The infamous “27 Club” claims as its members celebrities who unfortunately never made it to their 28th birthdays.
Regardless of creepy coincidental expiration clubs, or the even more morbid celebrity death pools, it’s a tragedy when a celebrity, or anybody really, is taken before their time. Here’s a list of stars who left us just as their lights shone the brightest.
Just two years out from his star-making run on SNL, Chris Farley died at 33 of an overdose from mixing cocaine and morphine. His notorious drug-use mirrored his larger than life persona, both of which masked his insecurities as a comedic performer. Attempting rehab an astounding 17 times, Farley couldn’t beat back his personal demons, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. He died reportedly earning $6 million per movie, a huge indicator of the star power he sadly never saw in himself, especially considering where plenty less talented SNL alumni end up. Nobody’s paying Chris Kattan $6 million for a Mango movie. That’s never happening, ever.
Another SNL legend, Phil Hartman, died at 49 at the hand of his own wife in a horrific murder-suicide that would have Dateline producers foaming at the mouth. Beloved by costars and fans alike, Hartman dominated the TV comedy world with impressions, voicework, and acting, from SNL to News Radio to The Simpsons. There was nothing he couldn’t do, including movies, in which he stole any scene he was in, like his bizarre Alcatraz prison guard character from So I Married An Axe Murderer. There is no doubt we would have seen Hartman crushing it for years on both the big and small screens.
Posthumously earning an Oscar has to be the biggest indicator that an actor died at the exact apex of his career. Granted, we believe Heath Ledger would have continued churning out fantastic performances had he not accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs at age 28, but nobody can argue that his Joker in The Dark Knight would have been the game changer for his craft. He would have been able to name his own price after that, and would have brought some much-needed flare to the solemn tome that was The Dark Knight Rises. Seriously, Nolan, Catwoman kills Bane? Fine, whatever, you were depressed. You get a pass.
At the age of 23, River Phoenix already had an Oscar nomination, played Young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and starred in the classic Stand by Me in one of his earliest movie roles. Poised to be the next leading man, Phoenix overdosed on morphine and cocaine and died outside The Viper Room, Johnny Depp’s famous rock club in Hollywood. Those coveted roles Phoenix was poised for? Oh, they just went to guys like Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, and Leonardo DiCaprio, so use that as an indicator for the level of fame Phoenix was on track to achieve.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Already established as a veteran actor who could tackle comedy or drama with the performance reliability of a Volvo, Philip Seymour Hoffman died at the stage of his career where just lending his name to a project gave it credibility. The Hunger Games, anyone? Succumbing to a heroin overdose at 46, Hoffman left behind performances in films like God’s Pocket and The Master, which both demonstrated his powerful ability to woo the audience towards even the most despicable characters. This guy was a modern classic, truly one of our most gifted performers.
Undoubtedly one of the most successful rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur represented west coast hip hop despite being born and raised in Harlem. He died at the age of 25 in a high-profile Las Vegas drive-by shooting, speculated to be directly related to the east-west hip hop feud— Shakur previously beefed with east coast rival Biggie Smalls both in and outside the recording booth. Despite the still mysterious circumstances of his death, Shakur was so dominant in the rap game that he topped the Billboard charts while serving a prison sentence, and released seven posthumous albums, not counting two live performance albums and 13—yes 13—more compilation, remix, and soundtrack albums. To say he was only getting started when his life was cut short would be an obvious understatement.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Like Tupac before him, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace died violently in a drive-by shooting, also wildly attributed to the east coast-west-coast beef, though later investigations revealed both shootings were a result of gang affiliations with the Crips. Wallace died at 24, just before the release of his aptly titled double album, Life After Death, which skyrocketed to the top of the charts. With only one critically acclaimed album under his belt before that, Wallace was on the very cusp of an already influential career. Leaving us with such a small catalog to enjoy, as well as jump-starting Diddy’s solo career, B.I.G.’s death left a wave of disappointment. Seriously, remember when Diddy was just the guy reminding Biggie about his flight times? Those were the good days.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
It’s not always drugs or violence that claim the young life of a celebrity. Car accidents can happen to anyone, and a particularly bad one left Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes dead at the age of 30. The feisty, rapping component of TLC, Lopes and the group were set to release their fourth studio album which followed FanMail, the album that featured “No Scrubs,” a song that as of this writing still gets radio play more than a decade later. With eight other number one singles under their belt, TLC was the female R&B group to beat until Lopes died.
Preceding her fellow R&B star, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, in a tragic vehicular accident, Aaliyah died at 22 in a plane crash after shooting a music video for what would become the hit single, Rock The Boat. She had also just completed Queen of the Damned, a questionable pile-on to the early 2000s vampire craze, but it was a starring role for her nonetheless. A true triple threat, she had the looks, voice, and acting chops to follow in the famous footsteps of other successful singer-turned-actresses, including Whitney Houston, Cher, and Madonna, to name a few
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