Jim Morrison is the first of many to appear on this list that is a member of the ’27 Club’. Born in Florida, Morrison co-founded one of the most influential bands of all-time while living in California. While residing in Venice, Morrison and pianist Ray Manzarek founded The Doors. The lead vocalist, Morrison quickly became known for his incredible talent, erratic personality, and unique voice. Recognized as one of the best singers of all-time, Morrison developed an alcohol dependency during his career. Sadly, the legend passed away in Paris at the age of 27. An autopsy was never performed — so the exact cause of Morrison’s death remains a mystery.
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If there is one common thread between all of the individuals included in this article — besides their talent — it is the shock that their untimely deaths generated. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah lost her life in a plane crash. Only 22 years old at the time of her passing, Aaliyah’s immense talent led to the singer earning the nickname the “Princess of R&B”. The stars final album, Aaliyah, topped the U.S. charts and was certified double Platinum. Following the tragic accident, the album earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. In total, Aaliyah earned five Grammy nominations for her work.
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Approaching the 25th anniversary of his death, Chris Farley’s status as a comedic legend holds strong. A member of Chicago’s Second City Theatre, Farley’s career skyrocketed thanks to his time on Saturday Night Live. Farley was involved in some of the most iconic skits SNL has ever put forth. A main fixture on the show from 1990-1995, Farley went on to have a successful career in film. Through his starring roles in films such as Tommy Boy, Beverly Hills Ninja and Black Sheep, Farley became one of the biggest stars in the industry. Unfortunately, Farley continued to battle obesity and substance abuse issues throughout his career. In 1997, at the age of 33, Farley died of an overdose.
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Dubbed ‘The King of Soul’, Otis Redding was a phenomenal talent who has had a long-lasting impact on the music industry. Born in Georgia in 1941, Redding began touring the South at the age of 17 — joining a group named the Pinetoppers. By 1964, Redding had released a handful of singles as well as his debut album Pain in My Heart. Tragically, on December 10, 1967, Redding died in a plane crash at the age of 26. Shortly before the accident, Redding recorded his most iconic song — “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. Posthumously, Redding won two Grammy Awards for the hit single and was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Born Selena Quintanilla, the ‘Queen of Tejano music’ became known simply as Selena. Selena is widely-regarded as one of the greatest Latin artists of all-time, but her impact on the culture wasn’t limited to her music career — as the star also excelled as a fashion designer. During her career, Selena had three albums reach No. 1 on various charts including the US, US Latin and US Regional Mexican charts. In 1995, Selena was murdered in cold blood by a woman named Yolanda Saldivar — the manager of Selena’s boutiques and president of Selena’s fan club. Selena was only 23. Thankfully, the icon’s legacy has lived on in the near-30 years since her death.
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Heath Ledger’s death in 2008 was truly shocking. Only 28 years old, Ledger had established himself as one of the best young actors in Hollywood. Just two years earlier, Ledger earned his first Oscar nomination (Best Actor) for his work in Brokeback Mountain. Just a few months before his accidental overdose, Ledger finished filming his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s performance was met with rave reviews and is largely recognized as one of the finest performances of the 2000s. For his tremendous performance, Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
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Martin Luther King Jr.
A man that needs to introduction. Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on the United States (and the world) cannot be overstated. The leader of the civil rights movement, MLK Jr. was devoted to advancing civil rights for people of color in the United States. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality, MLK Jr. famously delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. On April 4, 1968, the historic leader was assassinated while in Memphis. He was only 39 years old.
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When people think about punk rock — or punk culture in general — Sid Vicious is often one of the first names to come up. Born in London, Vicious had an epic rise to stardom but an equally dramatic spiral that led to his demise. Vicious was the bassist for the Sex Pistols — an English punk rock band that flourished from 1975-1978. On October 11, 1978 — four months before his death — Vicious was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in relation to the stabbing death of Nancy Spungen, his girlfriend. Before Vicious went to trial, the rocker died of a drug overdose — he was 21.
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Janis Joplin was a supernova. Born in 1943, Joplin was arguably the biggest female rock star of her era. Known for her tantalizing vocals and immense stage presence, Joplin endeared herself to millions of people during her career. In the late 1960s, Joplin was a member of the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The star was with the group through two album releases before embarking on a solo career. As a solo artist, Joplin had five singles reach the Billboard Hot 100 — including her cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” which reached No. 1. Sadly, Joplin died of a heroin overdose in 1971 at the age of 27. To this day, the rocker is considered one of the greatest singers of all-time.
