Pop, Rock Stars Twice as Likely to Suffer Early Death, Study Finds

Rock and pop stars are more than twice as likely as the rest of the population to die an early death, according to new research published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

And, like Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur, many are likely to die within a few years of becoming famous and as the result of drug and alcohol use, according to researchers from the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

The findings are based on more than 1,050 North American and European musicians and singers who shot to fame between 1956 and 1999.

All the musicians studied were featured in the All Time Top 1,000 albums, selected in 2000. The albums chosen covered rock, punk, rap, R&B, electronica and new age genres.

How long the pop stars survived once they had achieved chart success and become famous was compared with the expected longevity of the general population, matched for age, sex, ethnicity and nationality, up to the end of 2005.

In all, 100 stars died early between 1956 and 2005. The average age of death was 42 for North American stars and 35 for European stars.

When compared with the rest of the population in the U.K. and the U.S., rock and pop stars were about twice as likely to die early and even more likely to do so within five years of becoming famous.

Long-term drug or alcohol problems accounted for more than one in four of the deaths.

Some 25 years after achieving fame, European pop stars returned to the same levels of life expectancy as the rest of the population. But North American stars continued to experience higher death rates.

The music business would do well to take the health risks of substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors more seriously, the authors warned.

This is not only because of the long-term effects on the stars themselves but also because of the influence these stars exert on others, the authors said.

Stars could do more to actively promote positive health messages, but these need to be backed up by example, they add.

"Where pop star behavior remains typified by risk-taking and substance use," the authors wrote, "it is unlikely that young people will see any positive health messages they champion as credible."