London: Living fast and dying young has long been part of rock ’n’ roll lore. And in this case, statistics affirm the image, according to a study that was released by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University.
The report appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and studied a sample of North American and British rock and pop stars. What emerged was that rock stars 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 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 US citizens of similar backgrounds, sex and ethnicity.
Mark Bellis, leader of the study that looked at musicians from Elvis Presley to rapper Eminem, said his research showed the stereotype of rock stars was true as in recreational drugs and alcohol-fueled parties did take a toll in the medium to long term.
The study found that, between 2- 25 years after the onset of fame, the risk of death was two to three times higher for music stars than 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% of women and 9.6% of men. Names that immediately come to mind include 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.
Music-industry observers however 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.
If you look back to Victorian times - people like Byron and Shelley need a creative outburst that inevitably leads to living on the edge in a way that being in insurance doesn’t.”
Dr Tim Williams, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at the University of Bristol, also said the increased mortality might be a byproduct of the artistic personality. He explained, “You could argue that rock stars and pop stars have a sensation-seeking personality, that they have this desire to put themselves in these terrifying situations, performing in front of a large group of people that makes them vulnerable to dependence on substances, which markedly increases mortality.
Dr Francis Keaney, an expert in addiction treatment at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said the death rates are likely to fall in the future. “People are better educated about drug and alcohol abuse than they were in the past,” Keaney said. “30 years ago, you could name dozens of people living hedonistic lifestyles in the music industry. Today there are far fewer.”