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Brian Jones, second from the right, was the founder of the Rolling Stones. Jones was a very talented musician capable of playing numerous instruments — including “guitar, harmonica, keyboard, dulcimer, trumpet, bass, zither, marimba, banjo, clarinet, xylophone, flute, accordion, cello and harp.” In 1969, Jones was kicked out of the band following a string of poor decisions and disagreements with his bandmates. Roughly a month after Jones’ ouster was confirmed by the band, Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool. Mystery remains surrounding the 27-year-old’s death. While Jones was said to have accidentally drowned, there are theories abound that Jones may have been murdered.
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When the news of Paul Walker’s death broke in 2013, movie fans around the world were absolutely shocked and devastated. After furthering his stock in the film industry through his performances in Varsity Blues and She’s All That, Walker became a global star due to his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast & Furious franchise. Before his death, Walker had reprised the role for six films and was in the process of filming the seventh entry to the franchise. Eerily, Walker was a passenger in a deadly single-vehicle collision — the star was 40 years old.
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Marvin Gaye is a true legend. The “Prince of Motown” and “Prince of Soul” created countless hits — many of which are considered timeless. Some of Gaye’s biggest hits are, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “Let’s Get It On”, and “Sexual Healing”. Gaye’s music connects with people of all ages. Seriously, try reading those song titles without singing each song in your head. Stunningly, Gaye’s life was cut short at the age of 44 when his father, Marvin Gaye Sr., shot him twice.
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This man went by multiple names, all of which were immediately recognizable. Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or Biggie — it didn’t matter which name was said aloud, you knew who the man in question was. The New York native is one of the greatest rappers of all-time. Biggie produced classics such as “Big Poppa”, “Hypnotize”, “Juicy”, “One More Chance”, and “Mo Money Mo Problems”. Biggie’s friendship-turned-rivalry with Tupac hung over his career and remains a huge discussion 25 years after his death. Mere months after Tupac was gunned down, Biggie was also murdered in a drive-by shooting. The iconic rapper was two months shy of 25.
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James Dean redefined what it meant to be ‘cool’ on screen. Despite dying in 1955, he still remains a cultural icon for his boyish good looks and his relatability as an angst-ridden teen. Rebel Without a Cause remains as a seminal film for the genre of teenage life. Even in the present time, Dean’s portrayal on screen resonates with so many of us. Though he died due to a car crash at age 24, Dean’s ability as an actor cannot be underappreciated. Remarkably, Dean only had one film released during his lifetime in which he was the star — East of Eden. In 1956, Dean became the first actor to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination (Best Actor). One year later, Dean earned a second posthumous Oscar nomination for Giant.
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Jimi Hendrix is yet another megastar who passed away at the age of 27. To many, Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all-time. Not only was Hendrix incredible with the guitar, but his voice also set him apart. Quite simply, Hendrix was the total package as a musician and his talent was evident every time he took the stage. Unfortunately, Hendrix wasn’t too wary about enjoying drugs and alcohol — and his carefree approach to life ultimately cost him his life. On September 18, 1970, Hendrix overdosed on sleeping pills while staying in London.
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The world was a better place with Steve Irwin in it. An Australian conservationist and wildlife expert, Irwin became a worldwide sensation thanks to his television series The Crocodile Hunter. Alongside his wife, Terri, Irwin taught the world about crocodiles and many other wild animals that may have otherwise been unappreciated. Sadly, Irwin lost his life while filming a documentary in the Great Barrier Reef as the result of an accidental stingray attack. Irwin, 44, is survived by Terri and their two children, Bindi and Robert. The three have continued Irwin’s legacy through their conservation work and time spent operating the Australia Zoo.
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By the time she passed away at the age of 45, Natasha Richardson had accomplished a lot in her life. The England native was the daughter of two big names in the industry — Tony Richardson (Oscar winner for Best Director) and Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress). Richardson followed in her mother’s footsteps and excelled on Broadway — winning a Tony for Best Actress in 1998 (Cabaret). On the big screen, Richardson memorably appeared in The Parent Trap and Widows’ Peak. From 1994 until her tragic death in 2009, Richardson was married to fellow actor Liam Neeson. As the result of a fall suffered during a beginner skiing lesson, Richardson succumbed to a fatal head injury.
