Rock stars more likely to go to an early grave

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am

Rock stars - notorious for their 'crash and burn' lifestyles - really are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age.

A study of more than 1,000 mainly British and North American artists, spanning the era from Elvis Presley to rapper Eminem, has found they were two to three times more likely to suffer a premature death than the general population.

Between 1956 and 2005 there were 100 deaths among the 1,064 musicians examined by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

As well as Presley, the toll of those dying before their time included Doors singer Jim Morrison, guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, T Rex star Marc Bolan and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

More than a quarter of all the deaths were related to drugs or alcohol abuse, says the study in the Journal of Epidemial Community Health.

'The paper clearly describes a population of rock and pop stars who are at a disproportionate risk of alcohol- and drug-related deaths,' said Mark Bellis, lead author of the study.

He said the study raised questions about the suitability of using rock stars for public health messages such as anti-drug campaigns when their own lifestyle was so dangerous.

'In the music industry, factors such as stress, changes from popularity to obscurity, and exposure to environments where alcohol and drugs are easily available can all contribute to substance use as well as other self-destructive behaviours,' the report says.

It found that musicians are most at risk in the first five years after achieving fame, with death rates more than three times higher than normal. Hendrix, Bon Scott of AC/DC and punk rocker Sid Vicious all died within five years of hitting the big time, Mr Bellis said.

Among British artists, the risk of dying remains high until around 25 years after their first success, when they return to near-normal life expectancy. But this trend is not found in North America, where ageing rockers remain almost twice as likely to suffer a premature demise, particularly from heart attack or stroke.