28 Oct 2014

Rock stars really do die young

1:52 pm on 28 October 2014

A researcher from the University of Sydney has found pop musicians die up to 25 years younger than the general population.

Psychology and music professor, Dianna Kenny, studied the deaths of performers from a wide range of musical backgrounds, including blues, hip hop, jazz and metal, but not classical musicians.

Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the mythical age of 27.

Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27. Photo: Reuters

Professor Kenny said compared with the life span of the general American population, the outlook for pop musicians was quite grim.

She looked at life expectancy for pop musicians from 1950 to 2010 and found the three main causes of death were suicide, homicide and accidental death.

She put this down to a number of factors, both within musicians and the industry itself.

"Many pop musicians do have quite significant histories of childhood trauma, or attachment ruptures, that make them quite vulnerable psychologically," she said.

This could combine, she said, in an unhealthy fashion with access to instant wealth, drugs and pressures from the industry to keep selling tickets and records.

She said homicide, suicide and accidental death were all significantly higher among pop musicians compared with the American general population.

She identified her a sample group though websites that report on rock star deaths and books of pop music obituaries. They were all working musicians but not necessarily household names.

"All the musicians who have been acknowledged as a pop musician by their own cohort have been included - they have to be a performing musician."

Professor Kenny did not include songwriters, producers or music business executives.

Better to burn out than fade away?

She said one of the most distressing finds was an expectation within the industry that a short, fast, glamourous life was expected.

"The journalists write about it as if it's a fact that if you become a pop musician you are going to die younger."