7 Forgotten Members of The 27 Club

The 27 Club has a few distinct members that have become morbid poster children of sorts for the musical phenomenon. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse all passed away at the age of 27 and their lives and legacies have since been inseparable from the macabre club.

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There are, in fact, dozens upon dozens of musicians who passed away at the age of 27, making the 27 Club the anomaly it is. Below are some of the club’s lesser-known members, who too often get overshadowed, but could never truly be forgotten.

1. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan

Ron McKernan, affectionately known as Pigpen, was a founding member of the legendary jam band, the Grateful Dead. He contributed to the band from its inception in 1965 until 1972, playing the keys, and the harmonica, and occasionally taking lead on some of the group’s classic covers like Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’.”

By 1970, however, Pigpen’s health was in decline, affected greatly by his alcohol abuse. He was eventually forced into an early retirement from the stage in the summer of 1972 and would pass away at the age of 27 less than a year later on March 8, 1973. He was reportedly being treated for cirrhosis at the time of his passing, but his official cause of death was deemed a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

After his death, a friend of the musician discovered a tape cassette while going through his home. It contained a number of songs Pigpen had recorded, one of which contained the striking lyrics: Don’t make me live in this pain no longer / You know, I’m gettin’ weaker, not stronger / My poor heart can’t stand no more / Just can’t keep from talkin’ / If you gonna walk out that door, start walkin’.

2. Chris Bell

Best known as a founding member of Big Star, Chris Bell left the band not long after they released their debut album, the 1972 cult favorite release, #1 Record. He went on the pursue a solo career, the products of which didn’t receive much recognition until after his untimely death at the age of 27. In the first hours of December 27, 1978, Bell lost control of his car, struck a pole, and was killed on impact.

3. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson

Canned Heat’s co-founder and co-lead vocalist Alan Wilson, also known as Blind Owl, sang two of the blues rock group’s iconic hits, “On the Road Again” and “Going Up the Country.” His distinct tenor has lived on in those tracks since their release. Since his passing, his memory has endured with them, as well.

On a September day in 1970, the band was scheduled to jet set to Germany to kick off their European tour, but Wilson missed his flight. This was not an uncommon occurrence, so it didn’t raise any alarm among his bandmates. However, the next day Wilson’s body was found in his sleeping bag behind his bandmate Bob Hite’s home where he often slept. His autopsy revealed his cause of death was an accidental acute barbiturate intoxication.

It’s sadly not surprising Wilson became one of the lesser-known members of the 27 Club. His death came only two weeks before Jimi Hendrix and just a month before Janis Joplin both joined the morbid league.

4. Kristen Pfaff

Kristen Pfaff was briefly a member of the Courtney Love-fronted grunge outfit Hole. She played bass in the band from 1993 until her death the following year. She had come to the grunge epicenter of Seattle, Washington from Minnesota, leaving behind her band Janitor Joe for the on-the-rise Hole.

It was in Seattle that she developed a heroin habit. After she helped Hole record their 1994 sophomore release, Live Through This, she left the city for Minneapolis where she sought treatment for her addiction. Once clean, she returned to Seattle to collect the rest of her belongings and move back to Minnesota for good. However, she would never make it back home.

The bassist was found dead in her apartment on June 16, 1994, from what was reportedly “acute opiate intoxication.” Her heroin overdose came only two months after Love’s husband and fellow-27 Club member Kurt Cobain’s passing.

5. Dave Alexander

Dave Alexander was a founding member and bassist of the Stooges in the late 1960s alongside brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and Iggy Pop. He was fired from the group, however in 1970, after showing up to a gig too drunk to play.

He would pass away five years later at the age of 27. He had been admitted to a hospital for pancreatitis, a cause of his alcoholism, but his official cause of death was pulmonary edema.

6. Pete Ham

At the time of Badfinger frontman Pete Ham’s death, the band was ensnared in various legal issues and management problems. Badfinger’s manager had reportedly negotiated a label deal with Warner Bros, much of which had mysteriously vanished and left the band’s finances in disarray. Ham, who had just bought a house and had a child on the way, fell into a depression.

On the night of April 23, 1975, Ham received a phone call and was told that all the money was gone. In the early morning hours the next day, after a night of drinking with his bandmate Tom Evans, Ham went home and hanged himself, leaving behind a note addressed to his girlfriend and her son. His daughter was born a month later.

7. Gary Thain

Gary Thain was briefly a bassist for Uriah Heep, playing with the band from 1972 until 1975. In that short time, he had apparently become a concern of the band during their 1974 U.S. tour. The strenuous touring combined with his drug dependency had taken a toll on his health.

The last straw, however, came when Thain was electrocuted on stage at a Dallas, Texas show. He was seriously injured and had to be hospitalized. The band cancelled the rest of their tour dates in America. His bandmates were all in agreement that due to his health Thain was unfit to continue on in the band, so they fired him in early 1975.

Thain would pass away later that year at the age of 27, having overdosed on heroin.

Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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