Standing on stage alone with a microphone, guitar and an enthralled crowd hanging on your every move may sound glamorous. But rock stars who go solo are about twice as likely to die young as members of bigger bands.
The finding adds nuance to the previous observation that rock and pop stars suffer higher rates of mortality compared to more ordinary people of the same age.
To find out whether some musicians are more at risk than others, researchers collected data on nearly 1,500 stars who were famous in North America or Europe between 1956 and 2006.
To be considered for the study, stars had to be famous for at least five years, and they had to have produced an album in an annual best-of list. The final list included stars in a variety of categories, including pop/rock, punk, rap, R&B, electronica and new age.
After looking at causes and dates of death, the researchers reported in the journal BMJ Open that rock and pop stars who performed alone were twice as likely to have died than their peers who played in bands.
Overall, musicians who had experienced some adversity in childhood were also more likely to have died from substance abuse or other risk-taking behaviors.
Adverse childhood experiences may predispose people to act in damaging ways, the researchers wrote, citing the U.S. Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which found that adults with four or more adverse childhood experiences had about a seven-fold increase in risk of alcohol addiction, a nearly five-fold increased risk of illicit drug use and about a 12-fold higher risk of attempted suicide compared to people who grew up free of adversity.
Childhood adversity also upped the risk for cancer and heart disease, use of psychotropic medications and personality disorders. Alongside those predispositions, fame and extreme wealth offer lots of opportunities for getting involved in risky behaviors.
"Millions of youths wish to emulate their icons," the researchers wrote. "It is important they recognize that substance use and risk-taking may be rooted in childhood adversity rather than seeing them as symbols of success."
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