Pure Pedantry

i-6b69abe8841af006e87957ba25474004-morrison.jpgShocking. An epidemiological study of bands in the US and Europe showed that musicians do really die prematurely. Equally shocking: drugs and alcohol are involved.

From the BBC:

A Liverpool John Moores University study of 1,050 US and European artists found they are twice as likely to die early than the rest of the population.

In all, 100 stars died between 1956 and 2005 with US stars dying at 42 on average and those from Europe at 35.

Drug and alcohol problems accounted for one in four deaths, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health said.

Lead researcher Professor Mark Bellis said: “Public health consideration needs to be given to preventing music icons promoting health-damaging behaviour among their emulators and fans.

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

The paper will be published in the October issue of Journal Epidemiology and Community Health. The issue isn’t out, but here is the citation:

Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars. Mark A Bellis, Tom Hennell, Clare Jane Lushey, Karen Hughes, Karen Tocque, John R Ashton. J Epidemiol Community Health 2007;61:896-901

I am not shocked at all, but I am also skeptical that anything can be done. I think a lot of people become musicians explicitly so they can do a lot of drugs, have promiscuous sex, and the like. I am sure that these people really do love music, but you can’t discount the rock star mystique.

Given the social pressure to behave in this manner and the benefits — over at least the short-term — for doing so, getting rock stars to not drink themselves into an early grave is going to be difficult.

On the other hand, it would help a lot if we didn’t adopt a different legal standard for celebrities with respect to drugs and alcohol. It would be a lot better if you are say driving drunk on wrong side of the freeway if our legal system didn’t respond with just amused indifference. The fact that you have repeatedly shown your crotch to the world should not be a mitigating factor in sentencing.

I don’t know if that would make a huge difference, but at least it is a start.


  1. #1 kate
    September 5, 2007

    glad to finally see jim morrison on a science blog.

    but, per the title of the article, uh, eminem isn’t dead. right? unless they’re referring to his alter ego slim shady.

    i adore seemingly self-evident studies like this. so why do you think people publish with that spin? does the sex appeal really win over that many more scientists? is it because science bloggers find it funny and thus provide them with a new audience?

  2. #2 Dunc
    September 5, 2007

    Well, I don’t have a study to back this up, but it seems to me that great artists do not, as a rule, tend to be happy, well-adjusted people. The demons that drive them to creativity also drive them to drink and drugs. And, lets face it, disaffection is the essence of rock’n’roll.

    If, for example, John Martyn was the sort of chap to spend his leisure time curled up with a book and a cup of cocoa, he probably wouldn’t have been a musician in the first place. He’d have been a bank teller or something.

  3. #3 natural cynic
    September 5, 2007

    Amadeus shows that this isn’t just a recent phenomenon.

  4. #4 Scott Belyea
    September 5, 2007

    Amadeus shows that this isn’t just a recent phenomenon.

    Nonsense. Mozart’s death had nothing to do with sex, drugs, over-indulgence, or the “rock star mystique.”

    I’m sure that there are (and were) fame-related pressures in the classical world, but to use Mozart’s death as an example makes no sense.

    Also, “Amadeus” was not intended as history (either the play or the movie), and much of it was not close to being historically accurate.

  5. #5 Barbara
    September 5, 2007

    Mozart’s death had nothing to do with sex, drugs, over-indulgence, or the “rock star mystique.”

    Well, he died of an illness he probably would not have had if he had not been that poor. And he wouldn’t have been so poor if he hadn’t spent his money on women, parties and alcohol.

  6. #6 Jacob
    September 6, 2007

    Okay, so there’s a pretty strong correlation between being a rock star and dying early. But I don’t think that’s a good reason to try to get the artists to clean up. There’s an even stronger correlation between a rock star’s first post-rehab album and extreme suckiness (at least according to my own personal research). To eliminate sex, drugs, and booze from rock in general would only lead to a spate of horribly crappy music and rock is crappy enough right now as it is!

  7. #7 canli tv
    February 6, 2008

    Amadeus shows that this isn’t just a recent phenomenon.

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