There are plenty of crazy stories out there about musicians. Since they live lives full of money, fame, groupies, and a what-happens-on-tour-stays-on-tour mentality, it’s not surprising that normal people with far less exciting existences will believe pretty much any rumor that starts going around about a performer. There’s almost nothing we won’t believe about the behavior of musicians. But so often the tales of reckless hedonism, diva antics, or random weirdness end up being untrue.
Fortunately, that isn’t always the case. There are plenty of seemingly unbelievable rumors floating around that really have their basis in facts. Whether it’s the more traditional old school craziness from members of bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who, terrible decisions by legends like Elvis and Little Richard, or the acts of modern divas like Rihanna and Ariana Grande, the world is made more interesting by ridiculous events from these extremely talented people’s lives.
A single Instagram post by Rihanna caused Snapchat stock to plummet
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel might be worth billions of dollars and a have supermodel wife, but even he must bow to the awesome power of Rihanna. Snopes reports that in March 2018, the social media app hosted an advertisement for a mobile game called "Would You Rather?" Users were given the unbelievably offensive choice to either "Punch Chris Brown" or "Slap Rihanna."
If you missed part of the 2000s, you might not be aware why that’s even worse than just encouraging domestic violence already is. Rihanna and Chris Brown used to date, and during their relationship, he beat the crap out of her. There are pictures. It was sick. So making light of that abuse was extremely tone-deaf.
When screenshots of the ad started going viral, Snapchat pulled it. But a few days later, Rihanna addressed the issue. In a now-deleted Instagram post, RiRi told her (then) 61 million followers that domestic violence was not a joke and the ad let all victims down. But instead of going after the game, Rihanna then appeared to tell her followers to delete the Snapchat app entirely, adding she had never been a fan of it.
The same day Rihanna posted that message, Snapchat’s stock dropped $754 million in value. This was not normal and nothing else happened around then, no other bad news about the app, that would have caused such a massive selloff. It appears that one Instagram post by Rihanna really does have the power to cause panic on Wall Street.
Elvis really did insult his backup singers in the "Catfish Incident"
One of the stories that goes around about Elvis Presley is called the "Catfish Incident." And it turns out to be true, a sad reflection of what he could be like in the drug-addled later part of his life.
According to the book What the Great Ate, Elvis absolutely hated seafood, especially the smell. He thought it was so bad that he asked his wife never to eat fish when they were together. This dislike became key on July 20, 1975, during a concert in Virginia. That night, Elvis "was in a dangerous mood for someone armed with a microphone." Virginia Living says he proceeded to have "a meltdown."
First, he complained that 12,000 people were breathing on him. Then he whined he could smell green peppers and onions. But the final straw was when he turned and accused his four backup singers of eating catfish. No one knew exactly what he meant by it, but it was obviously hostile. He’d taken to lobbing insults at the women ever since he broke up with one of them. They thought there was "an ugly undertone" not just to the catfish comment but "his whole demeanor." Three of the backup singers walked off stage.
The catfish incident was "arguably the lowest point in Elvis’ career." A review of the concert reported "tension among the fans was noticeable." A lot of people think there was a racial undercurrent to the insult. Elvis’ only explanation for the outburst was, "I thought it was funny."
A car accident jump-started Kanye West’s career
In September 2016, "Through the Wire," Kanye West’s debut single from 2004, started trending on Twitter. According to Spin, it all began when a random person tweeted: "And what’s crazy is Kanye still got the world thinking he was in a bad car accident October 2002." This resulted in other people replying that they too knew Kanye was a big ole liar.
The background is Kanye was a music producer, not a rapper, before "Through the Wire." It’s called that because when he recorded it, his jaw was literally wired shut, the result of a horrific car crash. Getting in the crash had inspired Kanye to finally "pursue his dream of becoming an artist in his own right." Now people were claiming Kanye’s whole origin story was built on a lie! The conspiracy theory is that Kanye was really jumped by some guys in Chicago for stealing music rather than being messed up in a car crash in Los Angeles like he claims.
