Famous Celebrities Who Died In Their 20s

This article contains triggers for risky substance use and addiction.

A-list celebrities have, by and large, always lived fast-paced lives. Between all their professional engagements, such as working on a film set or recording a new album, they're also bombarded with appearances at events and interviews — not to mention the swanky parties they're invited to.

However, as is everything in life, living in the spotlight can come with a dark side, as well, from the mounting pressures of remaining relevant to full-blown substance abuse problems that come by way of having an almost infinite amount of spending money. For many people, their 20s are a time of experimentation. According to The Wall Street Journal, a human's brain doesn't fully develop "until at least the mid-20s," with the prefrontal cortex, "responsible for planning, prioritizing and controlling impulses," maturing as adults enter their 30s.

Perhaps it's a reason why so many stars have died so young, even leading to a tragic phenomenon known as "The 27 Club," per Rolling Stone. Consisting of celebs who have all died at the age of 27, The 27 Club serves as a reminder of the grim pitfalls of fame — yet the same can be said for a star's entire years as a 20-something, which Britannica notes can be chalked up to a general rock 'n' roll way of living. Here are some famous celebrities who died in their 20s.

Aaliyah

"The Princess of R&B," A.K.A. Aaliyah, was a '90s icon. "Everybody liked her," Aaliyah's boyfriend, Damon Dash, told Fader in 2011, adding, "didn't just like her, were obsessed with her." The singer was poised for even bigger fame; according to Spin, by the time of her untimely death at the age of 22, she was already riding high on "one gold and two platinum albums" to her name.

However, it wasn't just the R&B industry that Aaliyah was dominating — she was also turning her sights towards the big screen. Her breakout role in "Romeo Must Die" was dubbed "engaging" by Rolling Stone, and she played the now-iconic lead in "Queen of the Damned" (released posthumously) which has become a cult classic in the years since, per Vulture. As the star told CBS, she wanted to act since she "was little," adding that things were finally "[coming] together."

According to Biography, in August 2001, Aaliyah set off to the Bahamas to shoot scenes for her "Rock the Boat" music video. As Dash later recalled on "The Real," the singer was actually hesitant to get on the small plane, a twin-engine Cessna 402-B. Making it to her destination safely, Aaliyah shot her scenes and proceeded to head home, yet shortly after takeoff, "the plane crashed near the runway," causing a blaze of fire. Aaliyah and eight other passengers immediately died.

Heath Ledger

Did taking on the role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 Batman flick, "The Dark Knight," contribute to Heath Ledger's tragic and untimely passing? According to History, the Academy Award-winning actor was found dead in his New York apartment by his masseuse on January 22, 2008. He was 28. As the toxicology report would come to reveal, Ledger died of an accidental "abuse of prescription medications," some of which were "commonly known painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills."

It turns out that Ledger was undoubtedly struggling with portraying the villainous on-screen psychopath. As his roommate and dialect coach, Gerry Grennell, told People in 2017, the star was indeed "exhausted," both "emotionally and physically." He added that he would catch Ledger roaming the apartment late at night, and when Grennell would try and get him to go to sleep, the star would merely reply, "I can't sleep, man." To make things even more sinister, Jack Nicholson, who once portrayed the Joker as well, offered up an eerie statement to reporters after learning of Ledger's death, saying, "Well, I warned him" (via Daily News).

Ledger, who truly hit A-list Hollywood status with his Oscar-nominated role in 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," is survived by his daughter, Matilda, whom he shared with "Brokeback Mountain" co-star and ex-girlfriend, ​​Michelle Williams.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The Notorious B.I.G.

Christopher Wallace, known better as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, left a lasting legacy in the world of rap, yet he only released a single album in his lifetime. The rapper, a New Yorker, is said to have "almost single-handedly reinvented East Coast hip hop" during a time when West Coast rap dominated, with his cool ​​baritone instantly recognizable on tracks (via Biography). Signed to Sean "Puffy" Combs' label, Bad Boy Records, Biggie released his now-iconic single, "Juicy," in August of 1994, with his first album, "Ready to Die," following the next month. As Biography notes, within two months, the album was certified gold and has only grown in the years since, becoming quadruple-platinum.

