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The causes of musicians’ deaths, by genre

WASHINGTON, DC: Roger Daltrey (L), Pete Townshend (R) perform at the Verizon Center on November 13, 2012. (Photo by Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

“I hope I die before I get old,” The Who’s Roger Daltrey sang in “My Generation” in 1965. This didn’t happen for Daltrey, who is now a ripe 71, but it did to many other musicians.

Dianna Theadora Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at the University of Sydney, is conducting a statistical study of premature death among musicians. She found that musicians from older genres – including blues, jazz, country and gospel – have similar lifespans to American people their own age. The life expectancy for R&B musicians is slightly lower, while the life expectancy for newer genres like rock, techno, punk, metal, rap and hip hop is significantly shorter.

Within each genre, the cause of an early death varies significantly. Kenny found that the music genre was more closely associated with the causes of mortality than gender or age – suggesting that the genre has a very strong influence on how a musician lives his or her life. The chart below shows those correlations. Red indicates causes of death that are significantly above the overall average, while blue shows those that are above the overall average. Green represents those significantly below average.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kenny finds that accidents – including car crashes and drug overdoses – are a huge cause of premature death for musicians, accounting for almost 20 percent of all deaths across genres. But accidents are much more likely to kill rock, metal and punk musicians. Punk and metal musicians also appear susceptible to suicide, while gospel musicians had the lowest suicide rate of all genres. Homicide accounted for 6 percent of deaths, but was the cause of death for an incredible half of rap and hip hop musicians in Kenny’s sample.

Older genres tend to have different causes of death, in part because of the older average age of their musicians. Around 17 percent of all musicians died from heart-related fatalities, but that figure rose to 28 percent for blues musicians. Similarly, around 23 percent of musicians in the sample died of cancer, but the rates were higher for folk (32.3 percent) and jazz (30.6 percent) musicians.

Note: This post previously said "Baba O'Riley" instead of "My Generation." Apologies to fans of The Who everywhere.