Successful solo rock and pop stars are twice as likely to die early as those in a band, according to new research.
The researchers also found that rock stars who died from drug or alcohol misuse were more likely to have had a difficult or abusive childhood.
For the study, the researchers included 1,489 North American and European rock and pop stars over a 50-year period between 1956 (Elvis Presley) and 2006 (Regina Spektor, The Arctic Monkeys, and Snow Patrol).
Their successes were determined from international polls and top 40 chart hits, while details of their personal lives and childhoods were drawn from a range of music and official websites, published biographies, and anthologies, the researchers explain.
During the 50-year period, 137 (9.2 percent) famous rock stars died. The average age of death was 45 for North American stars and 39 for those from Europe.
The gap in life expectancy between rock and pop stars and the general population widened consistently until 25 years after fame had been achieved, after which death rates began to approach those of the general population — but only for European stars.
Solo performers were around twice as likely to die early as those in a band, whether they were European (9.8 percent solo vs 5.4 percent in a band) or North American (22.8 percent vs 10.2 percent).
The researchers speculate that the peer support offered by bandmates may be protective. In other words, the social support of friends can help alleviate the stress and loneliness of touring on the road.
While gender and the age at which fame was reached did not influence life expectancy, ethnicity did, with those from non-white backgrounds more likely to die early, according to the study.
The chances of survival increased among those achieving fame after 1980, researchers noted.
Nearly half of those who died as a result of drugs, alcohol, or violence had at least one unfavorable factor in their childhoods, compared with one in four of those dying of other causes.
Unfavorable factors included physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; living with a chronically depressed, suicidal, mentally or physically ill person; living with a substance abuser; having a close relative in prison; and coming from a broken home or one in which domestic violence occurred.
Four out of five dead stars with more than one unfavorable childhood factor died from substance misuse or violence-related causes, according to the study.
A career as a rock star may be attractive to those escaping an unhappy childhood, but it may also provide the resources to feed a predisposition to unhealthy or risky behaviors, say the researchers.
“Pop/rock stars are among the most common role models for children, and surveys suggest that growing numbers aspire to pop stardom,” they write in the study, which was published in the online journal BMJ Open.
“A proliferation of TV talent shows and new opportunities created by the Internet can make this dream appear more achievable than ever. It is important they [children] recognize that substance use and risk-taking may be rooted in childhood adversity rather than seeing them as symbols of success.”
Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal