Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Dying to be famous: retrospective cohort study of rock and pop star mortality and its association with adverse childhood experiences
  1. Mark A Bellis1,
  2. Karen Hughes1,
  3. Olivia Sharples1,
  4. Tom Hennell2,
  5. 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}


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.

  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Occupational & Industrial Medicine

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

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.