For many stars, winning is the end goal, getting one of those golden statues emblazoned with their name, the year, and their achievements. However, over the years, there have been stars who, with varying levels of civility and for a multitude of reasons, have turned down awards or been no-shows at the ceremony.
Axl Rose, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2012
In 2012, Guns N’ Roses were announced as inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, leading to fans wondering if it would lead to a reunion of the band’s lineup circa 1993. Axl Rose, however, was clearly and vehemently against any form of reunion, and decided he would not be attending the 2012 induction ceremony. He publicized the decision in a letter, where he explained that he felt no inclination to be somewhere he wasn’t “wanted or respected”. In the letter, he requested that he not be inducted in absentia, and that no one was to accept the award or speak on his behalf. He finished the letter by making it clear that he had no plans for the reunions of any earlier lineups.
Marlon Brando, The Oscars 1972
In 1972, Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor for his role of Don Corleone in The Godfather. However, when it came time for him to come to the podium and accept the award from presenter Roger Moore, Brando was not in the building. Instead, he’d abstained from the ceremony and the award, and had Sacheen Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee to decline on his behalf. It was a highly political decision- his refusal of the award was in protest of the treatment of the first nations people in the film and television industry. Littlefeather had a longer speech prepared, but was only given a fraction of the time, and was forced to improvise the speech she did present, promising to deliver the full speech to the press later.
Al Pacino, The Oscars 1972
Al Pacino, who co-starred with Marlon Brando in The Godfather, also boycotted the awards ceremony that year. But, while Brando was making a political statement, Pacino’s was a more personal one. He had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, which normally would be a coup for a relatively unknown actor at the time. However, Pacino felt he was being snubbed, as his character, Michael Corleone had more screen time than Brando, who had been nominated for (and would win) the Best Actor Oscar.
Sinead O’Connor, The Grammys 1991
Sinead O’ Connor, one of the darlings of nineties alternative music, is no stranger to controversy. It could be argued she courted it, stating her support for the IRA in 1989 (a statement she retracted a year later), and refusing to appear on stage if the Star Spangled Banner was played before a concert in New Jersey in 1990. Her ditching of the Grammys looks pretty tame by comparison. Her album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, was nominated for the Best Alternative Album Grammy in 1991, and she both boycotted the ceremony and refused the award, in protest of the Grammy’s commercialism.
Sex Pistols, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2007
As one of the preeminent punk bands out there, and as a group that has been openly disdainful of the commercial music industry, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the Sex Pistols are on this list. The band was inducted in 2007, and like Axl Rose, declined to attend the ceremony. Also like Axl, frontman Johnny Rotten wrote a letter about it as well, but he was nowhere near as civil in his terminology. In the letter, he called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a “piss stain”, and explained that they wouldn’t be attending, as they were “not your [the music industry, presumptively] monkeys”.
Depeche Mode, the BRITs 2013
As one of the pioneers of electronic music, Depeche Mode’s career has spanned three decades and thirteen albums, with more than 100 million albums sold. So it makes sense that they begin to pick up career-based awards, instead of best albums and best singles. In 2013, the BRIT awards planned to award Depeche Mode with the Special Recognition Award, the award category that was replacing the Outstanding Achievement Award. At first, the band was pleased to accept, until they heard the bad news. The network broadcasting the awards wasn’t planning to air their musical segment. Enraged at the perceived hypocrisy of being given an award for musical achievement while having their music sidelined, Depeche Mode backed out and refused the award.
Nick Cave, MTV Europe Music Awards, 1996
Nick Cave, formerly of the alternative band the Birthday Party, and the front man of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, has always come across as an artist first, and a musician second. While he’s mainly a musician, he’s also written poetry, novels and screenplays. In 1996 his musical accomplishments were officially recognized via a nomination from MTV Europe for the year’s Best Male Artist. In response, Cave wrote them a letter, wherein he thanked MTV profusely for the airplay they’d given his music and for the nomination, but ultimately requested that the nomination be withdrawn. He explained that he was uncomfortable with the competitive judging nature of the award, and had no interest in having his music and his muse reduced to a ranking. His letter also requested that any further awards or nominations of a similar nature be given to others who were “more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies”.
Jay Z, The Grammys, 1999, 2002
While he’s now a Grammy Standard, having won at least one award per year for the past five years, Jay Z and the Grammy’s weren’t always so cordial. In fact, he’s one of the few artists to boycott the ceremony more than once. In 1999, the year he received his first nomination, he boycotted the ceremony, because he felt that hip-hop music, whose award segment was not going to be televised, was being disrespected by the ceremony. In 2002 he boycotted again, in loyalty to DMX, whose lack of nominations he felt was a clear snub from the judge’s panel.
Bon Iver, The Grammys, 2012
Indie folk darlings Bon Iver aren’t comfortable with the whole Grammy Awards, or music awards in general. Frontman Justin Venom explains his discomfort as being due to a disconnect: he makes his music for the reward inherent in the music itself, instead of public recognition. He stated this opinion more forcefully in a New York Times interview, when he stated that most of the musicians attending the Grammys had compromised their art. However, despite the band’s anti-awards stance, they made an appearance at the 2012 Grammys, and accepted their two awards. They were intended to perform at the show, but backed out when they learned the performance was expected to be a collaboration with other musical groups, they backed out, feeling the other groups didn’t mesh with their musical style.
George C. Scott, Oscars 1971
The first actor to refuse an Oscar, George C. Scott was a skilled actor who dropped out of college to pursue a career onstage and in film. He’s best remembered for his role as General George S. Patton in the war drama Patton, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1971. But, when Goldie Hawn announced his win, it was the film’s producer, Frank McCarthy, who accepted the award and delivered a short statement lauding the academy for its choice. Scott, however, refused the award, explaining that he found the politics behind the Oscars demeaning and decrying the ceremony as “a two hour meat parade”.