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Just as Sid Vicious embodied punk rock, Kurt Cobain is the grunge era of music. A native of Washington, Cobain was the front man of the band Nirvana. A free spirit, Cobain often marched to the beat of his own drum. His magnetic talent was plainly visible for anyone who’s ever heard or seen him perform. Cobain is recognized as not only one of the greatest singers of all-time, but also as an iconic songwriter and guitarist.
Singles such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come as You Are”, and “Lithium” remain incredibly popular to this day — as do Nirvana’s chart-topping albums Nevermind and In Utero. Sadly, Cobain had a darker side laying beneath the surface. Struggling with both mental health and drug addiction, Cobain committed suicide in 1994. He was 27 years old.
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Marilyn Monroe remains as one of the biggest sex symbols over the last 100 years. Her grace, aura, and sultry personality helped in shaping her reputation. Monroe’s films routinely grossed tens of millions of dollars. Before the age of big-budget filmmaking, she was the original ‘A-List’ actor. Her interests also included being involved in high-profile relationships (Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, John F. Kennedy). At the age of 36, Monroe passed away due to a drug overdose — in what the coroner classified as a probable suicide.
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As we mentioned earlier, Tupac and Biggie Smalls had a lot in common. While Biggie was the king of East Coast rap, Tupac ruled the West. Regarded as one of the best and most influential rappers of all-time, Tupac had two albums reach No. 1 — Me Against the World and All Eyez On Me, the latter is Diamond Certified. In addition to his success in music, Tupac was an accomplished actor. The superstar appeared in films such as Juice, Poetic Justice and Above the Rim. Tragically, like Biggie a few months later, Tupac was murdered — the victim of an unsolved drive-by shooting. The legend was 25 years old.
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Yet another star who became a member of the dreaded ’27 Club’. Born in London, Amy Winehouse became a superstar due to her beautiful singing voice. Winehouse’s voice was incredibly distinct and often regarded as one of the greatest voices of her era. Unfortunately, Winehouse publicly battled with substance abuse and mental illness. Five years before her death, Winehouse released Back to Black — a phenomenal album which peaked at No. 1 worldwide and went 14x Platinum. Winehouse won six Grammy Awards during her brief career including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for her single “Rehab”. On July 23, 2011, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning.
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Kobe Bryant wasn’t just an NBA superstar; he was a sports icon that helped turn basketball into a global sport. The 5-time NBA champion, 2-time Finals MVP and 18-time All-Star who currently sits 4th all-time on the NBA scoring list dazzled basketball fans for 20 seasons – all of which were spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Best remembered for his intensity and dedication to his craft, it feels like a gross understatement to say the NBA will never have another player like Kobe. Tragically, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, along with seven others.
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John Lennon was a world-class poet. His ability to craft thought-provoking material was seen time and time again through both his own work as well as with his band, The Beatles. Lennon wrote/sang a number of timeless songs — including “Instant Karma!”, “Oh Yoko!”, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, and a multitude of joint efforts with Paul McCartney. In addition to his work with The Beatles, Lennon released five solo albums and six albums in collaboration with Yoko Ono. On December 8, 1980, Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman — a former fan of The Beatles who grew to despise Lennon’s way of life.
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Bob Marley is easily one of the greatest artists to have ever lived. The Jamaican star brought reggae music into the mainstream during his career through his iconic voice and rhythmic beats. Three years after he passed, an album containing Marley’s greatest hits — Legend — became the best-selling reggae album of all-time. Marley excelled as both a solo artist and as a member of The Wailers. At the age of 36, Marley succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer.
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Over the past few decades, only a handful of events have shocked the world as much as Princess Diana’s death. A member of the British royal family, Diana was married to Prince Charles — Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son — and had two sons, Princes William and Harry. Diana constantly found herself in the spotlight, both in positive and negative ways. In 1997, a year after divorcing Prince Charles, Diana died in a car crash in Paris while her driver was attempting to flee the paparazzi. Only 36 years old at the time of her death, Diana’s funeral was watched by more than 32 million people in the United Kingdom.
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“The King of Rock and Roll” was transcendent in a number of ways. Elvis was an unabated showman — and one which could get the crowd in a crazy frenzy with the simplest of hip thrusts. He had an uncanny ability to mesh together a number of prominent genres (blues, country, rock) whilst also being original in the process.
Aside from his musical prowess, Elvis had the presentation of someone everyone wanted to be. He was energetic, fun, and highly talented. His impact in music can surely be felt today. It extends across a wide range of genres, and his aesthetic look even had a major influence on past and present generations. Elvis passed away at the age of 42 due to a heart attack.
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