Have you ever wondered about the famous recluses throughout history? As much as some of us might not want to admit it, being famous is a full-time job, something nobody knows better than celebrities. Whether running from paparazzi, being extra cautious not to say or do something wrong, or just having to accept that you can never have a nice outing with friends without being hammered for an autograph, being a public figure can be an annoying and exhausting ordeal. It’s hard to blame them when they finally decide enough is enough and go underground to avoid the constant attention.
Of course, fame isn’t the only thing that can lead to somebody to a completely private lifestyle; mental illness, poor health, or even just plain anti-social tendencies can all drive people to throwing in the towel and going off the grid. Unfortunately, absence is said to make the heart grow fonder, and a life of obscurity is often only an invitation for even more intrigue and investigation from devoted fans and nosy journalists. Here are 25 famous recluses from throughout history whose interesting lives of isolation have brought them more attention than they’d ever bargained for.
Jeff Magnum is an American singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist best known for his time with the indie-rock band “Neutral Milk Hotel.” He received several accolades for his time with the band, but following an international tour in 1997, he went almost completely off the grid. He wasn’t heard from after that for a number of years, save for a single in 2002, and it wasn’t until recently that he started to once again reemerge from his hiatus.
After spending all of her life under the control of her domineering father, Eliza Emily Donnithorne thought she would finally be free when she agreed to marry a young man. However, things would not go as she planned when, on the day of her wedding, she was left waiting for a groom who would never arrive. As the story goes, it was enough to to make young Eliza snap, and she spent the rest of her life alone in her family estate, refusing to speak to anyone save for two maids. Her tragic story traveled quickly, and it’s thought that Eliza would later serve as the inspiration for the character of Miss Haversham in the book “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens.
Most well known for his painting “The Scream,” Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter practicing the stylized technique of “soul painting,” which is a way of portraying feelings and emotions through art. He struggled with alcoholism and mental illness throughout his life, and after suffering a mental breakdown in 1908, he decided he couldn’t deal with the publicity any more and spent his remaining years barely leaving his estate. There, he spent his time focusing on the one thing that always brought him peace—his art.
Despite being born into a poor immigrant family, Ida Wood would eventually become the third wife of the American politician and newspaper editor Benjamin Wood, as well as forge friendships with such notable figures as the Prince of Wales and even the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. She managed much of her husband’s business ventures as well as his money, as he was a notorious gambler and would often throw around his wealth foolishly. At one point, he almost lost his company he wagered in a bet.
Unfortunately, Ida’s mental health declined after the death of her husband and, in 1907, she withdrew all of her savings and moved into a hotel suite with her sister and daughter, where the three lived together for nearly three decades.
Guns N’ Roses guitarist and co-founder Izzy Stradlin separated from the rest of the band in 1991 as tensions among the members grew along with the band’s fame. He spent the few years following the departure as the front of his own rock group, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, before dropping off the media radar for a number of years, only popping up every once in a while to promote his solo projects before disappearing again.
Although he has resurfaced somewhat in recent years, with his social media presence consisting only of a seldom-used twitter account, Izzy continues to be very media shy and mysterious, keeping many details regarding his personal life, such as his home and marital status, a secret.
Nobody would blame you for not recognizing the name Steve Ditko, but we guarantee that you’ve almost certainly heard of his work. In the 1960s, Ditko worked with his fellow comic writer and artist, Stan Lee, to co-create the “Amazing Spider-Man.” He would later go on to walk away from his creations in 1966, retreating to his New York apartment, and refusing any press or interviewers, instead claiming that he preferred to speak through his work.
After resigning from his job as a professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley, Ted Kaczynski, who would later come to be known as the infamous Unabomber, abandoned his career goals and moved into a small cabin outside of Lincoln, Montana. He struggled to live autonomously through nature for over 5 years with little to no contact with the outside world before eventually beginning his campaign of domestic bombings, which would result in the deaths of three individuals and injure 23 others.
Often referred to as the “Queen of Pinups,” Bettie Page was a successful model in United States during the 1950s. She had a measurable impact on American fashion, sexuality, and culture during the second half of the 20th century and worked with dozens of photographers before her retirement in 1959. Afterward, she moved to Florida and became a born-again Christian. Much of the latter part of her life was spent spent in relative obscurity as she battled mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and paranoid schizophrenia.
Best known for authoring the literary classic “Wuthering Heights,” Emily Brontë remains quite the mystery to us because of her very private and reserved lifestyle. Most of what we do know of Emily’s life is through the memoirs of her sister and fellow author Charlotte Brontë, who wrote that Emily preferred to live in a fantasy world of her own making, rarely interacting with others outside of her family unless she was forced to.
Despite winning national awards for his books “V,” “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and “Inherent Vice,” American novelist Thomas Pynchon is almost as famous for managing to stay out of the public eye for so long as he is his for his writing. In fact, very little regarding his appearance and private life is known at all, due to his successful avoidance of reporters and journalists for over 40 years.
Bill Watterson is the man behind what is undeniably one of the best daily newspaper comic strips ever, the story a boy and his tiger, “Calvin and Hobbes.” He is well known for his critical views on comic strip syndication and merchandising, as well as his disappearance from the public eye after the sudden cancellation of Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995. Watterson has kept his dealings private ever since, preferring to avoid giving interviews or making public appearances.
