In this day and age it isn’t easy to stay under the radar. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and cell phones have all but rendered obsolete the concept of a low-profile existence. For celebrities, especially, balancing a private life with the constant demands of the media can be a daunting task. Many celebrities crack under the pressure generated by constant scrutiny.
Just ask 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin who has earned a bit of a reputation for his confrontations with photographers. In 2012, a photographer with The News pressed charges against the actor, who he alleged had “punched him in the face” outside New York’s Marriage License Bureau. Marcus Santos, the photographer, described Baldwin’s behavior as if he was describing a dangerous encounter with a wild grizzly bear, saying, “he came right after me. I knew he was going to attack me. I stepped back, and he kept coming.”
A year later, Baldwin found himself in hot water again when he chased a photographer down the street shouting a string of expletives so profane that even their censored versions are considered vulgarities.
While Baldwin’s actions are regrettable, his annoyance is understandable. After spending the week working in front of the camera, stars are often denied the relatively simple pleasures of afternoon walks, quiet dinners and relaxing meditations on public park benches. In the face of such denials, celebrities are offered two choices: they can immerse themselves within the scrutiny of the media and play along, foregoing their private lives or they can become reclusive, excising themselves from the equation entirely.
With the dogged persistence of the paparazzi, it’s hardly surprising that some celebrities choose the latter option. Here, we’ve collected ten examples of celebrities who have chosen to preserve the sanctity of their private lives. From unscheduled African retreats to the silent goodbye of TV’s most beloved late night host, we count down the ten most reclusive celebrities.
10 Dave Chappelle
In 2004, comedian Dave Chappelle stunned a heckling audience when he announced, “You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.”
One year later, in May of 2005, Chappelle walked off the set of the popular Chappelle’s Show and flew to Africa. Currently living far away from the Hollywood lights in modest Yellow Springs, Ohio, Chappelle makes random, unannounced appearances at comedy clubs around the country.
9 Bill Watterson
“I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year.” With those words, one of the most celebrated comic strip creators of our time simply vanished. Living in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Watterson has allowed only a handful of interviews since his retirement.
Hoping to be counted among those few, The Plain Dealer dispatched a reporter to Watterson’s hometown on two occasions; in both instances, the reporter failed to locate the reclusive author. In his introduction to The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson admits that he “was not prepared for the resulting attention” that the comic’s success brought.
8 Syd Barrett
The story of Syd Barrett is one of music’s saddest tales. One of the founding members of Pink Floyd, Barrett’s behavior grew increasingly bizarre and he ultimately succumbed to the effects of his excessive drug use.
Leaving the band in 1968, he embarked on a brief solo career before his well of money dried up and he returned to live with his mother in Cambridge. Between that time and his death in 2006, Barrett avoided all forms of publicity and even skipped his own induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7 The Wachowskis
In 2007, producer Joel Silver refuted rumors that Lana Wachowski — then identifying as Larry Wachowski — was undergoing gender reassignment. According to Silver, the siblings “just don’t do interviews, so people make things up.” Prior to Silver’s comments, news had broken of Lana’s visits to a dominatrix named Karin Winslow, now her wife.
With such intimate personal details under constant public scrutiny, it’s hard to blame the Wachowski’s for safeguarding their privacy. In a rare appearance, Lana emerged in 2012 to accept the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award.
6 Axl Rose
Like his band Guns N’ Roses, singer Axl Rose never disappeared, he simply faded. As Guns N’ Roses withered, Rose enlisted a constantly rotating lineup in an effort to keep the band going. His efforts, for all intents and purposes, failed. By 1995, the band’s output had slowed to a halt and Rose was considered “the Howard Hughes of rock.”
Locked away in his mansion, Rose toiled away at an album — Chinese Democracy — that wouldn’t see release until fifteen years later, in 2008.
5 Johnny Depp
Actor Johnny Depp came right out and said it in a 2010 interview with Metro, “I don’t leave the house anymore. If it isn’t necessary I don’t go anywhere. I stay at home. I’m adamant when it comes to that. I will never get used to it. If you do, you must be insane.” Expressing a certain bewilderment over the lives lead by other celebrities, Depp stated his children were the primary reason for his decision to withdraw from the public eye.
To that end, Depp recently purchased a secluded home in Somerset with his new fiancee, Amber Heard, where reports say he hopes to “become a dad again.”
4 John Swartzwelder
John Swartzwelder just wanted to sit at the coffee shop, smoke cigarettes and write episodes of The Simpsons in peace. His process was interrupted, however, when California passed laws prohibiting smoking indoors. In response, Swartzwelder did what any recluse would do, he bought his regular booth from the shop, put it in his house and got back to work.
Described by his peers as “the best writer in the world today in any medium,” Swartzwelder has steadfastly refused to appear on any of The Simpsons DVD commentary tracks. His intensely private life has even led some fans to speculate that he does not exist.
3 Jeff Mangum
Lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Mangum never sought to capitalize on his band’s success. With their last album released in 1998, Mangum has played only a handful of sets in the last 15 years. Slate described him as “the [J.D.] Salinger of indie rock” and noted that Neutral Milk Hotel “vanished into thin air” despite critical acclaim and accolades from music industry veterans.
In 2012, Mangum ventured beyond his veil of privacy to appear at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
2 Steve Ditko
Few celebrities are so reclusive that entire documentaries are dedicated to locating them. Steve Ditko — co-creator of Spider-Man — is one such celebrity.
In the 2007 film In Search of Steve Ditko, host Jonathan Ross — accompanied by another comics legend, Neil Gaiman — travels to New York office in search of the reclusive author. After weeks of legwork, Ross locates Ditko in a lonely office building but — unsurprisingly — Ditko declined to be filmed, interviewed or photographed.
1 Johnny Carson
In Johnny Carson’s last television appearance — on the Late Show With David Letterman in 1994 — he sat behind the host’s desk. Time passed and, silently — without once addressing the audience — he stood and departed. It was a fitting exit for a man of Carson’s nature. Intensely private, Carson, describing himself said “I’m not gregarious. I’m a loner. I've always been that way.”
In 1999, at the age of 73, Carson passed away at his Malibu home.
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