He may have mellowed since his willy-waving, self-mutilating, coke-snorting days (to the point where he now stars in insurance ads and appears in Lego Rock Band), but punk rock shaman Iggy Pop was once so eye-rollingly nuts he survived a whole year eating nothing but German sausage.
We all know about Prince changing his name to a squiggle (officially, ‘Love Symbol No. 2’), but that’s not his only quirk: since 2006 he’s been a Jehovah’s Witness, and – in accordance with the faith – he goes door-to-door in his LA neighbourhood. “Sometimes people act surprised,” he told The New Yorker. “But mostly they’re totally cool about it.”
There are myriad tales of cocaine-crazed madness associated with David Bowie, from giving Nazi salutes to subsisting on a diet of nothing but peppers and milk, but our favourite one is the story of him, circa ‘Diamond Dogs’, hiding his own piss in the fridge because he was convinced a wizard might steal it.
Where to start with Lady Gaga? The kermit-head jacket? Wearing a telephone on her head and carrying a teacup for no reason? Posting obscure messages on Twitter such as “Mental. Vomit. Bubble dreams”? Or is it all just an act to cover up the fact that she’s really quite dim and doesn’t have much of interest to say?
Michael Jackson. From inventing and patenting anti-gravity boots to dangling a baby out of a window – not to mention racking up half a billion dollars in debt at the time of his death – few stars hold a candle to Jacko when it comes to scarcely believable acts of delusional egomania.
Not so much ‘eccentric’ as properly mentally ill (so we shouldn’t mock), Beach Boy Brian Wilson once stopped bathing because he was scared of water. At the height of his loopiness in 1970, he introduced himself to some visitors backstage with the words “I’m Brian.” “We know,” they replied. “We’re your children.”
The Knife are a pretty weird band – those masks should be a clue – but the female half of the duo, Karin Dreijer Andersson, took things one stage further with her solo project, Fever Ray, whose debut album is packed with terrifyingly bizarre, sleep-deprived lyrics such as: “I’m very good with plants, when my friends were away, they let me keep the soil moist“.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowland has had an eventful career, involving bankruptcy, a brief stint in a religious cult, cocaine addiction, and one of the most bizarre comebacks ever – the 1999 album ‘My Beauty’, promotional duties for which found him wearing a dress and panties.
Antony Hegarty has a habit of doing things you don’t expect. There’s his cover of Nessun Dorma for a coffee ad, for example. But sometimes it’s the moments when he’s not being flamboyant and diva-esque that surprise. At a gig in Brighton in 2009 he wrong-footed the crowd by asking: “Anyone here from Arundel?”
When Guns N’ Roses first found fame, Axl Rose wasted no time in becoming the archetypal, ego-crazed rock star douchebag. In 1990 he had two giant topiary elephants delivered to a new house – which he never even bothered moving in to. In later years he became obsessed with homeopathic medicine, and – of course – wasted 15 years and millions of dollars recording the woeful ‘Chinese Democracy’.
From playing an imaginary piano during a photo shoot in 2000 to declaring “crack is wack” during a prime-time TV interview (she later confessed to having been hooked on the stuff), Whitney Houston was thought to have cleaned up in recent years – though reports of disastrous gigs in Australia suggest she’s not quite on top form yet.
Courtney Love’s eccentricities have been given free reign by Twitter. In the past year, via the site, she has offered be a mother to Ke$ha, announced that she broke her own fake breasts, and posted a photo of herself with a turtle on her head. At one point took a break from the site – before returning with topless photos of herself.
Reggae icon Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry has some unorthodox in-the-studio techniques – during one recording session he was spotted walking backward, baptising locals with a garden hose and worshiping bananas. He also once put a curse on the BBC, which he refuses to lift until they agree to play his records 24/7.