But there is tons of evidence for Kanye’s version of events. MTV reported on the crash at the time. Nor was he the only person hurt; Miguel Villasana was so badly injured he couldn’t work for a year, and this also got news coverage. Villasana even sued Kanye over the crash. The lawsuit, plus the fact that there’s evidence Kanye went to the hospital in California and not Illinois, should pretty well prove he wasn’t lying about it.
Billy Joel gives away front row tickets to "real fans"
You might have seen a meme asking whether you knew that Billy Joel doesn’t sell tickets for the front row of his concerts, instead giving them away to "real fans" who can only afford the cheap seats. Since memes aren’t famous for their accuracy, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s too good to be true. But according to Joel himself, he actually does this.
In an interview with Billboard in 2014, he explained his logic. Joel said that for years, scalpers would get their hands on the front row seats, which were originally pretty reasonably priced, and sell them at a huge markup. This meant when Joel was looking out at the audience members closest to him, all he’d see was rich people. He didn’t think they had the right attitude. Instead of standing up and cheering and getting into the music, the fat cats would just sit there as if saying "entertain me, piano man." Joel says he finally got sick of it and wanted to know where the real fans were.
It turned out they were in the cheap seats. The younger, enthusiastic people who "make the most noise" could only afford to be way in the back. So according to Joel, they hold the front row seats now and when the audience starts coming in, the road crew goes to the worst seats and brings people forward. He says that way "you’ve got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans."
Many divas are extremely serious about their "good side"
There are lots of rumors that such-and-such star is such a diva that she will only be filmed or photographed from her "good side." Amazingly, there really are at least three singers who take hiding their "bad side" very seriously.
These days, the most famous one-sided woman is Ariana Grande. Stories abound about how she’ll only allow people to see the left side of her face. This is apparently because, as the Atlantic reports, she has a dimple on the left side, and since dimples are adorable, that’s the side she wants you to see. And only that side. If you watch any of her music videos, you’ll notice catching her right side is extremely difficult. Same when you Google Image Search her.
Mariah Carey also has a "good side," in her case, the right. She says that at 19 a woman from her record label told her she photographed better from her right, and she believed her. Most of her first six album covers focus on the right side of her face.
But the queen of "good sides" is Barbra Streisand. Among other things, she will only come on talk shows if she’s shot from her left side. This means hosts making bizarre excuses for why they switched seats with her. It even meant canceling an interview with Jimmy Kimmel when she refused to let him make fun of the obvious musical chairs’ arrangement.
Prince went door-to-door to convert people
Most people hide behind the curtains when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at their door, but at one point there was a chance the person proselytizing was Prince. While often passed off as just a rumor (would such a successful musician really mix with normies?) Prince did participate in the door-to-door evangelism of his faith.
According to Entertainment Weekly, despite his rather steamy lyrics and lifestyle, Prince became a decidedly non-hedonistic Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. Two years later, a woman in Minnesota answered a knock at the door to discover the pop star and another musician standing there. He introduced himself as "Prince Nelson" (his real name), came inside, and started talking about Jehovah. After listening to them read the Bible for a bit, the Jewish homeowner told them she was "not interested," so they gave her a pamphlet and left. Apparently, Prince was "very kind," although the woman found the event "so bizarre."
This was far from the only time he went door-to-door over the years. The LA Times reports Prince would sometimes disguise himself and that the people he preached to "never called him out on it. They listened to his message and respected his opinion." Prince himself said (via Billboard) that while "sometimes people act surprised … mostly they’re really cool." However, one reporter who interviewed the musician in 2004 didn’t appreciate the proselytizing he received very much. Calling the situation "a little uncomfortable," he said Prince got "pretty intense." But he fulfilled his religious obligation, despite his fame.