Sadly, Biggie's successes were short-lived, as a mere three years since his debut album was released, the rapper was killed. According to History, on March 7, 1997, Biggie was shot at a stoplight in Los Angeles, dying instantly. His eerily-titled second album, "Life After Death," was set to be released a shocking two weeks after his untimely passing.

To this day, Biggie's death remains unsolved. What's more, it turns out that the rapper was "concerned for his safety" during his trip to L.A. According to MTV, during one of his final interviews with ​​San Francisco's KYLD-FM, Biggie reflected that anyone who is as high profile as himself is a target. "They gonna' attack you if you on top," he explained, adding, "It's your job to bob and weave. I need the security."

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur, although considered a legendary artist on the West Coast rap scene, was actually born in Harlem, New York. According to Biography, his family struggled financially, eventually ending up in Baltimore, Maryland, where Shakur began positioning himself as a creative while studying at the Baltimore School for the Arts. While the school was a positive influence on the future rap mogul, his family moved to Marin City, California, to escape their old neighborhood filled with crime.

California ended up being the right move, professionally at least, and by 1991, Shakur recorded his first single, subsequently leading to a record deal with Interscope Records. As noted by Biography, Shakur released four platinum albums during his lifetime (and more after his death). As of 2021, he's sold more than 75 million albums, which makes him "one of the top-selling artists of all time."

There's no doubt the 25-year-old Shakur would have only seen his star rise if it wasn't for his untimely death in September 1996. According to The New York Times, the rapper was in Las Vegas to watch a Mike Tyson boxing match and, as he was leaving, was killed in a drive-by shooting. Per Biography, the rapper's fifth album, "Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory," was released only eight weeks after his death, reaching No. 1 on the charts. "One expects that he would have built on it from there," noted Geoff Mayfield, director for charts at Billboard. To this day, Shakur's murder still remains unsolved.

Kurt Cobain

Along with their contemporaries such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, fans will forever remember Nirvana as spearheading the grunge movement of the 1990s. According to The Wrangler, the genre came to be a direct response to vastly different musical stylings of the previous decade: the overstuffed sounds of synth-pop and, on the other end of the spectrum, hair metal. At a time when the '90s youths were filled with angst, grunge was essentially a movement of rebellion.

As noted by Biography, Kurt Cobain founded Nirvana in 1988, but it wasn't until they signed to Geffen Records in 1991 and released their second album, "Nevermind," that they became the grunge icons they're remembered as today. "It was so fast and explosive," Cobain told Rolling Stone in January 1994 — mere months before his tragic death. "I didn't know how to deal with it. If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me," he added.

Sadly, around the same time that Nirvana landed their record label, Cobain was experimenting with heroin. As Biography reveals, this was due to the mounting pressures of suddenly being considered a commercial act — something that the songwriter had always rebelled against. On August 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain committed suicide in his Seattle, Washington, home, leaving behind his wife, Courtney Love, and their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain (via History). He was 27 at the time of his death.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin was a rock icon, yet, sadly, her influence in music only lasted a few short years. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Joplin was known for her rebellious nature and love of music, often going to dive bars in Louisiana to admire fellow artists (via Biography). After a brief stint in Los Angeles in 1961, the singer moved back home to Texas, where she enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin while singing in a band. After a few more attempts at fame both in California and New York, Joplin joined the psychedelic rock group Big Brother, where she put the band on the map thanks to her booming vocals.

Unfortunately, Joplin's dabbling in amphetamines, heroin, and alcohol created a rift in the band. As her biographer, Alice Echols, told BBC, "She was always going to be this sky-rocket chick ... she drank hard and she lived hard." At the same time, notes Echols, Joplin was incredibly knowledgable in her craft — something that she hid from the public.

The singer broke off from Big Brother in 1968 in favor of a solo career, releasing her first album, "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" the following year. As Biography points out, the mixed reviews of her debut "caused distress" for Joplin, and her heroin addiction only worsened. On October 4, 1970, 27-year-old Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in an L.A. hotel room (via History). Her second album, "Pearl," released posthumously, ended up being "the biggest hit of her career."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse's rise to fame and subsequent tragic downfall was all documented for the public to see through tabloids and paparazzi in the mid-noughties. Snagging her big break early on in her life, Winehouse was discovered at age 16 by a friend who passed her demo tape to A&R, subsequently leading to a signing with Island/Universal (via Biography). Her double-platinum debut, "Frank," in 2003 saw the singer's star rise, but it was also a time when her reputation "as an unstable party girl" also became apparent.

