Stars Who Shocked Fans With Performance Stunts
With the entertainment world being flooded with countless people and big personalities, it can be hard for one to separate themselves from the pack. That could be why many celebs post videos on social media, hoping for them to go viral. But even before Twitter and Instagram were born, entertainers did all kinds of things to stand out. Like Jimi Hendrix, for example, who set his Fender Stratocaster guitar on fire in 1967 at the Monterey International Pop Festival. For many, that photo of the Seattle-born rock legend kneeling over his flaming guitar with his hands up and mouth open may be hard to get out of their mind. So evidently, his stunt worked based on the popularity of the image.
Of course, publicity stunts don’t always work out well for celebs. But what other entertainers have done things that have either shocked, intrigued, or even pleased fans? There are many, whether it was a legendary rock band who stunned locals by performing high in the sky or a pop singer who introduced her alter ego to millions of TV viewers. To dig a little deeper, we’ve gathered a list of celebrities who’ve shocked their fans with performance stunts that many are still talking about today.
Ozzy Osbourne just wanted a bite during an unplanned performance stunt
The night? Jan. 20, 1982. The place? Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. The performer? A young Ozzy Osbourne, who at the time had already developed a reputation for sinking his teeth into live animals. As history has it, he bit the head off a dove in front of Los Angeles record label executives in 1981. But on that January night in Iowa, the heavy metal performer bit the head of a dead bat, which the Des Moines Register says was thrown onstage by a 17-year-old named Mark Neal.
Neal’s younger brother brought the bat to their house from school. It was alive at first but died before the concert. So, knowing of Osbourne’s animal biting rep, Neal brought the bat with him, hoping the former Black Sabbath singer would do to it what he did to the dove. Eventually, Osbourne bit into the winged creature, and after the concert ended, he was brought to Broadlawns Medical Center for rabies shots.
“Something crazy happened every night on that tour … The bat was a kind of an accident, which I did milk somewhat,” said Osbourne in the documentary, The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne, according to Express. “Somebody threw a bat, I just thought it was a rubber bat … I just picked it up and … f**king bit into it, being the f**king clown that I am. [Then I said to myself], ‘Oh no … It’s a real live bat.'”
Eddie Vedder just had to climb
Lead singers of rock bands tend to be an interesting breed, and many have built huge fan bases for their memorable stage antics — which brings us to Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder, known to climb ridiculously tall structures during shows and swing from them. He did so in multiple cities, whether it was climbing to the ceiling of San Diego’s Del Mar Pavillion in 1991 or getting himself to a rooftop while performing on Jones Beach, N.Y. the following year.
But some might say that Vedder outdid himself while Pearl Jam played at Seattle’s Magnuson Park in 1992, because he used a rail to climb a scaffolding that seemed tall enough to brush the clouds. He then went across it like a 9-year-old on monkey bars, seemingly oblivious to the potential long drop below.
“I’d be at the Metro in Chicago or you’d be in one of those theaters that had kind of an ornate [décor] and king and queen booths on either side and curtains and all that stuff,” said Vedder on The Howard Stern Show in 2020, according to Showbiz CheatSheet. “While I’m waiting for the band, I used to look at that stuff and go, ‘It would be fun to climb that curtain and then jump into that red velvet king and queen booth.'”
Keith Moon made a bang on American television
By the time English rock band The Who made it to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on Sept. 17, 1967, the group had already developed a reputation for dramatic stage shows, with Pete Townshend often smashing his guitar. But the band’s dangerous image grew even more after they played “My Generation” on the CBS show. Why is that? Because drummer Keith Moon placed a massive amount of explosives into his drumkit, that’s all.
It’s a performance stunt Moon pulled before that televised performance, according to Rolling Stone, but during this particular show, he used more explosives than he had in the past. Plus, it was the first time The Who played to an American TV audience, so the band members probably wanted to make a lasting impression. So, after their performance ended and the guitars were smashed, a thunderous boom went off in Moon’s drum kit. According to The History Channel, some of Townshend’s hair got burned, and the band was “engulfed” in “a cloud of white smoke.” On top of that, Moon had shrapnel fly into his arm. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reports that the show’s guest, actor Bette Davis, fainted.
