The 27 Club of Famous Celebrities Who Died Early

The first time I heard of “The 27 Club,” referring to celebrities who died at that age, was in 1978.

I was one of the extras who were paid  $5 a day and provided a box lunch to appear in a movie being filmed in San Marcos, Texas. My role was the same as so many other students–a tourist sitting near the “Lost River.”

The river was actually Spring Lake which was part of an amusement park called Aquarina Springs, near Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State).

The movie was Roger Carmen’s Piranha.

One of the actors was Barry Brown, who played a Texas Trooper. I was able to spend some time with Barry at a couple of hangouts around town, but especially at the Holiday Inn, where some of the crew and actors spent time after hours.

“Welcome Piranha” 1978

I found Barry to be an intelligent guy and he was particularly interesting because I was a 22-year-old journalism student hoping to get interviews with some of the filmmakers.

Brown as a Trooper.

By this time in life, I had scored interviews with Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, Rosalind Russell, James Earl Jones, and Lady Bird Johnson. Perhaps a bit confident, I made sure I was able to meet some of the actors including Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, and Keenan Wynn.

Dillman, Menzies,?,McCarthy.

As President of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association that year, I had previously met Guich Kook at the organization’s annual meeting during this same time period, so it was nice to see him on set with a role.

I was particularly excited to meet Kevin McCarthy because of his starring role in the classic horror sci-fi, 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Barry Brown, with Eileen Brennan, Cloris Leachman, Cybil Sheppard.

Brown had played the role of Frederick Winterbourne in Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller with Cybil Sheppard in 1974. Bogdanovich praised Brown’s contribution to the film, describing him as “the only American actor you can believe ever read a book.”

But the problem with Barry was that he seemed to be perpetually drunk. A waitress (and classmate) at the Holiday Inn was a stand-in for Menzies and was able to get me the role and access. It was at the hotel pool one evening that the inebriated Brown jumped into the pool with his costume, a trooper uniform still on.

Brown as Trooper in Piranha, 1978.

After crew members coaxed him out, they sent him up to his room and had his clothes laundered for the next day’s film shooting on set.

I heard later that on his last day of filming in April, he wore the trooper uniform on the plane back home to Los Angeles to surprise his family.

Just a couple of months later, Brown  committed suicide with a handgun in Silver Lake, California. He was only 27.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I knew of the early deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, but had never connected the fact they were all 27.

“The 27 Club has become one of the most elusive and remarkably tragic coincidences in rock & roll history,” said Rolling Stone magazine.

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Raised in San Antonio, Jack Dennis’ early experiences were as a newspaper reporter and private investigator. With a Texas State University bachelor’s degree, Jack studied journalism, education and psychology. He was the founding vice-president of Sigma Delta Chi, the Association of Professional Journalists at the University. Jack has received numerous awards, including Investigative Reporter of the Year from Rocky Mountain Press Association, David Ashworth Community Award, and Leadership in Management.
Some of the people and groups Jack has interviewed include:
Music
Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, George Strait, Roy Orbison, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Steve Wariner, Tanya Tucker, Scotty Moore, Fats Domino, Patty Page, Tommy Roe, Emmy Lou Harris, Johnny Rivers, Charly McClain, Kinky Friedman, John McFee, Guy Allison & Patrick Simmons (Doobie Brothers) , Randy Bachman (BTO), Jim Messina, Todd Rundgren, Alvin Lee, Gary Puckett, The Ventures, Freddy Cannon, Augie Meyer, Christopher Cross, Whiskey Myers, Sha Na Na (John “Bowzer” Baumann), Flash Cadillac, Jerry Scheff, John Wilkinson, Darrell McCall, and more.
Politicians & News
George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Greg Abbott, Rudolph Giuliani, Larry King, Jack Anderson, Tom Bradley, Connie Mack, and more.
Actors
Clint Eastwood, Mike Myers, Taylor Lautner, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Selena Gomez, Tippi Hedren, James Earl Jones, James Woods, Jim Nabors, Martha Raye, Rosalind Russell, June Lockhart, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Howie Mandel, Meg Ryan, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, James Drury, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Alan Thicke, Lou Diamond Phillips, Clint Howard, Tony Sirico, Cesar Romero, Michael Berryman, Tracy Scoggins, William Windom, Warren Stevens and more.
Space Explorers
Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Wally Schirra, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Scott Carpenter, Gene Kranz (NASA Flight Director), Ed Mitchell, Richard Gordon, Bruce McCandless, Vanentina Treshkova (first woman in space, Russia), Alex Leonov (first man to walk in space, Russian), Al Worden, Dee O’Hara (nurse to astronauts) and more.
Sports: Joe Torre, Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Billie Jean King, Manuela Maleeva, Drew Pearson, Bob Lilly, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin, Tony Parker, Shannon Miller, Cathy Rigby, Bruce Bowen, Wade Boggs, Fernando Valenzuela, Bernie Kosar, Dale Murphy, Jim Abbott, Dick Bartell, Mike Schmidt, Dan Pastorini and more.
Notables
May Pang, Bob Eubanks, Vernon Presley, Vester Presley, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Rick Stanley (Elvis’ step-brother, Harold Lloyd (Elvis’ first cousin), Doyle Brunson, Kara Peller, Hank Meijer, Norman Brinkler, Stanley Marcus, Jerry King, Mac King, Nathan Burton, Zach Anner, Louie Anderson, Owen Benjamin, Steve Byrne and more.

As head of Facilities for a major retailer (H-E-B Food/Drugs) for 20 years, Jack co-founded Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM) and was elected President to establish PRSM magazine. Jack is a writer, speaker, golf-concierge and happiness coach. He has researched and studied happiness for over 40 years.
Jack was a prolific writer for Examiner.com, with over 1,900 articles written in six years. His articles and stories have appeared in AXS Entertainment, The ROWDY Country Music, Memphis Flash, and numerous magazines.

He is author of “Miracles of Justice,” a true courtroom drama novel about social injustice and miracles.

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