Her refusal to attend rehab for alcoholism in 2006 led to her most successful album to date, "Back to Black," where she even sang about her experience on the track "Rehab" — a song which Biography notes was the highest debut in the U.S. by a female Brit to date. Yet as Winehouse became more popular, her behavior and addiction became increasingly troubling (via Biography). "There was so much expected of her," recalled the singer's best friend, Tyler James, to RNZ. "When there was so much pressure to be this character, to be this Amy Winehouse, this person who'd won five Grammys. That life wasn't for her," he added, noting that she "hated" her fame.

According to Biography, Amy Winehouse died on July 23, 2011, in her home of "accidental alcohol poisoning." She was 27.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious' name is instantly recognizable in the pulk realm, yet his time as bassist for the Sex Pistols was brief — not even lasting a full two years. Born Simon John Ritchie in London, England, the musician's early life was fraught with turmoil. According to The Guardian, Ritchie's mother had a heroin and opiate addiction, kicking her son out of her home when he was 16. "He didn't have any role models," recalled the musician's childhood friend, John Wardle, to the outlet.

A high school dropout, Ritchie caught the eye of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren in 1977, who believed he had the perfect punk look needed for the 2-year-old band, per Biography. While the band ended up being successful, in early 1978, they embarked on a U.S. tour that lasted a mere eight concerts before the group split up.

With the Sex Pistols broken apart, Ritchie was free to focus on his relationship with Nancy Spungen, with whom he moved to New York. While she tried acting as Ritchie's manager, the pair were more focused on fueling their drug addictions, which ultimately led to the murder of Spungen after a fatal stabbing. Ritchie, who was in a "drug-induced fog," confessed and was charged with second-degree murder. After a couple of prison stints, the rocker was released on bail on February 1, 1979. After celebrating his release by taking heroin, Sid Vicious was found dead in a New York apartment — less than 24 hours after his release. He was only 21.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Jim Morrison

Many different theories have cropped up surrounding Jim Morrison's puzzling death, yet one thing remains for certain: the Doors frontman died way too early. According to Biography, Morrison met the rest of his bandmates while studying film at UCLA, forming the iconic band in 1965. The men were quickly signed the following year, releasing their self-titled debut in January 1967.

As NBC News notes, while the Doors became successful relatively early on, Morrison's personal struggles with alcoholism negatively affected the band, with the frontman actually getting arrested twice "for his on-stage antics." By 1971, Morrison and the Doors released "L.A. Woman," and after that, the crooner moved to Paris in March. According to Today, Morrison spent his brief time in Paris partying, which likely led to his untimely demise.

On July 3, 1971, 27-year-old Jim Morrison was found dead, yet varying stories of how exactly he died have come out since then. Per Today, his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, claimed that after a dinner and movie date, the couple retired to their home and went to sleep. When Morrison woke up "feeling ill," he ran a bath, where Courson eventually found him dead. On the other hand, biographer Sam Bernett claims that Morrison died of a heroin overdose in a bathroom stall of a Parisian nightclub. Considering no autopsy was ever performed, his death remains a mystery.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

James Dean

For someone who only filmed three feature films in his lifetime, James Dean is a widely remembered figure in Old Hollywood pop culture, his name synonymous with the 1955 hit, "Rebel Without a Cause." As his website notes, perhaps he's so well-remembered due to his on-screen presence, symbolizing "the restless American youth" of the '50s — particularly with his aforementioned cult classic.

Born James Byron Dean in Marion, Indiana, he bounced between Indiana and California in his youth, eventually dropping out of college and enrolling in Lee Strasburg's prestigious Actors Studio in New York (via Biography). In a letter the actor wrote to his family in 1952 (via JamesDean.com), Dean boasted of other fellow thespians to have attended, such as Marlon Brando and Julie Harris, before writing, "If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days, I might be able to contribute something to the world."

