69 Club is the new 27 Club among celebrities

Human beings have a preoccupation with death which has dated back to the earliest of our ancestors. As a species, we try to come to grips with our own mortality by trying to make sense of it any way we can. One such way is by recognizing patterns in the demise of others, especially celebrities, whose lives seem to shine brighter than our own, and in some cases, burn up faster as well.

It has been well documented that a great number of creative artists, whether musicians or singers or even those dedicated to the visual arts, seem to shuffle off their mortal coil on or after their 27th birthday but before their 28th. Known as the “27 Club,” its roster of members read like a Who’s Who of the afterlife.

The founding member of the 27 Club is widely regarded to be Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who died of mysterious causes after playing in a Greenwood, Mississippi, juke joint on Aug. 16, 1938. Johnson, who was 27 years, 100 days old, is believed to have been poisoned by an enraged husband of one of his lovers.

Over the years, Johnson has seen elite company join him among the ranks of the 27 Club. In the 1960s, The Drifters lead singer Rudy Lewis and Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones died before their 28th birthday. Even more eerie is that during a 10-month period from Sept. 18. 1970 to July 3, 1971, drugs claimed the lives of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – three of the biggest names in rock and roll at that time --- all of whom were just 27 years of age.

Other members of the 27 Club include Grateful Dead guitarist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Badfinger guitarist Pete Ham, painter and graffiti artist extraordinaire Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, Houston-based rapper Fat Pat and singer Amy Winehouse.

Another age that has gained attention for its mortality rate is 33, which boasts an equally impressive list of members. Actress Carole Lombard, soul singer Sam Cooke, AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, singer Keith Whitley and comic actors John Belushi and Chris Farley all died at the age of 33.

However, with the death last week of acclaimed actress Patty Duke at age 69 and other notable deaths this past year of beloved entertainers, the case can be made that 69 is the new 27.

Singer-actor-starman David Bowie escaped the surly bonds of Earth on Jan. 10 at age 69, while actor Alan Rickman, the man who brought Severus Snape to life in the Harry Potter films and gave us chills as terrorist leader Hans Gruber in Die Hard, succumbed to cancer as well just four days later.

But the age of 69 has been fatal to many other legends. In fact, in the past 52 years, no fewer than 23 people of note have died at the age of 64.

They include comedienne Gracie Allen; actors Ed Begley Sr., Ozzie Nelson, Jackie “Uncle Fester” Coogan, Edmond O’Brien, Desi “Lucy, You Got Some Explaining To Do” Arnaz, Jerry Orbach, Dennis Farina and Harold “Ghostbusters” Ramis; actresses Rosalind Russell and Nancy “Miss Jane” Kulp; musicians Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Webb Pierce and Freddy “Before the Last Teardrop Falls” Fender; pro wrestlers Vincent McMahon Sr. and Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes; football player turned actor turned FTD pitchman Merlin Olsen; daredevil Evil Knievel and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Of course, it is much more plausible that anyone, regardless of being a celebrity or a regular Joe Schmoe, is more likely to meet his or her maker at age 69 than age 27 or even 33. However, the number of people who have gone on to their eternal reward (or in the case of Hussein, eternal damnation) at the age of 69 does make one wonder if perhaps, in years to come, we will be talking about the 69 Club in the same reverent tones we use for those who died so young at 27. Only time will tell.

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