When we think of famous musicians, or celebrities in general for that matter, we think of people who thrive on attention and press, courting the media and often seeking out additional attention by purposely creating controversy. Contrary to what we may believe for the majority, the same cannot be said for all stars of the music scene, with some huge names being far more shy and reserved than you may expect.
Some of them were always naturally that way, but tried to overcome their fears, issues and insecurities to pursue their artistic dreams. There are some huge names in music who shunned the usual trappings of fame from the very beginning, subverting the expectations of the music industry and becoming successful in spite of their reclusive and anti-social tendencies. Others became that way later in life, perhaps as a reaction to the intense spotlight thrust upon the stars of the industry. A few have gone as far as locking themselves away from the world completely, staying far away from their adoring public and the limelight that they once sought out. Looking to escape from the prying eyes, flashing cameras and constant scrutiny which accompanied their years of fame, some just wanted a quiet, normal life, while others wanted to eliminate human interaction from their lives as completely as possible. The careers of some legends have even been enhanced by their enigmatic, eccentric and secretive behaviour, elevating them to a mythical status.
From those battling permanent social anxiety to those temporarily retreating from years of living in the spotlight, all of the artists featured here have been labelled as hermits and recluses by the music media.
Founding member and original frontman of the legendary rock band Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett was removed from the band part way through the recording of their second album, ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, in 1968. His erratic behaviour had forced the band to hire David Gilmour as a guitarist to compensate for Syd’s antics, such as turning his back on the audience and detuning his guitar while his bandmates tried to continue their set. Barrett’s drug use was spiralling out of control and his excessive use of hallucinogens had reportedly changed his personality, leading him to withdraw from his friends. The increasingly worrying behaviour led to the band to split from Barrett, but the record label and managers stuck by his side, believing him to be the driving force behind the band. Professional photographer Mick Rock, who later shot the images used on Barrett’s debut solo album, explained in a 2011 interview that “For a year he did nothing – staying home taking acid, sometimes unwittingly, according to reports. But after a short spell in hospital in Cambridge, he was back in London, this time living with artist Duggie Fields, who said he was ‘withdrawn and moody’.”
After a brief, chaotic and disjointed solo career, Barrett withdrew from the music industry altogether. Ten years after leaving Pink Floyd, he moved back home to live with his mother, where he lived (aside from a few weeks in 1982) until his death. In the meantime, he avoided almost all attention and specifically tried to ignore all reminders of and references to his musical career. His family even appealed on his behalf for his fans and reporters to leave him alone so that he could live out his life in peace. Barrett passed away at 60 years old at his home in Cambridge, having reverted to using his birth name, Roger, since leaving the music industry.
David Gilmour’s association with reclusive entities did not end with Barrett. He went on to discover Kate Bush and help to produce the demo tape which got her signed to EMI Records in 1978. Bush instantly began racking up accolades, becoming the first female to reach number one in the UK singles charts for a self-written song, the first British solo female performer to achieve a number one album and the first female artist to have an album debut at number one. She utilised her early experiences in the industry to learn how to produce her own albums, giving her unprecedented creative freedom and control over her musical output.
In 1979, Bush embarked on ‘The Tour Of Life’, a month-long tour with under 30 performances in 20 cities throughout Europe, which would prove to be her only public concerts for over 35 years. When she returned to performing in 2014, it was exclusively for a 22 date residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, which sold out in under 15 minutes. The reasons for her long absence were the subject of rumour for years, with some assuming that it was due to the death of lighting director, Bill Duffield, during the tour. Bush explained that it was more of a personal reason: “I felt a terrific need to retreat as a person, because I felt that my sexuality, which in a way I hadn’t really had a chance to explore myself, was being given to the world in a way which I found impersonal.” A 2012 article blamed her increasing seclusion on the deaths of two close friends and her mother over a period of four years. The piece stated that Bush’s neighbours described her as living “so quietly that there are long periods when they are convinced she has moved out… She remains closeted away behind high fences…” And that “She fiercely protects her privacy: any walkers unlucky enough to mistake her garden path for a towpath may find that she emerges from the house, shrieking, and tells them to get off her private property. No one can recall her ever going to the local pub, the Fox & Hounds, or even saying ‘hello’ to her neighbours. She has also removed the house name from view to deter nosey parkers.”