The Weeknd enjoyed a 'compelling' storyline in an ongoing performance stunt
Most have probably heard of method actors — those who stay in character in between filming scenes — but the term method singer hasn’t caught on yet. But that may change thanks to The Weeknd, who portrayed a man who had a severely bad night in Las Vegas that left him with facial wounds and bandages. The Canadian singer introduced the character in 2019 when rolling out his After Hours album. He’d then keep the look for videos like “Blinding Lights” and his performance at the November 2020 American Music Awards.
During that televised performance, The Weeknd appeared in full facial bandages and the same red blazer and black leather gloves that he wore when first introducing the character. At one point, there was talk online about whether the pop star would bring out the wounded man during his halftime show performance at Super Bowl LV, but only his background dancers sported the look.
“The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated,” the singer finally explained to Variety in February 2021. When The Weeknd was asked if he had any worries about altering his appearance while promoting his After Hours project, he said that “being attractive isn’t [as] important” to him as relaying a “compelling” storyline. Now, that’s an artist who’s committed.
Lady Gaga and her drag king alter ego, Jo Calderone
As a performance artist, Lady Gaga has been known to be a master of disguise and seems to use her inventive outfits to express herself, have fun, and create a little shock if she’s able to — like when she arrived at the 2011 Grammy Awards inside an egg of all things. Later that same year, the “Paparazzi” singer arrived at the MTV Video Music Awards — not as food or even herself — as her drag king alter ego, a guy named Jo Calderone. To play the part of Jo the entire night, the Mother Monster dressed in black pants, a black jacket, and a white t-shirt, while she puffed on a cigarette. She also opened the awards show by reciting a spoken word piece before heading to the piano to perform her hit song, “You and I.”
Calderone, who said in a post-award show interview that he’s from New Jersey and his family hails from Sicily, first appeared on the cover of Japanese Men’s Vogue in 2010. “The idea of her being a performance artist … it’s starting the performance on the red carpet and the idea that the performance never ends for her,” Gaga’s creative director, Laurieann Gibson, told MTV News shortly before the award ceremony. “That’s something that is specific to her, and the whole night was the performance, and it was important that Jo was a part of the whole night.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers went all natural
Clothes are often a major part of a rocker’s act regardless of what they wear. Take Elton John, for example. His eye-catching outfits, which could easily come with colorful feathered wings, were a major part of his stage show. Meanwhile, New York band The Strokes became known for their style of thrift store chic in the early aughts and got plenty of attention for it.
But the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t build a reputation for their fashion sense — in fact, the group got a name for practically wearing nothing at all, which they did for the first time in 1983 during a performance at Hollywood’s Kit Kat Club. The band, whose members at the time included singer Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Hillel Slovak, bassist Flea, and drummer Jack Irons, wore a white tube sock over their manhood to avoid being totally naked, according to Far Out magazine. But it was far from the last time they’d play that way: once word got out about the band’s nearly naked act, this led to more shows in the Los Angeles area.
“I grew up running around naked,” Flea told The Guardian in 2019. “There’s a freedom inherent in it, a rebelliousness, that I find beautiful.” But in an interview with GQ that same year (via Yahoo! Finance), the legendary bassist said there were some assumptions made about him and his musicianship because the band had played naked, saying, “We’re never going to outrun it.”
Kanye West brought out a special guest in a Yeezus tour performance stunt
One thing about going to see a big rap star’s performance is you never know what other rap acts they’ll bring on stage. So in 2013, on the first night of Kanye West’s Yeezus tour in Seattle, Wash., the crowd must have been dying to see who he invited to perform at least a song or two. But instead of getting someone like Jay-Z or J. Cole, audience members got an actor playing Jesus, who walked on stage barefoot in a white robe as West launched into his 2004 hit, “Jesus Walks.”
“I had a friend of mine that’s a pastor there as we started discussing how we wanted to deliver it,” said West during a chat with Bay Area radio station Wild 94.9, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “My girl even asked afterwards, ‘Is that weird if Jesus comes on stage?’ They’re like, ‘No. We do plays all the time. People play Jesus.'” West also said using an actor to play Jesus was his way of putting on a “moving opera.” Plus, he wanted to send a “message” that says one could “have a relationship with Jesus” and can talk to Him as easily as West did with that actor on stage.
Since that 2013 tour, West has become more of a devout Christian, creating church-like concerts called Sunday Services, and in 2019, reportedly announced that he’d no longer be making secular music.
