7 Rock Stars Who Walked Away Too Early—From Bill Wyman to Meg White

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Videos by American Songwriter

The dream of any musician is to be a rockstar.

It’s such a dream that the moniker bleeds into other careers. “She’s a rockstar of mathematics,” “He’s a rockstar surgeon” or “Athletes are the new rockstars.” There’s even an energy drink with the title.

So, if the career is so desirable—if it’s so good to be rich, famous, and in the public eye all the time—then no one would ever give it up, right?

Wrong.

Why would folks like Peter Buck of R.E.M. not want to get back into rockstar life once out?

Here, we will look at seven artists who walked away from the glitzy position of a well-known rockstar. From Rolling Stones members to the drummer for the White Stripes. The list may surprise you.

1. Meg White, The White Stripes

Fame and stardom, in a way, was too much for one-half of the world-renowned rock group The White Stripes. She even predicted the band’s final show, which took place on July 31, 2007. Anxiety and mental issues were getting the best of Meg, the former wife of frontman Jack White (he took her last name). Since the candy-image rock duo broke up in 2011, Meg has largely stayed out of the public eye. And Jack has been missing her style of drumming ever since.

2. Bill Withers

After years of strife that he inherited with a record label after his former music home went bankrupt, Bill Withers walked away from the music business in 1985, leaving Columbia Records high and dry. He enjoyed being anonymous, even when he was enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015—30 years later. “I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with,” said Withers in an interview that same year.

3. Bill Wyman, The Rolling Stones

“To keep a band together this long,” said Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards in a 1993 interview with MTV, “you’re bound to hit a rough patch. Most bands hit a rough patch and crash, split… You’ve really got to want to do this gig. And I think that’s why Bill left. You’ve got to want to do it 100%. if you’re not at all sure, then you’re better off backing out.”

Wyman left The Rolling Stones in December of 1992 after more than three decades with the rock band. There were a lot of demands being a Rolling Stone and Wyman wanted a change. He told the Telegraph, “Playing with the Stones, there was always such a lot of pressure.”

4. John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Fogerty co-founded Creedence Clearwater Revival with long-time friends and collaborators, but the dynamics within the band morphed from cordial to corrosive, so Fogerty left the group just a handful of years in. At the time, they were perhaps the biggest band in the world, still active (for a short time) after the Beatles broke up. With Fogerty at the helm, CCR created some of the most powerful rock songs in history, providing listeners with their “swamp” music. Fogerty later went on to form other projects and release music solo, but CCR fans certainly lament what could have been.

5. Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane

Grace Slick’s warbling voice should, itself, be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. But the frontwoman for Jefferson Airplane retired more than two decades ago from the music business, after one more Jefferson Airplane reunion. Instead, she replaced her devotion to music with one for visual art and has no regrets. She tweeted last year in 2021, “When you are older, generally, you’re a bit quieter. Rock ‘n’ roll is a young expression—it’s strong, loud, and ironic. There are just things you do when you’re 25 you don’t do when you’re 70 because you look silly.” Thank goodness, though, she did what she did in her 20s.

6. Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel

When the indie rock band fronted by Jeff Mangum began to earn more and more praise, it shook the artist. Lush music mixed with poetic, seemingly stream-of-consciousness poeticism, made Mangum a folk hero. But it was too much. So, he walked away. The group stopped touring, stopped recording, and releasing records. He didn’t do interviews. He did make a small resurgence in the 2010s, but he has since gone underground again. So much for the could-be hero of the indie world.

7. Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd

There would be no Pink Floyd if it wasn’t for Syd Barrett. He was the dynamo behind the band’s early songs. But as the group earned more notoriety, Barrett seemed to slink the background, perhaps due to a dislike of the white-hot spotlight or perhaps because of his known use of psychedelic drugs. “In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway [regardless of drugs],” said the band’s David Gilmour. “It was a deep-rooted thing. But I’ll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don’t think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it.”

Gilmour, a school friend of Barrett’s, took his place in the group in 1968. Barrett, who toyed with a behind-the-scenes role, was out of the group in April of that year. In the time since, the members have contributed to some of his solo releases. But he’d been reclusive nevertheless. He moved in with his family in the ’70s and passed away in 2006.

Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic for Superfly Presents

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