Wouldn’t it be fun to be famous? Having everyone know your name, your picture on the cover of magazines and being able to rub elbows with other big-name individuals. While it might initially be enjoyable, such notoriety could likely grow tiresome: random people wanting to meet you everywhere you go, the lack of privacy and the overwhelming scrutiny by individuals who don’t even know you.
It’s no surprise, then, that some celebrities dislike their fame. Here are five vintage musicians who grew to hate being famous.
George Harrison was known by fans as the “quiet Beatle” because he always appeared shy or uneasy with the media attention and hysteria of Beatlemania. This was Harrision’s public persona. In private, he was far more open. Ultimately, the Beatle didn’t enjoy all of the attention, especially when it was at its peak. For instance, The Guardian reports he received 15,000 cards from fans on his 21st birthday.
Once Harrison began taking LSD, any interest he had in fame fell away. His most significant interest was Indian culture and Hinduism. He recalled in a 1977 interview:
“For me, it was like a flash. The first time I had acid, it just opened up something in my head that was inside of me, and I realized a lot of things. I didn’t learn them because I already knew them, but that happened to be the key that opened the door to reveal them. From the moment I had that, I wanted to have it all the time – these thoughts about the yogis and the Himalayas and Ravi’s music.”
After a while, fame brought nothing to the table. He grew nervous of large crowds and feared being killed, a feeling exacerbated by John Lennon’s murder in 1980. His worst fears almost came to fruition when a paranoid schizophrenic broke into his house with a knife, stabbing him over 40 times and puncturing a lung.
Talking with The Week, Harrision’s son, Dhani, recalls how much his father loved gardening. Spending upwards of 12 hours planting flowers and trees, the younger Harrison “was pretty sure he was just a gardener. Being a gardener and not hanging out with anyone and just being home, that was pretty rock ‘n’ roll, you know?”
The lead vocalist and guitarist for Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, doesn’t enjoy fame to the point that it makes him nervous. He feared it would go to his head, telling Rolling Stone that, while he’s enjoyed success, he despises being famous, as it “has no redeeming features at all.”
Despite this success, Knopfler chose to break up the band in 1995, as it had caused several rifts, including one with his brother, David, to whom he never spoke again. Speaking with The Independent, the musician said:
“Once we got to the point of carrying our own stage, I felt the whole thing was just too big. […] It’s a trap that I just wanted to get out of. I needed to do something else, to try to improve as a writer and as a player. And I don’t think being stuck in that kind of circus is where that’s going to happen.”
Neil Peart was both the drummer and primary lyricist of rock band Rush. The 1981 single “Limelight” was his attempt to explain how he felt about fame, with such lyrics as “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.” Peart also once told George Stroumboulopoulos that “extroverts do not understand introverts” and “the idea of being shy to them is some kind of poison.”
For Peart, his role in Rush was all about the music. He explained to Stroumboulopoulos that he felt he had to earn the band’s fans’ “dedication and their expenditure of time and energy to be [at their show].” He added that he believes he’s only as good as his last show. The musician made a similar comment in 1994, saying, “I believe what Humphrey Bogart said, that the only thing you owe the public is a good performance.”
Perhaps Peart’s biggest problem with being famous was the idea that he should be held to a higher standard. He said in 1994, “I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be good. I wanted to be a drummer, not a personality, not an entertainer. I’ve always had a total problem with fame; it’s a destructive thing on both sides.”
The co-founder of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, didn’t leave the limelight because he disliked it, but backed away because of mental health issues. Two years after forming the band in 1965, he left due to a rumored diagnosis of schizophrenia. He disappeared after a final interview in 1971.
Fame greatly affected Barrett. The rush of attention and having people want to see and meet him worsened his growing paranoia. Groupies, wanting to see him, often showed up at his house unannounced, eventually leading to him no longer answering the door whenever anyone knocked.
While this all happened early on, and Pink Floyd wasn’t yet the worldwide phenomenon they became, it was still too much for Barrett. He successfully left public life and enjoyed a much-wanted private life, which reportedly included painting.
This list wouldn’t be complete without Kurt Cobain. It’s well known he didn’t enjoy being famous. That being said, Courtney Love says he initially did enjoy and chase stardom. Love said Cobain wanted to be a rock god, although he soon entered into a situation where he regretted what he’d once wished for.
Following the release of the Nirvana album, Nevermind, Cobain was surrounded by people wanting his autograph, including kids from his old high school. All this attention was just too much for him, and it created a dislike for his fame.
He got so tired of being hassled that he famously said, “I’ve been confronted by people wanting to beat me up, by people heckling me and being so drunk and obnoxious because they think I’m this pissy rock star bastard who can’t come to grips with his fame.”