While Bush herself denies being a recluse, she has admitted in rare interviews that she values her privacy and prioritises her home and family life over anything else. She has made some notable public appearances over the years (such as receiving a CBE from the Queen in 2013 and accepting a Q award in 2001 for Classic Songwriter – which she accepted by saying “I’ve just come!”), but they have been few and far between. She was asked about her favourite places to go in London during an interview for a TV show called Rough Guide, but replied “I’m not going to tell you because I wanna be there with as few people as possible.”
David Bowie rose to prominence throughout the 1970s and became one of the most influential songwriters and musicians in the world for over three decades. He also branched out into acting with roles in films such as ‘The Labyrinth’ and ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’. His musical output overall would last right up until his death in 2016, however he had disappeared from the music industry in 2004 after suffering a heart attack on stage in Berlin, Germany while promoting his 2003 album, ‘Reality’. It was ten years until the release of Bowie’s next album (2013’s ‘The Next Day’), which proved to be his penultimate work. Rolling Stone magazine featured an article when the album was announced, which detailed all of the sightings and limited appearances Bowie had made during what they referred to as his ‘lost period’, while other media outlets also concentrated on his elusiveness during the previous decade. The Independent stated “Reports that Bowie spent his days holed up watching imported DVDs of BBC dramas including Life On Mars, the time-travel cop show inspired by his hit song, helped fuel theories that the former flamboyant idol had become a reclusive, Howard Hughes of rock n’ roll.”
During his decade away from the music industry, Bowie and his wife, Iman, stayed in Manhattan, New York, where they had lived together for over ten years. Iman stated in one interview (quoted in the above-mentioned Independent article) that they spent their days “going to the park and sitting in cafes. We’re just ordinary people. Our life is domestic.” A New York Times article, which referred to Bowie as an ‘Invisible New Yorker’, clarified that Bowie “wasn’t a Garbo-level recluse. He got around enough to avoid the terrible fate of having his privacy draw more attention to him.” Even this was a complete 180 degree turn for Bowie, who had built much of his legend around a captivating stage presence, outrageous outfits and outlandish personas, grabbing attention wherever he went with his distinctive looks. This probably worked in his favour when he retreated into a normal life, because he had been so in-your-face with his recognisable characters that he went largely unrecognised in everyday clothes. In the same NY Times article, Bowie is quoted as having remarked to a fellow musician that “You’d be surprised [at] the places I’m able to go.”
Before inventing the musical genre of bossa nova in the 1950s, João Gilberto had been a talented, but struggling musician in his home country of Brazil. He had been thrown out of at least one band for habitually being late and skipping rehearsals and had lived transiently between the homes of friends and family members. While living with his sister, he obsessively played guitar at all hours, often while locked inside a small bathroom for better acoustics, which is where he developed his signature style. His father had him committed to a mental hospital because he thought that his son’s refusal to find steady employment and his unorthodox musical style were signs of mental illness, but he was released after only a week.
Gilberto released several commercially and critically successful albums and, by 1962, his influence was reaching famous jazz musicians in the USA. He moved to the USA for much of the 60s and then to Mexico, before settling in Leblon, Rio de Janeiro. Here, despite continuing to make music, Gilberto has led a quiet and solitary life, rarely going out of the house or seeing anyone but family.
While in America, Gilberto and jazz musician Stan Getz collaborated on an album which featured the previously unheard vocal talents of João’s wife, Astrud Gilberto (most famously on the song ‘The Girl From Ipanema’). Although Astrud also went on to achieve great success as a singer, she and her now ex-husband have both been labelled as eccentric and reclusive. In a rare 2002 interview on her own website (the first she had given in almost 20 years), Astrud refutes that claim, saying “whenever an artist chooses to guard their personal life and conduct themselves with discretion, this artist is invariably labeled ‘eccentric’, or a ‘recluse’, or ‘difficult’.”
