Keep using your white lighters and you will find out soon. We’re skeptical of the notion that an inanimate object can by itself bring good or bad fortune to its bearer, so this article will be limited to examining whether Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, and Cobain were all carrying white cigarette lighters at the time of their deaths: The First Disposable Lighters. The biggest knock on this theory is that the white disposable BIC lighter simply didn’t exist when Hendrix, Morrison, or Joplin died. The first disposable BIC lighter wasn’t produced until 1973, more than a year after Morrison’s 3 July 1971 death, and Hendrix and Joplin had both passed away even earlier, in 1970. While it simply isn’t possible for Morrison, Hendrix, or Joplin to have been in possession of a white BIC lighter at the time of their deaths, they could have been carrying some other brand of disposable lighter, such as the Cricket: However, this is also unlikely.
The Cricket was available in the 1960s in France, but it wasn’t commonly found in the United States until after the brand was acquired by Gillette and introduced to American customers in 1972, well after the deaths of Hendrix and Joplin. (Jim Morrison had been living in France just prior to his death and expired in his Paris apartment, so he quite possibly could have encounter Cricket lighters prior to their introduction to the American marketplace.) Furthermore, we looked through several biographies and obituaries offering the circumstances of the passings of Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison, and found no mention of lighters being in their possession at the time of their deaths. In fact, mention of white lighters seems to appear only in articles that propagate the rumor. Of the four musicians frequently associated with this rumor, only Kurt Cobain could unquestionably have been carrying a white BIC lighter at the time of his death (since he committed suicide in 1994, long after BICs had gained prominence in the United States). According to a set of photographs released by the Seattle Police Department in 2014, Cobain had two lighters in close proximity to him on the day of his death. However, neither of those lighters was in his pocket, and neither was white. One multi-colored lighter was discovered in his heroin kit, and another lighter that appears distinctly pink in photographs was found nearby: The official Los Angeles medical examiner-coroner’s autopsy report for Janis Joplin is available online and makes no mention of any cigarette lighter (of any brand, color, or type) having been found on or around her body.
Jim Morrison died in the bathtub of his Paris apartment and therefore couldn’t have had any lighter on his person when he expired (since he was not in the habit of bathing fully clothed). Also, Morrison was determined to have died of “heart failure,” so French authorities deemed an autopsy unnecessary and did not perform one. Therefore, no autopsy report ever existed to document the presence of a lighter found near his body or in his clothing, as claimed. Jimi Hendrix’s death certificate (listing his cause of death as “inhalation of vomit” and “barbiturate intoxication”) is available online, but we could not locate a full copy of his autopsy report. Nonetheless, we found no secondary references to that report indicating it included any mention of a (white) cigarette lighter on or about Hendrix’s body. In short, there’s extremely little chance, and zero evidence documenting, that any of the four musicians mentioned above had white disposable lighters in their pockets at the time they breathed their last. A mini-investigation into the origins of a bizarre myth. There are all sorts of luck-related legends surrounding smoking. Some people turn one cigarette upside down in each new pack they buy, making it “lucky.” Others believe that lighting three or more cigarettes on the same match will bring on bad luck. And then there’s the notion that using a white lighter is supremely unlucky, a superstition that has managed to thrive among smokers of all kinds despite being, well, pretty silly. Even today, it’s not uncommon to encounter smokers who not only won’t purchase white lighters, but won’t use them to light things even if they belong to someone else. Some people don’t even like being in the room when one is being used. But how did this legend get started in the first place? The most common origin story behind this myth is actually tied up with another popular urban legend. The so-called “27 Club” includes young artists and musicians—Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix—who all died at the age of 27. A number of superstitions revolve around the 27 Club, one of which being that those musicians, as well as a later addition to the club, Kurt Cobain, had white lighters on them when they died. As told in a comprehensive debunking of the white lighter/27 Club legend on Snopes, the main reason this legend doesn’t hold water is that white disposable lighters largely didn’t exist at of the time of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison’s deaths. While disposable lighters weren’t unheard of, the lighter the legend is most associated with, the white Bic lighter, would not even be released until 1973. The Snopes article goes on to note that other than references to the myth itself, there is no mention anywhere of white lighters being present when these musicians died. In the case of Cobain, whose death was accompanied by a number of released photos from the scene, there were a couple of lighters, but neither of them was white. “The people in the 27 Club certainly accelerated their own demise by their excesses, but as Aristotle said is necessary for any tragedy, the punishment is out of all proportion to the wrongdoing (if any),” says Dr. Adam Davis of the Missouri Folklore Society, who, despite never having heard of it before himself, looked into the white lighter legend at Atlas Obscura’s request. “So at the core of the folk-belief, attached to furtive and not altogether wholesome pleasure, is a hint of carpe diem.” In other words, the white lighter legend, just like that of the 27 Club, holds a sort of mystique that makes the taboo behavior of smoking more romantic.
Another, more banal origin to the myth goes that in the early days of Bic lighters, they only came in two colors, white and black, and that the white versions more clearly showed evidence of illicit use. So when marijuana smokers would use white lighters to pack down their bowls, the lighter would get stained with ash and resin, which the cops could then use to bust them.
Problem is, Bic lighters seem to have come in more than just two colors even in their earliest days—certainly a yellow version, which closely resembled the color in the company’s classic logo, as seen in this 40th anniversary press release Bic put out in 2013. Whether or not there is any truth to the folklore surrounding the white lighter is not really the point, of course, because to those who believe the legend, it simply is true. References to the myth can be found in weed forums across the internet, and some businesses, such as the marijuana-based subscription box service Pufferbox, avoid including them. “Ask somebody older about the prohibition against lighting ‘three on a match.’ Inexplicable prohibitions are part of the process by which we mark things as significant.” In the end, if the accepted reasoning behind the white lighter legend is all folklore, why did white lighters get singled out at all?