The Beatles took their performance to new heights
It was The Beatles’ last performance as a group, and they took their final bows five stories off the ground. It happened on Jan. 30, 1969, with John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr playing on the rooftop of their company, Apple Corps, in London without announcing it to the public, according to Rolling Stone. The show was part of footage being filmed as The Beatles recorded and rehearsed their album, Get Back, which would later be called Let It Be. During the sky-high concert, the beloved quartet played various versions of five songs as people were coming outside on their lunch break, including “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” and crowds soon gathered.
A portion of the concert, which lasted 42 minutes, was released in their 1970 film, Let It Be. Per Rolling Stone, late musician Billy Preston, who played keyboards for The Beatles during the performance, later revealed that playing on a rooftop was Lennon’s idea. The full version of the show would be featured in director Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, which Beatles fans seemed over the moon about.
Joaquin Phoenix fooled a lot of people with his rap star performance stunt
Joaquin Phoenix has certainly been convincing in many of the roles he’s played, but one might say the Joker star outdid himself when he had many believing that he was giving up his acting career to be a rap artist. It started in 2008 at a benefit concert, where people were honoring late actor Paul Newman. Huge stars like Julia Roberts were in attendance and participated in a stage production of Ernest Hemingway’s The World of Nick Adams – and Phoenix made his announcement at one point during the evening.
“I want to take this opportunity, also to give you the exclusive … that this will be my last performance as an actor,” he explained to Extra at the time (via ABC News). “I’m not doing films any more.” Phoenix’s supposed plans of being a rapper surfaced after that night, and it was said he was being coached by Sean “Diddy” Combs.
It turned out that Phoenix was simply filming a mockumentary for his then-brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, called I’m Still Here — but the truth didn’t come out until 2010, when the project was released. What probably fooled people the most, though, was that Phoenix stayed in character while doing press runs, including an infamously strange interview with David Letterman. Plus, the actor even performed on stage as a rapper to a packed crowd.
Craig Nicholls left a late night host concerned
Usually, when music guests played on The Late Show with David Letterman, they performed their song, shook hands with the host, and made their exit with no harm or foul. But Craig Nicholls, lead singer of Australian rock band The Vines, had an entirely different game plan: during their 2002 performance of “Get Free,” his behavior left an entertained Letterman asking his bandleader, Paul Shaffer, if Nicholls was “alright.” Shaffer responded, “Can’t say for sure.”
Signs that Nicholls would deliver an antics-filled performance came about halfway through the song, when he hurled himself onto the floor, staggered back to the microphone, and screamed the rest of his lyrics incoherently. Nicholls later wrecked bandmate Hamish Rosser’s drums and ended the song by dragging himself across the floor on his head. “The entire Craig Nicholls value proposition was there’s no telling what this guy will do!” The Ringer later noted. “… He broke all the rules rock stars are supposed to break.”
By 2004, Nicholls’ penchant for “erratic and violent behavior” and performances was linked to his Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis, per The Guardian, a mild form of Autism characterized by “deficits in social interaction and unusual responses to the environment” and exacerbated by Nicholls’ rock star lifestyle. After receiving treatment and undergoing therapy, he told Rolling Stone Australia in 2014, “I have been out of my mind a couple of times in my life … To me, that’s just what I’m like.” Nicholls added, “What’s important to me is my family and making the albums.”
Jim Morrison landed in the pokey following a performance stunt
Jim Morrsison was apparently the first rock star to be arrested mid-performance, according to Ultimate Classic Rock, and it happened on Dec. 9, 1967 in New Haven, Conn., when his band, The Doors, played at the New Haven Arena. By the time that show rolled around, Morrison already developed a rep for being on the wilder side of things during his performances, often taunting the crowd and causing plenty of ruckus.
As The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek once explained of that particular evening, the “Light My Fire” singer was spotted “making out” with a woman backstage before the show began by a police officer, who didn’t recognize the singer and told the two scram. Morrison didn’t like this and reportedly told the officer to “eat it,” and was again given a warning to move … which he didn’t heed. From there, the cop maced him, and once Morrison went on stage, he told the crowd what just happened to him. Morrison called the officer “a little blue man in a little blue hat” and “a little blue pig.”
“Then out comes Captain [James] Kelly,” Manzarek recalled. The officer reportedly told Morrison that he went “too far,” yanked him off stage, and took him into custody for allegedly “inciting a riot, indecency and public obscenity,” per Ultimate Classic Rock. With the show suddenly over, upset attendees rioted in streets. Over a dozen fans were arrested, but Morrison’s charges were later dropped.
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