Top 10 Musicians Who Left Fame Behind
Some people just don’t want the pressure of being a star. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Musicians Who Left Fame Behind.
For this list, we’ll be looking at various successful musicians who left the celebrity world behind to live a regular life. It doesn’t matter if the musician eventually came back to the spotlight - as long as they left at one point, they will be considered.
#10: John Frusciante
Frusciante is well known as the on again, off again lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was always a musician first and a celebrity second. When the band hit it big with Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991, Frusciante struggled with his newfound fame and quit the band. While away from the spotlight, he spiraled into a deep depression, developed a serious heroin addiction, and started writing screenplays and short stories. He eventually attended rehab and returned to the band, but left again in 2009 to pursue a solo career in electronic music. He returned yet again in February of 2019 but who knows how long he’ll stick around this time.
#9: Meg White
Meg White of The White Stripes is an extremely divisive drummer, known for her minimalist style. Her career began as a lark, as she was fooling around on her husband Jack White’s drum kit when he decided that he liked her playing. They started a band and began performing in Michigan’s underground rock scene before striking it big with White Blood Cells and Elephant. However, White has always been shy and reserved, and she suffered from anxiety attacks over the band’s hectic touring schedule. The White Stripes officially disbanded in 2011 after two years without releasing anything new, and White left fame and music behind her to live a quiet life in Detroit.
#8: John Deacon
Freddie Mercury gets all the attention, but John Deacon was an integral part of Queen. Serving as the band’s bassist and managing the group’s finances, Deacon also composed such popular songs as “Another One Bites the Dust,” “You’re My Best Friend,” and “I Want to Break Free.” Unfortunately, Deacon was hit hard by Mercury’s tragic death and subsequently lost interest in continuing to perform with Queen. He decided to retire and has stayed out of the spotlight ever since, not even attending Queen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. While he still oversees the band’s finances, Brian May and Roger Taylor have admitted that they barely speak to Deacon.
#7: Cat Stevens
Known as one of the greatest folk artists of all time, Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 for his contributions to music. Stevens was at his peak in the early 1970s with the multi-platinum albums Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, which include such legendary songs as “Peace Train” and “Father and Son.” Stevens had been developing an interest in world religions throughout the ‘70s, and after receiving the Qur’an as a birthday gift, he converted to Islam in 1977 and took the name Yusuf Islam. Following his conversion, Yusuf used his hefty royalty payments for philanthropic purposes, like founding the Islamia Primary School in London and setting up various charities.
#6: Grace Slick
Slick was one of the most influential artists to come out of the San Francisco psychedelic scene, singing with the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. To this day, her deep, haunting vocals remain a cornerstone of ‘60s psychedelia. Following a brief Jefferson Airplane reunion in 1989, Slick retired from the music scene altogether, as she believes that “all rock and rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.” According to her, rock and roll serves primarily as an outlet for young and frustrated individuals, not aging rich celebrities. Slick retreated from the public spotlight and focused on painting, drawing, and writing her autobiography.
#5: Syd Barrett
Barrett was originally the primary musician behind Pink Floyd, serving as their vocalist, lead guitarist, and principal songwriter for their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. His playing style proved enormously influential, and the album reached #6 in the UK. Unfortunately, Barrett suffered severe mental health problems, reportedly related to his use of LSD and possibly schizophrenia. His behavior radically changed throughout the ‘60s, and his bandmates barely recognized him as the man they once knew. Barrett was released from the band in 1968, and following two solo albums, retreated from the public eye completely. He moved back in with his mother and spent his years painting and gardening before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2006.
#4: Shirley Temple
Temple isn’t necessarily a musician in the traditional sense, but she’s one of the most popular singers and dancers in film history. Temple was arguably the biggest movie star in the world in the mid-to-late 1930s, owing to her work in movies like “Bright Eyes,” “Curly Top,” and “Heidi.” Temple’s creative output slowed throughout her teenage years, and she retired completely at just 22. After a brief stint on television, Temple entered into a diplomatic career in 1969. She served as the United States Ambassador to Ghana, the first female Chief of Protocol, and the Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She also served on the board of directors of various organizations, including Disney and the Bank of America.
#3: Captain Beefheart
Known for his idiosyncratic style of music, Captain Beefheart recorded thirteen albums of avant-garde free jazz and rock between 1964 and 1982. Due to the puzzling and non-commercial nature of his music, Beefheart never attained mainstream popularity, yet he’s often considered a universal influence within the experimental rock scene. Following Ice Cream for Crow in 1982, Beefheart retired from music, became a recluse, and dedicated himself to painting. His abstract expressionist paintings were actually well received - some sold for nearly $25,000, and his artwork has become the subject of academic essays.
#2: Lauryn Hill
Hill is undeniably one of the most influential hip hop artists of all time, known primarily for the Fugees’s six-times platinum album The Score and her solo work The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The latter album broke sales records, won five Grammy awards, and helped bring neo soul into the mainstream. It has since sold nearly twenty million copies and is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential albums of the ‘90s. Unfortunately, the fame proved too much for Hill to handle and she largely retreated from the public eye, deciding instead to focus on her spirituality. She has released music sporadically throughout the intervening years, but nothing even close to the extent of her ‘90s output.
Before we reminisce about our top musician who left fame behind, here are some honorable mentions.
Left Interpol to Begin an Acting Career
Briefly Retired from King Crimson Over a Dispute with Universal Music
The “I Think We’re Alone Now” Singer Opened & Operated a Clothing Boutique
This Member of Boston Spends His Time with Various Charities
#1: Bill Withers
Despite his career spanning just fifteen years, Withers managed to leave an indelible mark on music history. He has been inducted into the Songwriters, Rock and Roll, and Grammy Halls of Fame and won three Grammy awards throughout his career. Today, he is largely remembered for his singles “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us.” Unfortunately, Withers often clashed with Columbia executives, who wished to control his sound to sell more records. Feeling disillusioned with the industry, Withers left music behind in 1985 and reportedly never missed it. He passed away on March 30, 2020 from heart complications, at the age of 81.