The Beach Boys recorded a song by Charles Manson
For some reason, frustrated creatives sometimes turn to murder. What if Hitler had gotten into art school? What if the Beach Boys had appreciated Charles Manson’s abilities as a songwriter? It might not have helped, but who knows.
It’s bizarre but true. SF Gate reports that in 1968, the Beach Boy’s drummer Dennis Wilson picked up two of Manson’s followers who were hitchhiking and took them to his house. The next day, Manson himself showed up and "plied [Wilson] with women from the Family" (his cult). Thus began a friendship between the two men.
Manson desperately wanted to be famous, so he started collaborating with Wilson and became part of the Los Angeles music scene more generally. Finally, the Beach Boys agreed to buy Manson’s song "Cease to Exist." Manson’s one stipulation was they couldn’t change it at all. But Wilson did, heavily. It went from a blues sound to straight-up pop, he rewrote some lyrics, and changed the title to "Never Learn Not to Love." The song ended up as a B-side.
The reason some people don’t believe this story is that Manson’s name didn’t appear on the record. Wilson took full credit for the song. Manson was furious. One songwriter claims Manson approached Wilson with a single bullet in his hand and basically threatened to kill his children. Instead of being terrified, Wilson allegedly beat the crap out of Manson "in front of a lot of hip people." That was the end of Manson’s music career. A year later, his followers committed the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Little Richard fired Jimi Hendrix from his backup band
Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard were both electric front men from slightly different eras, but amazingly they overlapped a bit. There are people out there who might unknowingly have seen both perform at the same time. But putting them on the same stage was apparently a disaster.
According to Hendrix’s brother (via Ultimate Guitar), they first met Little Richard when they were just teenagers, and they "sat there in awe." After that, Hendrix had an unsuccessful stint in the military. When he got out, he started playing backup guitar for established artists, including some big names like the Isley Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner. Eventually, he ended up in Little Richard’s backup band, the Upsetters. Hendrix would take that name and run with it.
Hendrix was apparently not a good team player. Backup musicians are supposed to just stand there and strum, but the legendary showman was already trying out some of his famous tricks, like playing behind his head or with his teeth. This caused "multiple clashes with Richard." The more famous musician wanted to be the only conspicuous entertainer during his performances. He "felt nothing should distract attention away from his star power."
So the flamboyant guitarist had to go. Little Richard’s brother claims Hendrix was fired because "he was always late for the bus and flirting with all the girls and stuff like that." It’s a fair assumption "stuff like that" included outshining his boss. Sadly, there are only two known recordings that both artists contributed to.
Tupac’s friends smoked his ashes
There had long been a rumor that someone had smoked Tupac Shakur’s ashes after he was killed in 1996. But it wasn’t until 2011 that anyone admitted to participating in the bizarre act.
Members of Tupac’s group The Outlawz make the whole thing sound kind of nice. According to the Independent, band member EDI Mean says the late rapper explicitly asked for it, if you listen closely enough. In Tupac’s track "Black Jesus," he states, "Last wishes, n*ggas smoke my ashes." EDI Mean admitted that Tupac never actually told them in a non-song-related way that was indeed what he wanted, but they decided to take the lyrics seriously.
Another band member, Rapper Noble, says after Tupac was cremated, they had "a little memorial for him with his mum and his family." They went to the beach, where they indulged in things Tupac loved, like chicken wings and orange soda. And, obviously, weed. The Outlawz then proceeded to combine some of the late rapper’s ashes with marijuana and smoke it, or as they put it, "We twist up some of that great-granddaddy California kush … and mixed the big homie with it … so you know, [Tupac is] flowin’ through our system."
Though the group all agree this happened, the revelation came as a shock to Tupac’s family. While they didn’t accuse The Outlawz of lying, they did release a statement that Tupac’s mother, who was at the memorial, wouldn’t have allowed it if she’d known what the group was doing.
