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Celebrities Who Got Themselves Banned From The Ed Sullivan Show

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: 1. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images 2. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The Ed Sullivan Show was a variety show unlike any other. Airing on CBS from 1948 to 1971, it was the launching point for many of the mid-20th century’s most iconic acts, including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and The Jackson 5. While many had a good experience on the show, some didn’t. Here are five celebrities who found themselves banned from the popular show.

The Doors

If asked to name a family-friendly act to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Doors likely aren’t the first band that comes to mind — and you wouldn’t be the only one to think so. They themselves were unaware they’d been invited on the variety show, with keyboardist Ray Manzarek saying he found out while watching the show.

The band planned to perform their single, “Light My Fire,” which contains the lyrics, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” Their reference to illicit drugs was controversial, and a producer for the show approached the group to ask that they change the line to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.”

The four members of The Doors sitting in chairs

The Doors, 1968. (Photo Credit: Central Press / Getty Images)

While singer Jim Morrison agreed to the change, he later turned to his bandmates and said they wouldn’t be altering the line. When the band stepped on stage, they sang the single as written, much to the dismay of producers. Instead of Sullivan shaking their hands at the end, as was tradition, the show immediately cut to commercial.

The move ended the potential for any future performances for The Doors, of which six more were planned. When told the news, Morrison allegedly said, “Hey, man, so what? We just did The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was a rock singer and guitarist who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on November 20, 1955. He’d initially planned to perform his namesake song, but was asked by Sullivan to instead play Tennessee Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” While he initially agreed to the change, he decided to revert to his original plan last minute and performed his own track.

Bo Diddley dressed in a suit and playing a guitar

Bo Diddley, 1957. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

This greatly upset Sullivan, who said, “You are the first black boy that ever double-crossed me!” This greatly upset Diddley, who compared being called “black” to another derogatory term. The decision hurt Diddley’s relationship with the television host, and he never appeared on the show again.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Buddy Holly and the Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice. Their most controversial performance occurred on January 26, 1958, when they gave television audiences the show of a lifetime.

Ed Sullivan standing next to Buddy Holly while he plays guitar

Buddy Holly on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1958. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

The band was scheduled to play two songs, including their hit “Oh, Boy!” However, Sullivan felt it was too rowdy and asked it be substituted for another track. Holly denied the host’s request, as he’d told his friends he’d be performing the song.

During rehearsals, the band was summoned to their dressing room, but only Holly showed up. Sullivan made a comment about the Crickets not being excited to appear on the show, to which Holly replied, “I hope they’re damn more excited than I am.” This angered Sullivan, who set out to sabotage the band’s performance.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing under a spotlight

Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1958. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

The performance was cut to just one song, and when introducing Holly, Sullivan purposefully mispronounced his last name as “Holland” or “Hollered.” Additionally, he made sure the microphone for Holly’s guitar was turned off. The musician repeatedly tried to turn on the instrument’s volume and sang as loud as he could, but eventually grew frustrated. In retaliation, he performed a dramatic guitar solo, to show he wasn’t at fault for the technical issues.

Sullivan’s plans for sabotage backfired, as the crowd loved the performance. As such, he was forced to invite the band back for a third visit. However, Holly refused, saying the television host didn’t have enough money to pay him.

Jackie Mason

Stand-up comedian Jackie Mason is considered one of the top comedians of all time. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show numerous times and was greatly received…until he wasn’t.

Mason’s performance on October 18, 1964, was cut short by a broadcast from President Lyndon B. Johnson. To warn the comedian that he only had two minutes left, Sullivan gave him a hand signal, to which Mason responded with his own gesture. Sullivan thought he’d flipped him off and banned him from the show.

Ed Sullivan shaking hands with Jackie Mason

Ed Sullivan and Jackie Mason making up, 1966. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Mason’s contract was canceled and he was barred from appearing on the show for two years. He was only allowed to return after giving an on-air apology to Sullivan.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is the only name on this list to drop The Ed Sullivan Show of his own accord. He was set to perform on May 12, 1961, and was relatively unknown at the time.

Bob Dylan playing the guitar in front of a microphone, with a harmonica around his neck

Bob Dylan, 1961. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Dylan had planned to perform his song “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” which is about a John Birch Society member who is overly worried about Communist infiltration. While Sullivan had no issues with this, a CBS executive approached him after the dress rehearsal to ask that he play something else.

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Not wanting to change the performance, Dylan politely declined the exec’s request and chose to cancel his appearance. This left Sullivan in a tight spot, given Dylan had dropped out close to the episode airing, and he was never invited back.