A former psychologist and program coordinator for Danville State Hospital has published an article examining the chaotic lives and early deaths of several famous rock stars.
“The Curse of 27: Fateful Coincidence?” written by Maxim Furek, of Berwick, appeared in the December 2013 issue of Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction Professionals. It examined the lives and deaths of several famous musicians who all died at the age of 27 including Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix.
The persistence of prominent musicians dying at the age of 27 has led some to believe that there is some sort of mystic connotation to the age.
“With this article, I wanted to take the rock mythology of the ‘27 Club’ and validate it through psychological and sociological theory,” Furek said. What he eventually found is that the cause of these young musicians’ deaths was largely due to shared feelings of isolation caused by fame or their own personal struggles. Fame can be addicting and toxic, and many young people who become wealthy and successful at a young age don’t really know how to handle it, Furek said. This frequently leads them to substance abuse and other poor decisions.
“A lot of it has to do with how youth perceives reality,” he said, and all the members of the 27 Club were still at an age where they were unsure how to navigate through life.
That can still be seen today in recent headlines, such as 19-year-old singer Justin Beiber’s recent arrests for DUI and resisting arrest. Young celebrities often feel like they are separate and above the law, Furek said. “We see this all the time, whether it’s him (Beiber) or Lindsay Lohan or Janis Joplin.”
The legend of the “27 Club” has persisted due to our society’s own fixation on the success and failure of celebrities. “As a society we are very fascinated with these celebrities and we watch them go up and we watch as they self-destruct. It’s almost like a blood sport,” Furek said. The “27 Club” is ultimately “not about age, it’s about responsibility, making responsible choices … about valuing the self,” he said. “If anything good would come from all of this, it would be to find a way to intervene and save the lives of these youthful, immature celebrities who cannot handle the pressures of fame and fortune.”
This need for self-worth is something Furek regularly saw in his days at the Danville State Hospital, serving as a psychologist and coordinator of the facility’s drug and alcohol services. “Addiction grabs us all … it’s not about how much money you make, sexuality or color of skin, it’s about at the core how you feel about yourself and how you value yourself,” he said.
While he saw many who were in the throes of addiction, there were also numerous individuals who managed to get on the road to recovery.
Some people, including famous musicians like Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin, did not believe they were worthy of sobriety and turned to substance abuse in failed attempts to take away their pain and insecurity. “The end result is always jails, institutions or death,” Furek said.
His article was well-received by his editors at Counselor. “I received quite a bit of response from it. My editor and counselor felt this was new territory. It was very exciting to do the research and write the article,” he said.
Furek also writes a regular column for Counselor on drug use and its culture.
Furek currently performs trainings for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. He will be giving a presentation on methamphetamine abuse on Feb. 12 at Danville’s CMSU building on Pine Street.