Keith Moon and Mama Cass died in the same room
The biggest rumor about Mama Cass’ death is that she died from choking on a ham sandwich. The book Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics (via Flashbak) says this is a complete myth. But the rumor persists, even when there is a much crazier story about her demise, and that of The Who drummer Keith Moon. Both died at 32. Both had unhealthy lifestyles that contributed to their deaths. And, weirdest of all, they both died in exactly the same room.
The singer Harry Nilsson purchased a flat in London and loaned it out to friends when he was out of town. Cass Elliot, formerly of the Mamas and the Papas, borrowed it during a run of performances at the London Palladium. After her last show she came home, had some champagne, and went to bed. But years of crash diets had weakened her heart, and that night it gave up. She died in bed of a heart attack.
Four years later, Nilsson lent the flat to Moon. One morning Moon woke up, ate a steak while watching a movie, and took 32 Heminevrin tablets. The drummer was a raging alcoholic and the pills were supposed to stop his cravings. But the recommended dosage was just three pills a day. The quantity was fatal, and his girlfriend found Moon’s body in bed in the same room Mama Cass had died in.
This was too much for Nilsson, who believed the flat was cursed. He sold it and moved to Los Angeles.
Led Zeppelin’s drummer died after drinking 40 shots of vodka
Of all the bands that have existed, there are probably more rumors about Led Zeppelin than any other. Their exploits are legendary, and in many cases, are just legends. Not all the insane stories about the group are true, sadly. But even more sadly, the almost unbelievable one about their drummer’s last day is factual.
The story goes that John Bonham (right) died after drinking 40 shots of vodka. Even a hardcore alcoholic has to look at that number and shake their head in disbelief. But it’s true. According to a contemporary Guardian article, on September 24, 1980, the drummer started drinking at a pub around noon, downing "four to five quadruple vodkas with orange." His assistant drove him to the studio, where Jimmy Page said Bonham arrived "pretty tipsy." Once there he had another two or three vodka-oranges. Somehow he managed to rehearse, then left for Page’s house. There Bonham had a "couple of large" vodka-oranges every hour for four hours. Finally, around midnight he passed out and his assistant put him to bed. During the night his body started expelling the poison, but he was so drunk he didn’t wake up. Tragically, he inhaled vomit and died. The band’s manager found Bonham’s body the next morning.
Tests showed his blood alcohol level was 0.276. (The legal limit to drive is 0.08.) According to Rolling Stone, the coroner’s report stated Bonham had the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka that day. So yep, mark this one as true.
Van Halen banned brown M&Ms (for a good reason)
"Tour riders" are instructions from a musician to concert promoters to ensure that the show goes off without a hitch and that the musician remains happy. (For example, at a 1965 tour stop, the Beatles requested a security detail, a nice platform for Ringo Starr’s drum kit, and a portable TV and some clean towels backstage.) Probably the most famous rider request of all-time comes from Van Halen. On the ninth page of its 11-page 1982 tour rider, there’s a note that reads: "M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)." Is this some over-the-top diva behavior?
"The reality is quite different," Van Halen singer David Lee Roth said in a 2012 video. In 1982, Roth claimed, Van Halen’s touring show was "the biggest production ever" and it proved tough to set up and tear down the stage in a timely fashion. "A lot of that was because the crew was unfamiliar with this size of a production," Roth added. And so, Roth had band management place in the rider a clause declaring that "there will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area or the promoter will forfeit the show at full price." That was a test. If Roth "saw brown M&M’s on the catering table, then guaranteed the promoter had not read the contract rider and we had to do a serious line check" to ensure that all the stage equipment was safely installed.
Rod Stewart enjoyed drugs, in hindsight
Rod Stewart possesses one of the most signature voices in rock and pop: He’s got a lived-in, raspy tone, and he’s had it since the beginning of his 50-year-plus career. Like other professional, world-renowned musical icons, Stewart’s voice is his greatest asset and his money-maker, and he recognized decades ago that he needed to do whatever he could to preserve it. We’re not talking so much about vocal rest and a pre-show cup of tea with honey and lemon so much as we are the way he ingested in drugs, back when he did a lot of drugs.