João Gilberto, on the other hand, seems to have always valued his privacy more than simply showing discretion. He has rarely toured to perform his music live, very rarely gave interviews or made public appearances and has grown increasingly detached from the outside world as he has gotten older. One recent article states that “the elderly João opens his door for restaurant deliveries only and leads a Howard Hughes-like existence dressed all day in his pyjamas. He weighs barely nine stone, if we are to believe the Brazilian press.”
Unfortunately, Gilberto has also been plagued by depression for much of his life and now his family are currently involved in legal battles to debate his mental competency and to take control of his dwindling finances.
Following the massive success of her work in 90s Hip-Hop group The Fugees, singer Lauryn Hill continued to attract the acclaim of critics and fans, as well as winning multiple awards for her 1998 solo album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. She had already been the subject of widespread controversy over alleged racism in 1996, although no actual proof was ever presented and the comments that she had reportedly made were completely fabricated. She then went on to court further controversy with a disastrous MTV Unplugged performance, a public condemnation of the catholic church while performing in Vatican City and a short stint in jail for tax evasion, but aside from these PR nightmares, had pretty much disappeared from the music industry and the public eye.
Hill has always had a reputation for having a huge ego (having apparently been the principle reason for the Fugees split and illustrated by her insistence for several years on being addressed only as ‘Miss Hill’), so her disappearance from public life was the subject of rampant speculation. She stated in a 2010 interview that her decision to stay out of the public eye was to provide her children with “normalcy, privacy and the right to be real people without the scrutiny and the pressure and the challenges the media can put up sometimes. I wanted them to have a real childhood.” She changed this story three years later during her trial for tax evasion, where according to court documents she had stopped paying her taxes and “withdrew from society at large due to what she perceived as manipulation and very real threats to herself and her family.” However, she then later tried to claim that her not paying taxes was a race issue, so it is hard to determine which reasons are true when there are multiple answers for various aspects of this time in her life.
Harry Nilsson was an anomaly in the music industry, because he achieved commercial success without ever touring or performing live concerts. He began his music career by writing jingles and songs while working full time in a bank and caught the attention of record producer Phil Spector (another famous recluse), who bought three songs from Nilsson. Another of his songs was later recorded by The Monkees and Nilsson recorded his first album after signing with a record label in 1967. He gained success and momentum throughout the 1970s, winning awards for his albums and being publicly named by The Beatles as their favourite American musician. His record label provided him with an office (at his own request) and he would answer incoming calls and queries himself. According to the 2010 documentary made about his life – ‘Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why is Everyone Talkin’ About Him?)’ – he recalled most requests for interviews and performances would be greeted by the same conversation:
“When did you play last?”
“Where have you played before?”
“When will you be playing next?”
Despite shunning the usual trappings of fame, Nilsson had many famous friends from the music industry. Unfortunately, he experienced several tragedies when Cass Elliot (of The Mamas & The Papas) and then Keith Moon (of The Who) each died in one of the bedrooms of a flat he owned in London, England. The deaths occurred while Nilsson was away from the property and were four years apart, but having two friends pass away in the property prompted him to sell it. When another close friend, John Lennon, was then shot and killed, Nilsson became involved in the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence and even made some limited public appearances to further the group’s cause.
Nilsson died from heart failure in 1994 at 52 years old. He had survived a massive heart attack just over a year earlier, which had prompted him to begin recording again, but passed away before an album could be finished.
Back at the beginning of the 20th century, Leo Ornstein became a controversial figure in the world of classical music with his innovative and experimental style, gaining notoriety throughout the USA and Europe. He championed works of avant-garde composers and was a pioneer of using tone clusters in compositions, combining highly respected classical skills with unorthodox methods to become a highly respected and celebrated figure. Then, in the 1920s, he decided to retreat into a quiet life away from the spotlight.
While in his thirties, Ornstein stopped performing public concerts and, despite continuing to write and compose, he was largely forgotten. His style had continued to evolve, but this resulted in fans of his most popular and renowned works turning their backs on his newer, more emotive compositions. Ornstein had to take a regular job after quitting performing live and ended up in a teaching position at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, going on later to found the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, along with his wife, Pauline. Though he continued to write music, he didn’t seek publication for any his pieces and rarely even wrote them down.
