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Must Amy Winehouse be crowded into the '27 Club'?

July 26, 2011 |  1:54 pm

Amy Winehouse and the 27 Club concept

Because we cannot speak about a celebrity's death without inventing some sort of trend, let's take a second to deal with Amy Winehouse and the so-called 27 Club.

Just hours after the tragic demise of the vocal powerhouse, entertainment outlets settled on their preferred angle: Winehouse was 27. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and a slew of other artists also died at 27, many of them from conditions related to drugs or alcohol. (Joplin died of a probable heroin overdose, heroin-user Cobain's death was a suicide, and Hendrix's autopsy concluded that he drowned in vomit after pairing sleeping pills with wine.)

So. All this 27 business must mean something, sayeth the laws of entertainment journalism. The dreaded Return of Saturn has been suggested -- that span between ages 27 and 30 that astrologists say marks a time of developmental tumult as the planet returns to the angle it occupied at the person's birth.

Addiction specialists, however, have a slightly earthier take on the 27 Club.

"If there is a connection, it's developmental," says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, an addiction specialist with Caron Treatment Centers in Manhattan. "Prior to our 30s, people really don't have a sense of their own mortality, and they're still reckless and aren't able to really, fully appreciate their vulnerabilities.”

That goes double for stars, "because they’re given their sense of immortality by fame; people worship them and turn them into gods and goddesses."

OK, so age certainly explains a part of the 27 Club phenomenon -- if there really is one -- but not all of it. The other factor is the human body itself, Hokemeyer says.

For the record, we do not yet know exactly how Winehouse died, only that she battled major addictions to drugs and alcohol, as well as mental health problems (depression) and respiratory ailments. However, Hokemeyer says that for addicts, the late 20s bring a host of new ailments and complications.

"Cocaine users start to have heart issues," Hokemeyer explains. "For alcoholics, the impact is on the liver. It loses its ability to process the alcohol. It may take someone days or weeks to recover [from using], compared to a few hours."

And finally, Hokemeyer says, people in their late 20s, particularly men and especially addicts, tend to be at the highest risk of suicide.

"If you look at the highest-risk group for suicides, it's males in that age range who are substance abusers,” Hokemeyer tells the Ministry.

"They have poor impulse control, and the alcohol and drugs interfere with that, basically make them step on the gas and hold off on the brakes. It's an issue of compulsivity and lack of judgment."

So maybe there is something to the idea that 27 is a dangerous age for troubled artists. Let's just hope that this club is now, finally, closed for membership.

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-- Leslie Gornstein

Photo: Amy Winehouse onstage in Spain in July 2008. Credit: Juan Medina / Reuters

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