Sex, Drugs and Premature Death

By Tariq Panja
Associated Press
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

LONDON, Sept. 4 -- Living fast and dying young has long been part of rock-and-roll lore.

And now there are statistics that affirm the image, according to a study released Tuesday.

Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, whose report appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, studied a sample of North American and British rock and pop stars and concluded they are more than twice as likely to die a premature death as ordinary citizens of the same age.

The team studied 1,064 stars from the rock, punk, rap, R&B, electronic and new age genres in the "All Time Top 1,000" albums published in 2000. They compared each artist's age at death with that of European and U.S. citizens of similar backgrounds, sex and ethnicity.

Mark Bellis, leader of the study, said his research showed the stereotype of rock stars was true -- recreational drugs and alcohol-fueled parties take a toll.

The report found that, between two and 25 years after the onset of fame, the risk of death was two to three times as high for music stars as for members of the general population matched for age, sex, nationality and ethnic background.

In all, 100 of the stars studied had died -- 7.3 percent of women and 9.6 percent of men. They included Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

The average age of death was 42 for North American stars and 35 for European stars.

Long-term drug or alcohol problems accounted for more than one in four of the deaths, the study found. The first years of success are the most dangerous, with both British and American musicians three times more likely to die than the average person during that time.

While the music world is not only filled but also fueled these days by aging music stars -- Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among them -- industry observers were not surprised by the findings.

"Being a pop star is a crash-and-burn sort of lifestyle," said rock journalist and broadcaster John Aizlewood. "If you go into it, you want adulation. You want to respond to the crowd. You can't be a pop star in isolation. If you need that adulation, you obviously have other needs.

"It was ever thus. If you look back to Victorian times -- Byron, Shelley those kind of people -- being creative requires living on the edge in a way that being in insurance doesn't."

Bellis wrote, "The music business would do well to take the health risks of substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors more seriously." Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and Raphael Satter contributed to this article.

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