Pop and rock stars run double the risk of dying early, compared to other people, according to a report published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The risk of death is highest within a few years of the musician becoming famous, say the writers.

In this study, the researchers looked at 1050 musicians from North America and Europe who became pop/rock stars during the period 1956-1999. They all featured in the “All Time Top 1000 Albums”, which was selected in 2000 – covering punk, rap, rock, R&B, electronica, new age and rock genres.

The researchers compared how long the stars survived after becoming famous and compared the data to expected longevity of the general population – they factored in age, sex, ethnicity, and nationality of the people they studied up to the end of 2005.

Out of the 1050 musicians, 100 died during the period 1956-2005. On average, the North American stars died at 42 while the European ones died at 35. One quarter of the deaths were closely linked to alcohol and drug problems.

When these stars were compared to the rest of the UK and US populations, they were found to have twice the risk of dying early – their most vulnerable time being within five years of becoming famous.

While surviving European stars returned to life expectancy levels of the general population 25 years after becoming famous, their North American peers did not (they continued having a much higher risk of early death).

The authors suggest that the music industry take the risks associated with substance abuse more seriously for two reasons. Firstly, the long term effects on the stars themselves can be significant. Secondly, music stars have a strong influence in the behaviors of others.

10% of UK children would like to become pop stars one day. It is seen as an attractive career option for the young – scores of young hopefuls apply to take part in various series, such as the “X Factor”.

The authors write “Public health consideration needs to be given to preventing music icons promoting health-damaging behavior amongst their emulators and fans.”

Not only could famous musicians become more active in promoting health messages, they also need to set examples, say the writers.

The writers warn “Where pop star behavior remains typified by risk taking and substance use, it is unlikely that young people will see any positive health messages they champion as credible.”

“Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars”
Online First J Epidemiol Community Health
Download the Research Report (PDF)

Written by: Christian Nordqvist