Ornstein was rediscovered in the 1970’s (five decades after he had stopped touring as a live performer) by a music historian who wanted to profile him. This led to a renewed popularity and interest in his music, which prompted Ornstein to start publishing his works again and (until the record was broken by Elliot Carter) became the oldest published composer in history at 92 years old. He finished his final work two years later and lived to be 106 years old.
Another classical pianist who rose to fame in the early 20th century was Glenn Gould, who also branched out into broadcasting, writing musical theory and composing musique concrète productions (compositions made from soundscapes etc). His parents groomed him for life as a musician, with his mother playing music to him in utero and then teaching him to play piano from an early age. He attended the Royal Conservatory Of Music in Toronto from the age of 10 and, along with his teacher, Alberto Guerrero, first developed the technique of finger-tapping. Gould was able to achieve professional musician status by aged 12 and by the following year was playing with orchestras.
Gould was primarily a studio performer and disliked the whole idea of public concerts, viewing them as hedonistic exercises in which theatrics are often more important than playing. He hated socialising and had an aversion to being touched, often wearing gloves to protect his hands and usually refusing to shake hands with anyone. He would visit the same diner almost every morning between 2-3am, presumably to avoid the crowds during the day. Although intensely private, he is known to have been a hypochondriac and one ex girlfriend told of how he was extremely paranoid, believing that people were following him. It has been speculated that Gould may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome and also may have been bipolar. His later relationships and interactions were all primarily by phone and letter and Gould openly admitted that he much preferred animals to people. Gould died shortly after his 50th birthday from a stroke, but his musical ability and innovative style are still talked about with high esteem. There is now a foundation in his name, which presents a prestigious award every two years to recognise individuals for their contributions to music and communication (an award which was presented to another famous recluse, Leonard Cohen, in 2011).
Leonard Cohen was a Canadian singer-songwriter who has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in addition to many other awards and accolades for his music, poetry and novels. Most famous for songs such as ‘Hallelujah’, which has been covered over 300 times by artists in a variety of genres, he was once hailed as the world’s number one songwriter by Bob Dylan.
While his public life had always been far more limited than most, Cohen went a step further when he retired in 1994 to a Buddhist monastery (the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California), where he was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996. It was only when his pension fund was embezzled away from him in 2004 that he returned to music and began touring again. Cohen’s biographer, Sylvie Simmons, explained that the singer’s aversion to touring and public life was partly due to a mixture of unfounded insecurities: “Cohen hadn’t toured in 15 years – which was fine with him; he’d had never much liked touring. A creature of habits and a shy man, he also worried for his songs, afraid their purity would be soiled by being dragged before a paying crowd every night. He was also concerned that if he did tour, there might not be an audience – crazy though that sounds now after Cohen notched up one of the biggest-grossing tours of the new millennium”. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2009, he revealed that even while he was out on tour, he managed to maintain a solitary lifestyle: “The touring and traveling have been monastic,” he admits…. “It’s been so great, because I don’t see anyone. I go directly from the stage into a car and back to my hotel room.”
