What do musicians under the age of 40 die from? A small study

A musician from New Jersey analyzed data on age and cause of death from the 1950s to the present day.

In recent years, we’ve seen artists like Pop Smoke, Juice WRLD, Mac Miller, and going back to 2011, Amy Winehouse. In earlier times, there were Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, or Nick Drake. There have always been musicians who died young or prematurely: is this phenomenon more prevalent in the past or equally present? And what are the causes?

These are some of the questions posed by Chris Dalla Riva, a musician from New Jersey who works on analytics for the Audiomack platform and runs a newsletter focused on music and data. To answer these questions, he gathered information from Wikipedia about musicians who died from the 1950s onwards, including their cause of death and age at the time of death.

Looking at the graph of significant musicians (meaning they are well-known enough to be included on Wikipedia) who died before the age of 40, we see that the peak of deaths occurred not in the 1970s as one might expect, but in the 1990s (note that the 2020s haven’t ended yet: data collection stops at 2023).

- Advertisement -

However, this data may be influenced by the size of the population under consideration and life expectancy, which has changed over time. To account for this, we need to consult the graph showing the percentage of deaths before the age of 40 as a proportion of the total population of musicians per decade.

This is the graph below, indicating that musicians died young more frequently in the 1960s and 1970s than later. There is a downward trend interrupted by the 2020s, where in just a few years there have been more deaths under 40 than in the entire previous decade.

But what causes the deaths of musicians? If in the 1960s they mainly died from car or plane accidents (and not only) while traveling, from health problems, and only rarely from drug use, in the 1970s and 1980s drug-related deaths increased to become, along with more general health problems, the main cause of death. Deaths under 40 from suicide, on the other hand, have a sinusoidal trend with no significant peaks or troughs.

Excluding the category of “Unknown” causes, which will become clearer over time, in the 2020s, the main cause of death for musicians under 40 is homicide. Where drugs no longer reach, firearms do.

- Advertisement -

Related Articles