Heartbreakingly enough, the "East of Eden" star didn't get a chance to contribute much more after bursting onto the Hollywood scene. According to Biography, the actor was a fan of fast cars, and after getting a hefty paycheck from "East of Eden," he bought himself a Porsche 550 Spyder. On September 30, 1955, he took his convertible out for a joy ride, getting a speeding ticket at 3:30 pm. A mere two hours later, he collided with a sedan on the highway near Cholame, California. At the age of 24, Dean died almost instantly.

River Phoenix

River Phoenix had an interesting climb to becoming one of Hollywood's most promising heartthrobs. According to the Independent, the actor's parents were a part of a Christian commune, the Children of God, even moving their brood to Venezuela for a while. They eventually moved back to America in the '70s, having denounced the group, and they put their children to work, enterring them in talent competitions. By the time Phoenix was 10, the family was living in California, with their son having scored bit TV parts, before making his movie debut with 1985's "Explorers."

From there, Phoenix's star burned brightly. He landed the role of young Indiana Jones in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and even received an Oscar nomination for his role in "Running on Empty." Yet, his burgeoning career was cut short on October 31, 1993, after a trip to L.A. hangout, the Viper Room. According to The Guardian, River was accompanied by his siblings, Joaquin and Rain, and his girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, staying just under an hour before he had to be carried outside. Joaquin called 911 after seeing his brother have multiple seizures, but by then, it was too late. River was 23.

What's perhaps the most tragic about his death was how straight-edge the actor once was: the Independent ran a headline dubbing him the "purest of all child stars," yet according to some sources close to the actor, in later years, he began experimenting with different drugs. His death was ruled an accidental overdose.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Selena Quintanilla

The Queen of Tejano Music, Selena Quintanilla, was such a legendary music icon that people mainly refer to her solely by first name. Born in Texas and raised in a Latin community, Selena began singing as a child, eventually joining her family's band at the young age of 10 as the lead singer (via Biography). Although her self-titled debut album was released in 1989, it was the singer's 1990 effort, "Ven Conmigo," that really put her on the map, selling over 500,000 copies.

According to "Selena's Secret," the following year, a woman named Yolanda Saldívar saw the crooner perform for the first time — and subsequently had an idea to form a Selena fan club. After getting in touch with Selena's father, Abraham, Saldívar created the club and eventually met her idol, and she began getting closer to her, too.

By 1995, Selena was a bonafide superstar. As revealed by Esquire, the singer had a total of four completed studio albums along with a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album for 1993's "Live!" While she was busy expanding her business to clothing and jewelry as well, her main focus was to crossover into the mainstream with her first English-speaking album she was recording, "Dreaming of You." Sadly, she never got a chance to see it completed. Per Biography, on March 31, 1995, 23-year-old Selena was shot in Corpus Christi, Texas by Saldívar in a hotel room. She died upon arriving at the hospital.

Edie Sedgwick

Known as Andy Warhol's biggest muse, Edie Sedgwick was a wealthy socialite of the 1960s, dominating headlines as New York's "It" girl. Born into New England old money, Sedgwick was raised in Southern California, one of eight children. According to the Independent, a tinge of tragedy always followed the blonde — by the time she was in college, she had already "spent time in mental hospitals, suffered from anorexia and had an abortion." By the time she was 21, she had moved into a New York apartment owned by her grandmother and became a regular on the party circuit.

Around the time Sedgwick met Warhol in 1965, he was already a huge success in the mainstream art world, per Vanity Fair. Having met at ​​Tennessee Williams' birthday bash, Warhol was instantly struck by Sedgwick's beauty, and the rest, as they say, was history. The pair were inseparable for almost a year, with the model appearing in a total of 10 of Warhol's flicks. But, as Vanity Fair notes, Warhol's films would become progressively more cruel and exploitative.

According to Vanity Fair, by the summer, Sedgwick began spending time with Bob Dylan, much to Warhol's displeasure. By 1966, the former friends officially went their separate ways, and while Sedgwick's drug addiction began spiraling out of control, her inheritance also dwindled. On November 16, 1971, Edie Sedgwick died at the age of 28, having suffocated in her sleep. It's unknown "whether her death was accident or suicide" (via Independent).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).