BMJ Open 2:e002089 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002089
  • Public health
    • Research

Dying to be famous: retrospective cohort study of rock and pop star mortality and its association with adverse childhood experiences

  1. Katherine A Hardcastle1
  1. 1Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  2. 2Department of Health, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mark A Bellis; m.a.bellis{at}
  • Received 10 September 2012
  • Accepted 25 October 2012
  • Published 19 December 2012


Objectives Rock and pop fame is associated with risk taking, substance use and premature mortality. We examine relationships between fame and premature mortality and test how such relationships vary with type of performer (eg, solo or band member) and nationality and whether cause of death is linked with prefame (adverse childhood) experiences.

Design A retrospective cohort analysis based on biographical data. An actuarial methodology compares postfame mortality to matched general populations. Cox survival and logistic regression techniques examine risk and protective factors for survival and links between adverse childhood experiences and cause of death, respectively.

Setting North America and Europe.

Participants 1489 rock and pop stars reaching fame between 1956 and 2006.

Outcomes Stars’ postfame mortality relative to age-, sex- and ethnicity-matched populations (USA and UK); variations in survival with performer type, and in cause of mortality with exposure to adverse childhood experiences.

Results Rock/pop star mortality increases relative to the general population with time since fame. Increases are greater in North American stars and those with solo careers. Relative mortality begins to recover 25 years after fame in European but not North American stars. Those reaching fame from 1980 onwards have better survival rates. For deceased stars, cause of death was more likely to be substance use or risk-related in those with more adverse childhood experiences.

Conclusions Relationships between fame and mortality vary with performers’ characteristics. Adverse experiences in early life may leave some predisposed to health-damaging behaviours, with fame and extreme wealth providing greater opportunities to engage in risk-taking. Millions of youths wish to emulate their icons. It is important they recognise that substance use and risk-taking may be rooted in childhood adversity rather than seeing them as symbols of success.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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