member of the UK parliament.
Died of self-imposed starvation in HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh. After conviction for firearms possession, Sands became the leader of a hunger strike, part of a campaign by Irish republican prisoners to regain status as political prisoners and to be treated accordingly (i.e. not as criminal prisoners). Sands began to refuse food on 1 March 1981. Soon after, a Northern Irish member of the UK parliament died and a by-election was called. Sands was nominated as an “Anti H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner” candidate and other nationalist parties withdrew from the contest so as not to split the nationalist vote. He narrowly won the election, but never took his seat in parliament. Three weeks later, he died in the prison hospital after 66 days of his hunger strike. Nine other nationalist prisoners involved in the hunger strike also died.
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