Musical Legends Who Died at 27

Musical Legends Who Died at 27

By Tony O'Neill 07/24/11

When she died last July, Amy Winehouse became the latest in a long series of musical legends to expire at  27. But Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison weren't the only ones to leave the stage three years shy of 30.

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Dickie Pride

While he never enjoyed the success of contemporaries like Billy Fury or Marty Wilde, Dickie Pride was a sadly underrated British rocker who was dubbed “the sheik of shake” by the British press following his first public performance when he was just 16 years old. His biggest hit was the single “Primrose Lane,” which peaked at number 28 in the UK charts in October 1959, but it was the tragic details of his sad decline that would create the bigger headlines. Pride suffered from well-documented mental health problems as well as addictions to a variety of drugs including heroin. He was married in 1962 and his only son was born in 1965, but his musical career continued to decline as he spiraled ever downwards into depression and drug abuse. In 1967, he checked himself into a psychiatric clinic and during his stay received a lobotomy. Two years later Pride overdosed on sleeping pills. In 1999, his short, tragic life would inspire Charles Langley’s stage play “Pride with Prejudice.”

 

Brian Jones 

Beautiful and doomed, Brian Jones was the precociously talented guitarist of the Rolling Stones, the poster boy for swimming London decadence, and one of the 60s' most infamous drug casualties. The details of his decline into a psychedelic drug haze, and his eventual ejection from the band he founded, are standard rock lore these days. With Jones gone, the band would go on to even greater heights of success, becoming the biggest rock-n-roll act in the planet, and one of the biggest-earning acts in rock, more than 40 years after Jones was found drowned in his swimming pool in 1969.  Jones’ death inspired the classic Stones track “Shine a Light” as well as the Doors track “Tightrope Ride."  His virtuoso guitar playing can be heard on many early Stones classics, including the wonderful sitar riff that propels “Paint It Black” along.

 

Pete Ham

In many ways, the death of Pete Ham, the Welsh singer-songwriter who found fame as the leader of Badfinger, is one of the most unusual—and tragic—of all the 27 Club stories. While most of the deaths on the list involve drugs or reckless behavior, Ham was by all accounts a rather sober fellow who was instead badgered into his grave by unscrupulous managers and mounting legal troubles. His hits with Badfinger include “Come and Get it," “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue." But it was the song he co-wrote with bandmate Tom Evans for Harry Neilson, “Without You,” that might be his best known song. In the years since Neilson took it to number one it has become something of a pop standard, covered by a dizzying array of artists including Mariah Carey, Shirley Bassey and Chris De Burgh. Sadly, between 1973 and 1975 Badfinger found themselves embroiled in a series of protracted legal battles with their record label and business manager which effectively stifled their ability to record or make money. Despondent, Ham hung himself in his home in Surrey, England, leaving behind a girlfriend who was eight months pregnant with his child. His suicide note read, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.” Taking a final blast at his business manager Stan Polley, Ham signed off with “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

 

Tony O'Neill is the author of several novels, including Digging the Vein and Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie).  He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. O'Neill also interviewed Jerry Stahl and argued against abstinence for The Fix.