Famous for groundbreaking ’80s hits such as ‘Prince Charming’, Adam Ant’s lifelong struggle with mental illness has taken many forms, from the dark and sinister – in 2002 he threatened drinkers in a pub with a fake revolver – to the heart-warmingly quirky: in 2003 he recorded an alternate version of ‘Stand And Deliver’ for an animal charity, entitled ‘Save The Gorillas’.
When he fell in love, The Doors’ LSD-chomping frontman Jim Morrison was never likely to go for a traditional wedding. No, he married a Wiccan witch who claimed she could tell the future. At the ceremony, the pair cut their wrists with daggers and drank each other’s blood. Lovely.
US punk-rocker GG Allin wrote the book on rock star eccentricity – then shat on it. Standout exploits in his brief but remarkable life include attempting to have sex with a dead cat, expressing disappointment when he tested negative for HIV, and being buried in a jockstrap embroidered with the phrase EAT ME.
Poor Peter Green. A brilliant blues guitarist, if he’d stuck with Fleetwood Mac he would have enjoyed immense fame and fortune. Instead, he lost his mind after an acid trip in 1970 and spent 25 years enduring electroshock therapy and taking mind-deadening psychiatric drugs that made his brain feel like “a brick wall”.
Some say the popular perception of Mariah Carey as crazy and diva-ish is the result of a deliberate smear campaign orchestrated by former husband and Sony boss Tommy Mottola. That said, her behaviour circa 2001 – which included handing out Popsicles to baffled fans at a TV performance – did look suspiciously like that of an artist losing the plot.
Sly Stone recorded some of the greatest funk music of all time, powered by mountains of cocaine and PCP. His methods were bizarre – ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’, released in 1971, featured the sound of a dog savaging a baboon (and then humping its carcass).
At the height of his fame with Parliament and Funkadelic, George Clinton was known for out-there onstage antics involving spaceships and simulated sex. To this day he remains a cosmic-minded eccentric. One recent interview featured the baffling revelation: “I got a feeling that time is like, here, and now, and we do all the differential within our brain. Reality is agreement.” Okaaay…
A founding member of psychedelic pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson’s attachment to reality was sometimes tenuous. In 1982 he claimed that a Martian had taken possession of his body. In later life, he lived with radios and TVs on at all times to drown out the voices in his head.
Singer-songwriter Julian Cope would like it to be known that he is as mad as a box of frogs. A committed pagan, for a short time in the ’80s he lived on a traffic island. In 1990, Cope joined protesters in an anti–poll tax demonstration dressed as Mr. Sqwubbsy, a seven-foot-tall alien.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s most “colourful” member, Ol’ Dirty Bastard – real name Russell Tyrone Jones – had a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Caught in possession of crack in 1999, the rapper asked the arresting officer to make the drug “disappear”. On trial the following year, he called the female District Attorney a “sperm donor”.
Sure, he’s written a genuinely deranged hip-hop opera involving sex with midgets, and has a habit of playing basketball every night at midnight – but R Kelly thinks he’s just misunderstood: “Osama Bin Laden is the only one who knows what I’m going through,” he once whibbled.
In recent years Elton John’s eccentricities have manifested themselves in reckless spending – he famously spent $500,000 on flowers between January 1996 and September 1997 – but back in the ’70s Elt’s weirdness was more drug-induced. Low point: while on tour in Germany he phoned his tour manager to see if something could be done about the wind outside his hotel room.
In 2006, Bjork – pictured here wearing a swan at the Oscars – topped a BBC poll of the world’s most eccentric celebrities. Beyond the cryptic quotes she’s not really that weird though, unless you count attacking a paparazzi photographer as eccentric behaviour.
Few singers are as strange and sad as ukulele-toting Tiny Tim, who had a novelty hit in 1968 with a squeaky-voiced version of ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’. A man of obsessive habits, Tim lived on sunflower and pumpkin seeds, bathed five times a day and brushed his teeth with papaya juice. He also married a 17-year-old fan when he was in mid-40s – and still living with his parents.