It’s a bad rock n’ roll cliche that many artists die before they’re old, but surprisingly two new bits of information give credence to the notion that artists face more significant health problems than other people. Researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University have found that rock stars are 2 to 3 times as likely to suffer premature death as the general population.
The study looked at more than 1,000 artists from England and North America spanning nearly the entire rock era of 1956 to 2005. Sadly, more than a quarter of the deaths were related to alcohol or drugs.
"In the music industry, factors such as stress, changes from popularity to obscurity, and exposure to environments where alcohol and drugs are easily available, can all contribute to substance use as well as other self-destructive behaviors," the report said.
The study found musicians were most likely to die in the first five years after achieving fame. Death rates were three times higher than normal during this period. The study also found British artists risk of death remained high until 25 years after they became famous, but, interestingly, American artists chance of death continues to remain high throughout their lives. The lead author of the study said Americans stars continued high rate of death could be because of our country’s penchant for reunion tours (seems dubious) or the fact that many older artists, who are no longer in the spotlight, don’t have health insurance (seems more likely).
The second bit of information comes from New Orleans, where its musicians — like much of the city — still have not recovered from the tragedy of Katrina. They staged a march on Aug. 26. The musicians carried their instruments, but did not play a note. The protest was aimed at showing the city what it would be like without its musicians. Many players feel they will be forced to move elsewhere unless New Orleans does more to help them make a living.
The New Orleans Musicians Clinic reports more than 90 percent of the city’s musicians live at or below the poverty level and most don’t have health insurance.
Both the study of musicians’ death rates and the New Orleans protest make clear that there is a health care crisis among musicians. An FMC survey from 2001 found nearly half of musicians interviewed reported they don’t have health insurance. FMC has tried to address the crisis by offering musicians free health insurance advice via the HINT program. Musicians can call up and get health insurance advice from fellow musicians, who happen to be health insurance experts. Best of all it’s totally free.