After years of success as a pop act (as a part of The Walker Brothers) in the 1960s and 70s, which included songs such as ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, Scott Walker reinvented himself as an experimental, avant-garde musician in the 1980s. He retreated from public view at the height of his popstar fame and studied Gregorian chanting while living briefly at Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight. Walker revealed in a 2012 interview that his fans essentially drove him out of hiding: “I couldn’t stay too long unfortunately. We had obsessive fans and they discovered the monastery and they were ringing the bell the whole time. We were plagued. And eventually I had to leave.” Following this, Walker continued to tour and record for the next few years, but gave up live performances as he settled into his solo career. He had employed a more experimental style, much of which would be hard to replicate on tour (such as the sound of hitting a dead pig – which would inevitably cause severe logistical problems to recreate each night, plus likely spur protest groups to picket his shows), but had also grown weary of the travelling and constant attention from fans, telling the BBC in 2006 that “It was fantastic for the first couple of albums or so but it really wears you down“. After the commercial failure of his 1984 album, ‘Climate of Hunter’ (which has the dubious distinction of being Virgin Records’ lowest-selling album of all time), Walker disappeared from the music industry for nearly a decade. Although completely out of the public eye for that period of time, Walker did not see himself as a hermit, but simply uninspired, explaining “A friend of mine says I’m not a recluse, I’m just low-key…Generally if I’ve got nothing to say, it’s pointless to be around.“
Walker continued to record, produce and release music until his death in 2019. While many of the tributes to him in the music media pointed to his reclusive tendencies and referred to him as an enigma, a piece for the New Statesman questioned the music industry’s definition: “The tendency to label Scott Walker a recluse says a lot more about the cultural norms of the music industry than it does about Scott Walker. During the second half of his life, he released music at a decent rate, collaborated with musicians and film directors, and granted good-natured interviews. He was not exactly JD Salinger. He simply refused to give some people what they wanted, namely live shows and new music that bore some resemblance to the revered quartet of albums that he recorded during the late 1960s. In any other artform, this would have been considered quite normal behaviour.”
When Guns N’ Roses sold over 30 million copies of their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, in 1987, lead singer Axl Rose became a household name. The band followed up with more successful albums in 1988 and 1991 and embarked on an unprecedented two-and-a-half year long tour which included 194 performances in 27 countries. Following this incredible success, the band broke apart and Axl Rose removed himself from the public from 1994 until 2001, when he returned with a new band lineup and plans for a long awaited comeback album.
During these private years, Rose (like many others in this list) was earning a reputation as the ‘Howard Hughes of Rock’. It was reported that he had no-showed his own 37th birthday party and was conspicuously absent from the music media amid rampant speculation about a multitude of line-up changes, hirings and firings in Guns N’ Roses. A 1999 article in Spin described his reclusive years as turbulent and troubled: “Rose remains holed up in various Los Angeles studios recording-and trashing, rewriting, and recording again-the most anticipated comeback album of the decade. With thousands of hours of song fragments and jams on tape, he’s too much the perfectionist to wrap anything up, too much the obsessive to let anything go.” Meanwhile, other speculation was less dramatic, such as a 2001 article in Q magazine which described “a life that’s quiet, drug-free, very withdrawn, yet largely mundane – apart from the never-ending nocturnal studio sessions. Although he is rarely seen in daylight, sometimes he goes to the beach, sometimes he goes to the movies. Occasionally he attends concerts…”
The eagerly anticipated album, Chinese Democracy, was released in 2008 to critical acclaim, however the sales of the album were deemed disappointing. As a result, Rose retreated back into his private and reclusive ways.
Rose declined his invitation to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Guns N’ Roses in 2012 and requested not to be included in the induction. Four years later, he seemed to bury the hatchet with his former bandmates and they reunited for a tour, while Rose also toured with AC/DC in 2016, filling in for singer Brian Johnson. He returned to his private ways following the tours aside from his social media presence, which occasionally attracts media attention for his criticisms of the Trump administration, Melania Trump and others.
As the frontman of Sly and the Family Stone, then later as a solo artist and producer, Sly Stone was a pioneer of several musical genres in the 1960s and 1970s, including soul, funk and psychedelia. He is credited as having influenced acts such as Prince and Rick James, but after amassing huge success with multiple albums and singles hitting top five rankings, Stone stopped playing in public following a short tour in 1984.
Despite continuing to write and produce music from his home studio in New Jersey, Stone would not make any public appearances for the next several years. When he finally emerged in 1993 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with his original bandmates, it took everyone by surprise, but he would not make another appearance for a further 13 years. In 2005, he was spotted at a Sly and the Family Stone tribute show featuring his younger sister, Vet Stone, but kept his motorcycle helmet on throughout the show to avoid being recognised (although the moment was captured on film by a documentary crew who featured the footage in their film ‘On The Sly: In Search Of The Family Stone’).
