We lost another musical great last week.

Although Amy Winehouse only had two albums under her belt at the time of her death last Saturday, she had already established herself as one of the best R&B vocalists to hit the scene since the genre’s heyday in the 1960s. Unfortunately, her immense talent was diminished by her escalating drug and alcohol habit almost from the moment she achieved fame.

By dying at age 27, Winehouse joined the ranks of other musical giants who died at the same age; the media has even given them a name, “The 27 Club.” But there’s another thing that they all have in common: Their deaths can be attributed either directly or indirectly to substance abuse.

Here’s a short list:

Robert Johnson, 1938: The king of Delta blues, Johnson wasn’t a rock star per se — he died long before the genre got its name — but without him, rock ‘n’ roll as we know it would never have taken shape. Perhaps the most influential guitarist who ever lived, Johnson’s brief discography has influenced everyone from Muddy Waters and B.B. King to Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks. He died after drinking a bottle of whiskey that had been poisoned by a jealous juke-joint owner.

Brian Jones, 1969: Without Jones, the experimentation that marked the Rolling Stones’ ’60s heyday wouldn’t have happened. Jones’ drug excess ultimately got him kicked out the band; he was found dead in his swimming pool less than a month later.

Jimi Hendrix, 1970: If Robert Johnson laid the foundation for rock, Hendrix built the framework. In only three years, he changed forever the way people played electric guitar, and though he’s often been imitated, he’s never been matched. Hendrix choked on his own vomit after ingesting a mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Janis Joplin, 1970: You can’t be a female blues vocalist without being compared to Joplin — and, in most cases, you’ll come up short. Joplin transformed the role of female frontwoman from that of a demure waif yearning for love into that of an independent, defiant hell-raiser. She took the latter too far, dying of a heroin overdose.

Jim Morrison, 1971: The enigmatic and controversial lead vocalist of The Doors took the Great American Songbook and tore it to shreds. With the exception of Bob Dylan, no songwriter had ever before crafted lyrics with such provocative imagery, and few have since. Morrison died mysteriously in the bath; given his notoriety for substance abuse, the common consensus is that he OD’d.

Kurt Cobain, 1994: Would the leader of Nirvana, the most important band of the 1990s, have committed suicide if he hadn’t been high on heroin? Maybe. But when someone’s depressed, adding drugs to the mix is like pouring gasoline on a fire.

The fact that this column’s space constraints meant I had to leave out many other music stars who died of similar circumstances at age 27 is a sad reflection on the self-destructiveness that the lifestyle often breeds. Pete Townshend once said the bright light of fame looks romantic until you realize it’s being fueled by bodies.

Let’s hope that Winehouse is the last to be thrown on the fire.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

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