Sunday, 24 July 2011

Is The 27 Club Statistically Significant?

Shortly after the sadly premature death of the undoubtably talented Amy Winehouse last night, I tweeted that yet another rock star has tragically died at the curious age of 27.

The prestigious ranks of the infamous 27 club include Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Jim Morrison (The Doors) as well as Jimi Hendix and Janis Joplin.

I was however taken to task for the non sceptical nature of my tweet, suggesting that I was perhaps implying some supernatural driver to this interesting coincidence.

I thought I was merely commenting on an interesting coincidence, but this got me thinking. But before we even consider if there is a reason, we must first determine if its is even statistically significant enough to warrant needing a reason at all.

So, ignoring age, I listed whom I considered to be the 100 most well known dead "rock" stars, and then I looked up their ages and shoved them into an excel spreadsheet. (Not completeley blinded alas as I had a fair idea of roughly how old they all were). Anyway, I've highlighted the "27 club" in red:

Of course there are many other rock stars in the 27 Club, but I selected whom I considered the most well known across the board rather than cherry picking (or indeed ignoring) any particular age. However, I accept it is only an arbitrary sample.

I then plotted the total number of dead rock stars by age, and came up with the following graph:

27 is indeed the most common age of death for the most well known rock stars, but the red line doesn't seem as if it is any longer than mere chance might produce for any random age. Indeed if I widened my sample of rock stars to a 1,000 I'd be unsurprised to see the red line even less statically significant.

But that's not to say that there are not a number of complex reasons why 27 turns out to be the mode in my graph. Perhaps those with a constitution unsuitable for the rock star life make them vulnerable after a certain amount of exposure to drugs and alcohol which commonly coincides with this age.

I think taking an interest in the 27 Club is worth while merely to revisit the unfortunate talent that has been admitted. I'm pretty sure we can do this without invoking any supernatural or paranormal false justification.

Of Course regardless of whether this unfortunate guild has coalesced around a truly random number or a number resulting from a complex array of natural and social phenomenon, the fact remains that 27 is now the magic number that has entered our culture. Like all superstitions we are now free to willfully ignore the vast majority of Rock's tragedies that do not invoke the 27 club, and ensure that we are all over it like a tramp on chips at the inevitable next initiation ceremony.

Oops Entered Bon Scott twice, cant be bothered to update my graph though, you get the general idea. In fact why doesn't someone do a more controlled study?

Thanks to everyone who pointed out that as rock and pop has its roots in the 1950’s and was predominately an interest of the young, it was fairly inevitable that any early casualties s would be young. Indeed many of the 27’s clubs biggest stars acquired their membership in the early 70’s. If I conducted my crude analysis on rock stars who’ve died since say 1980, then the queer peak at 27 would disappear. I’m sure there’s many other logical reasons that also contribute to the fascinating but relatively insignificant peak of the 27 club.

Paul Clarke’s comment below is worth mentioning again above the fold. In my words: Does death at a young age and perhaps at the height of musical success help secure a rock star mega status that may well have faded if not inconveniently preserved by a premature death.
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