Sunday, March 21, 2010

Do rock stars die younger than the rest of us?

Indulging my morbid curiosity again, I decided to find a list of 100 rock and rollers to see if they tend to die younger than the general population, much in the same way I tested the theory about the premature death rates of baseball players and football players last weekend.

Again, I decided to find a list of 100 people, this time born in 1944 or 1945 and check how many were still alive. I started the list by going through all the bands in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and when that list did not produce enough people born in those two years, I looked at the bands who produced hits in 1967, figuring a lot of those people would be the right age that year.

To choose 1944 and 1945 means the Beatles and the Stones were slightly too old, but not the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Who, the Supremes and a lot of other bands who first hit big in the mid 1960s. For example, all three of the most famous guitarists to play with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page are all born in those two years. The biggest surprise to me was that Debbie Harry of Blondie was on the list. She's a few years older than Cher. The next biggest was Bob Seger, whose success comes about ten years later than that of his contemporaries. All these people are still alive.

You might remember that the death rates for the samples of 100 athletes in the 64 to 66 year age range in 2010 were lower than the expected number of 16, with the number of baseball players who didn't survive at 13 and football players at 9. As you might expect, musicians did slightly worse that the general public at 18 of 100. Given the small sample size of 100, this difference is not considered statistically significant.

The name all music fans would recognize on the list of musicians that didn't survive is Bob Marley. Also among the famous fallen from that time period are the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, the Who's John Entwistle, Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pigpen McKernan of the Grateful Dead. Among the living from that time period are Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Van Morrison.

While I mistrust "common sense", these small samples do agree with what we should expect. Athletes on average take better care of themselves, and as such they tend to survive better than the general public. Musicians tend to party harder than the average, and they do not survive as well.

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