Helmut Köllen died on May 3, 1977, of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 27 years and 62 days old at the time of his death. He is a prime example of a member of the club who in many ways is uncommon – his life did not follow the more typical arc of an unhappy childhood, teen rebellion, and sudden fame or wealth and self-abuse. On the other hand, the cause of his death is highly ironic, and bears all the marks of the forever 27 curse.
Köllen was born and raised in Koln, Germany, and had an apparently unremarkable childhood. He became a musician early in his teens and played in several local bands. Köllen became the bass player for Triumvirat, a German progressive rock band that became popular in the1970s. He was a replacement for the previous bassist who left the band after recording their most popular record, Illusions on a Double Dimple. He toured with Triumvirat in support of the album in 1974, and was on the next album and tour as well. He left the band to start a solo career in late 1975.
The bassist appeared as a guest artist on a friend’s album in 1976, and for a short time rejoined Triumvirat, but the band was on their way down and he quickly resumed his solo efforts. Late that year, Köllen began work on the only recording done on his own, his solo debut entitled You Won’t See Me. Named after a favorite tune by the Beatles, the title itself is eerily prescient considering what happened to take his life so prematurely.
In addition to being a talented musician and songwriter, Köllen maintained a strong and active interest in driving and working on race cars. He planned to carry on in this field as well as pursuing his musical activities for the remainder of his life. The irony surrounding his death is compounded by these facts, because he was sitting in a car in a garage, listening to tapes of recordings he had just made – a common thing for a musician to do. The mixes and overall sound of recordings often are tested in environments where they will be heard, such as in automobiles. As he studied the sound of his music and became engrossed in the work, he neglected to notice that the exhaust of the running engine was killing him. Köllen died in the vehicle, an apparent victim of fate, and of his love for music and for fast cars, at the age of 27. The album he had been working on was released posthumously in 1977, and was dedicated to his parents.
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