Considered by many to the best chess player of all time, Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster chess player at only age 15, and would become the first American-born chess world champion. He repeatedly shunned the public interest surrounding him and even refused to defend his world champion title when his demands for the match weren’t met exactly. He spent much of his life in Iceland away from the public eye, only popping up every once in a while to share his own brand of extreme anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle disappeared from the spotlight unannounced in the middle of filming his third season of the “Chappelle Show” in 2005, uprooting his life and moving in with a friend in South Africa. Although some suspected drugs or mental instability contributed to his seclusion, Chappelle’s dissatisfaction with the media and popular culture was well documented and may have played actually played a larger role.
Although he has since returned to comedy, he still remains highly critical of the entertainment industry and has never recaptured his level of fame from before his disappearance.
Despite her first and only novel being read by every person who has attended an American high school in their life, “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee has always remained a reclusive figure. Besides the occasional essay in O Magazine or her public appearance in 2007 to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Lee generally avoided publicity until her death in 2016.
As one of the founding members of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson has received much acclaim for his music and is credited with writing or co-writing over two dozen top 40 hits during his time with the group. He left the band in 1964 after a mental breakdown, and his mental health decreased from that point on, driving him further and further into a reclusive lifestyle, during which he struggled with health issues and drug abuse. He continued his reclusive and self-destructive tendencies for over a decade, before finally seeking help in the late 1990s.
One of the first actresses to gain widespread popularity in the days of MGM silent films and talkies, Greta Garbo helped shape the cultural impact of the silver screen. Despite her popularity, Garbo retired from acting at the young age of 36 after deciding she disliked the publicity. She spent the rest of her life avoiding public appearances whenever possible.
Although by no means a household name, Nikola Tesla is the inventor most often credited with the discovery of alternating current, also known as the type of electrical current that runs through power lines and powers our homes, as well as a number of other cool inventions that we still use to this day.
Generally regarded as one of the most intelligent minds in all of history, the full extent of Tesla’s genius went unrealized by his fellow inventors and investors, as he often failed to fund his projects and ambitions. His later years were plagued with mental illness and he eventually withdrew from the public eye, spending the final years of his life penniless and living out of hotel rooms where he worked on ideas for new inventions that would never receive the necessary funding to become reality.
Coming into the public eye in the early 1990s as member of the hip-hop group The Fugees, Lauryn Hill received her most acclaim after her solo debut album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Unfortunately, her dissatisfaction with the music industry and pressure from being a public figure drove Hill into hiding. Although she made a few attempts to release more music, as well as some sporadic touring, none of it has been successful in the long term and she remains a mysterious figure to this day.
Despite being best known as one of the founding members of the English rock band Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett was only musically active for less than a decade in the ’60s and early ’70s before retiring from the music business entirely and living off of his Pink Floyd royalties until his death in 2006. Although the exact reason for his early retirement and isolation is unknown due to the privacy and mysteriousness surrounding his withdrawal from the limelight, the prevailing belief is that he struggled with Asperger syndrome and schizophrenia, as well as overuse of the hallucinogenic drug LSD.
Stanley Kubrick was the director and visionary best known for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining,” and “A Clockwork Orange” among many other classic films. Infamous for his perfectionist attitude, Kubrick stopped at nothing to make sure every scene in every film he directed was exactly how he wanted it. This is because his films were Kubrick’s way of communicating with the world, as he despised giving interviews or allowing photographs to be taken of him. Even during the peak of his popularity, so few people knew what he really looked like that some con men were even able to masquerade as the director to gain entrance to private events.
J. D. Salinger
Jerome David Salinger, better known as J. D. Salinger, became increasingly more and more private in the years following the release of his most famous literary work, “The Catch in the Rye.” He remained mysterious and reclusive for more than a half century leading up to his death in 2010, publishing his last work in 1965 and giving his last interview in 1980.
At the peak of his popularity, Howard Hughes was a famed film producer and director, aviator, and successful business mogul. However, his fear and paranoia that he would lose his wealth, power, and fame eventually led him to withdrawing into one of his many penthouses and spending the remaining years of his life in almost complete isolation. He was so successful at avoiding the public, in fact, that the IRS even considered declaring him legally dead in order to collect the taxes on his estate.
Often remembered as one of the greatest performers in music history, many people forget that there was a time when it seemed as though the English-born rocker seemingly dropped off the map. Bowie suffered an on-stage heart attack in 2004 which would lead to his gradual fade from the public eye until his final public concert in 2006. He spent nearly a decade rarely leaving his New York home unless it was necessary until 2013, when he announced his next album “The Next Day” and finally made his return to the spotlight.
Despite carrying the title of “King of Pop” and being one of the world’s most renowned superstars in history, Michael Jackson became very reclusive after he was accused of child molestation in 2005. Although he was eventually acquitted from all charges, the accusations delivered a huge blow to his reputation and image, which was already suffering due to his many cosmetic surgeries and controversies surrounding his parenting choices. During the later years of his life, Jackson spent much of his time secluded at the Neverland Ranch, his own private amusement park which came with its own carnival rides and zoo.
Emily Dickinson is remembered as one of the greatest and most influential poets in American history, and it’s not hard to see why; despite publishing fewer than a dozen poems during her lifetime, Dickinson is known to have written over 1800 of them over the course of her life. Due to her extremely reclusive behaviors, such as only talking to people through her bedroom window and refusing to leave her family property during the final two decades of her life, it is often speculated that she must have suffered from severe social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia. However, so much about her life remains a mystery, it is nearly impossible to know for sure.