Stewart liked doing cocaine, but to get it into his body in the most well-known way — snorting it up the nose — can greatly damage nasal passages, and, in turn, a guy’s throat and voice. And so he utilized an alternative delivery method. "We started buying anticold capsules from the chemist’s," Stewart writes in Rod: The Autobiography, "separating the two halves of the capsules, replacing their contents with a pinch of cocaine." Then, Stewart would take his "bump" in his rump. Yep, Stewart really inserted capsules full of cocaine into a place where, he writes, "they would dissolve effortlessly into the system."
Mick Jagger and David Bowie were found dancing in the sheets
While not the most interesting or provocative music either one of them would make, David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ 1964 hit "Dancing in the Street" was nonetheless a musical event. Music buyers couldn’t resist Ziggy Stardust and the Rolling Stones frontman together, especially since proceeds from the song benefited famine relief efforts in Africa. The video for the song is notable for the singers’ electric chemistry, and according to Christopher Andersen’s book Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger, the rock legends didn’t fake that connection.
In October 1973, Bowie’s wife, Angie, returned to the couple’s London home one day, whereupon the maid announced that "Someone … is in your bed." Angie went upstairs to investigate, and that’s when she discovered her husband and Jagger "naked in bed together, sleeping." Then they all had coffee and orange juice together. Angie said that while she hadn’t exactly interrupted anything, she was certain that some kind of something had taken place. Andersen corroborated the Jagger-Bowie tryst idea with a story from backup singer Ava Cherry, who lived in the Bowie residence in the early ’70s. The author says she once told a pal that she would get in bed with (David) Bowie and Jagger, but "ended up just watching them" go dancing in the sheets.
If you bought the first Kiss comic book, you’ve got (their) blood on your hands
The members of Kiss look like comic book characters and even have comic book character names for their makeup-enabled personas: the Demon (Gene Simmons), the Starchild (Paul Stanley), the Spaceman (Ace Frehley), and the Catman (Peter Criss). Marvel Comics wisely saw an opportunity for synergy and in 1977 published its first Kiss-themed comic book. The news spread that the members of Kiss contributed a special part of themselves to the publication: their own blood. The Kiss comic book’s ink supposedly had a bit of the band members life-water mixed into it. Simmons, who regularly spewed fake blood from his mouth during Kiss concerts, confirmed in Kiss Official Magazine that it’s all true. "Someone came up with the idea of putting real blood in the ink," Simmons said, adding that he and his bandmates "flew up to Buffalo to Marvel’s printing plant, where they pour the ink and make comic books." Blood was drawn, added to the ink, and the whole thing was certified by the most rock ‘n’ roll individual in the world: a notary public.
Ozzy Osbourne really did take a bite out of several flying creatures
Ozzy Osbourne is single-handedly responsible for some of the most sordid stories in rock history. In Motley Crüe’s memoir The Dirt, Osbourne is famously depicted snorting a line of ants, although his guitarist Jake E. Lee told Tone-Talk that Ozzy actually inhaled a spider. Then there are the bird stories.
In January 20 1982, Osbourne played a show in Des Moines, Iowa, during which he bit the head off of a bat that a fan had thrown onto the stage. (According to Mick Wall’s Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, Osbourne thought the bat was a toy, up until he placed it in his feedhole "and its wings started flapping." An attendee named Mark Neal claimed credit for providing the bat snack, although he told the Des Moines Register that the bat was already dead. Nevertheless, Osbourne still had to go get checked out for rabies after the concert.
Osbourne apparently has a taste for flying meat. In 1981, Ozzy attended a meeting of CBS Record executives and bit the heads off two live doves. According to Wall’s book, Osbourne had wanted to end the meeting in a spectacular fashion, releasing three white doves into the air. Instead, Osbourne said he got a bit too drunk before the meeting began, got mad at the label’s public relations representative, and chomped down on two of the doves’ heads "just to shut her up."