The following year he appeared onstage during a tribute to the band at the Grammy Awards, but had refused to leave his hotel room until he was given a police escort to the venue, then stayed in his car until the performance began. He joined in on a single verse of “I Want To Take You Higher” when he appeared onstage, but then waved to the audience and immediately left the building without any warning. Later attempts at small tours and sporadic appearances have often been brief, with many performances being cut short.
Jeff Mangum, frontman of Neutral Milk Hotel, is considered by many in the indie-rock world to be a lyrical and musical genius. Unfortunately, as is the case with the most gifted performers on this list, he suffered a mental breakdown at the height of his success. Following the release of the second studio album by Neutral Milk Hotel and the resulting tour, Mangum disappeared from the public eye between 1998 and 2001, when he resurfaced to play a one-off show in New Zealand. Later that year, he played drums and sang on a tour for two bands featuring Heather McIntosh, a cellist from Athens, Georgia, USA, where Mangum and his band had resided for most of their brief time together. He then disappeared from view again, contributing to albums on his record label, Elephant 6, but not recording his own music or touring. In 2002, Mangum pretty much ruled out any potential for another Neutral Milk Hotel album in a rare interview for Pitchfork magazine, saying “my path feels sort of different now“. When approached (in a somewhat relentless fashion) for an interview in 2003, Mangum wrote “”I’m not an idea. I am a person, who obviously wants to be left alone. If my music has meant anything to you, then you’ll respect that. Since it’s my life and my story, I think I should have a little say as to when it’s told. I haven’t been given that right.“
Aside from a one-off appearance to play one song live at a gig in 2005, Mangum would not appear again until 2008, when he participated in the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise reunion tour by performing the song ‘Engine’ at selected gigs. Mangum’s sporadic appearances and lengthy periods of absence from touring and recording were often the subject of speculation, with various articles comparing him to famous recluses such as JD Salinger and Syd Barrett. A 2010 gig for an audience of only 500 people saw Mangum perform for only around 25 minutes, but this would be the beginning of a brief return to the spotlight, with Neutral Milk Hotel releasing their first EP in over 13 years at the end of 2011 (containing songs recorded during their original run). Mangum played some high profile solo performances, then reformed the band in 2013 for their first show together in 15 years. The band toured until June 2015, when they played their last show to date.
In the infancy of his career, Brian Wilson could not have been more visible and in the public eye. The co-founder of The Beach Boys was one of the most recognisable faces and voices of the sixties, but battled mental illness throughout his life. His aversion to certain social situations was evident from his evasiveness during interviews, but no-one could have predicted that he would completely cut himself off from the outside world, let alone that he would do so twice in his life.
Following a breakdown in 1964, Wilson stopped touring and performing live with the band, but continued to write, record and produce until his mental health deteriorated even further. Wilson took a mixture of drugs to self medicate and for recreation, leading to increasingly erratic, eccentric and dangerous behaviour. This escalated further following the death of his father in 1973. He spent the next two years in complete isolation, reportedly spending all of his time drinking alcohol, taking drugs, sleeping and eating junk food. When he eventually started to socialise again, it was only to indulge in drug and drink binges with fellow celebrities at the home of one of his friends. In late 1975, Wilson’s wife and family employed a therapist called Eugene Landy to take charge of his care, initially prompting a significant improvement. After a dramatic relapse, the controversial therapist decided to isolate Wilson once again, but this time in a remote village in Hawaii for several months, while he received an intense course of treatment. Concern grew about Landy’s influence and control after Wilson withdrew from his family and subsequently left the Beach Boys to enter into a very questionable partnership with Landy. The Wilson family had to legally intervene with a restraining order to remove Landy from Brian’s life.
After spending the next decade making sporadic appearances and input on Beach Boys albums, Wilson turned a corner with managing his mental health, having finally received an accurate diagnosis for the first time. He then found a therapist in the late 90s who was able to help him overcome his stage fright (though he still finds it difficult to overcome his nerves) and he was able to start performing live on a regular basis for the first time in over three decades.
Agnetha Fältskog achieved international fame as a member of Swedish pop group, ABBA, becoming one of the most successful acts in music history. After the band broke up in 1982, Fältskog returned to pursuing a solo career, but left the music industry and retreated from the public eye in 1988. She would not return to recording for the next 17 years and retreated to a quiet life in a country home on Ekerö island in Stockholm County, Sweden.
While she denied being a recluse in a BBC interview in 2013, Fältskog had made very few public appearances during her 17 year hiatus and was reported to prefer the company of dogs to humans, prompting comparisons to the reclusive Swedish-born Hollywood actress, Greta Garbo. A traumatic plane journey during a tornado in 1979 and a crash which sent her through the window of a tour bus in 1983 had left the singer with severe anxiety, which limited her ability to travel, but she also suffered from agoraphobia, stage fright and other phobias. She was also a single mother and wanted to spend time with her children, so her music career took a back seat while she concentrated on her private life.
Unfortunately, her retreat into solitude and a period of depression after the death of her parents in 1994 and 1995 led her into an inexplicable relationship with a stalker called Gert van der Graaf. Van der Graaf had moved to the island specifically to pursue Fältskog, then embarked on a lengthy stalking campaign when the relationship ended. He had to be deported back to his home country of The Netherlands (twice) to stop his obsessive behaviour.
Fältskog returned to making music in 2004, but it was only in 2013 that she was able to perform in public again, when she sang a live duet with Gary Barlow for Children In Need – which was the first time she had done so in 25 years.
After catapulting to near-infamy in the 1990s and cultivating a reputation for being constantly controversial and outspoken, Marilyn Manson surprised everyone when he and his band secluded themselves to their homes following the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. The band’s music was cited as a cause for the tragedy in the mainstream media, who claimed that the perpetrators had been fans of Manson’s music and even reported that the two had been wearing Manson t-shirts and make-up. This was later found to be untrue, but obviously the accusation caused a lot of damage to the band’s career and public image. When a group of US senators collectively approached Interscope records to demand they stop distributing music which glorified violence, Manson responded via a letter in Rolling Stone magazine, where he placed the blame on a society which makes celebrities out of killers. The band cancelled the remaining dates of their tour in the USA out of respect for the victims and only communicated with the outside world through their official website for the next year, keeping themselves firmly out of the public eye. Manson himself reportedly locked himself in an attic for three months during his seclusion, during which time he wrote the band’s next album, Holy Wood.
It would not be the last time that the singer became a recluse as a reaction to a situation. While typically a magnet for publicity, Manson disappeared again for three months in 2008 following his breakup from Evan Rachel Wood. Admitting that he was depressed and self-harming, while reportedly “surrounded by cocaine”, Manson stated in a 2015 interview that “I became a recluse…. I had the windows blacked out, it was freezing cold, and you could never tell whether it was night or day.” During this isolation, he refused to even speak to his parents, saying “I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and then my birthday entirely alone, except for (my cat) Lily.”
Even at the height of fame for The White Stripes, the duo remained an enigma, with little of their private life being known and making few public appearances or interviews. Even when they did, it would fall on Jack White to carry the vast majority of the conversation, while drummer Meg would rarely offer more than a greeting or passing comment. She explained in a 2003 interview that she “never really cared about all the things that other people cared about, you know? Like, people recognizing me on the street never interested me. I’ve always been kind of suspicious of the world, anyway, so it’s pretty easy for me to live in my own little world.”
After a 2007 tour was cancelled due to Meg suffering from acute anxiety, the pair never played in public together again. When the band eventually split in 2011, frontman Jack White embarked on a solo career which has continued his previous success, while drummer Meg disappeared from the music industry and public eye altogether. Jack told Rolling Stone magazine in a 2014 interview “I don’t think anyone talks to Meg. She’s always been a hermit. When we lived in Detroit, I’d have to drive over to her house if I wanted to talk to her, so now it’s almost never.” He also explained that Meg’s quiet nature was not a recent development, nor one which only prevented her from expressing herself in public: “I remember hearing Ringo Starr say, ‘I always felt sorry for Elvis, because in the Beatles we had each other to talk about what it felt like. Elvis was by himself.’ I was like, ‘Shit, try being in a two-piece where the other person doesn’t talk!’”