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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: 25 Notable Recluses

April 12, 2010  |  7:00am
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: 25 Notable Recluses

Many a celebrity has sought a life of obscurity after realizing the toll of the persistent gaze of the public eye. Ironically, that often serves to make them even more interesting to fans and journalists alike. Poor health, mental illness, sordid secrets and a simple desire for privacy can all turn a famous person into a recluse, and all of them have. From Salinger to Chappelle, here are 25 recluses and what made them shun the limelight:

1. J.D. Salinger
Famous For: Writing one of the most beloved American novels, Catcher in the Rye
Reclusive Tendencies: After holing up in his Cornish, N.H. home since the 1950s, the late J.D. Salinger may have been the most famous recluse in recent memory, but not everyone saw him that way. According to a recent New York Times article, Salinger was a regular Joe in his hometown.Wanting to protect him from the prodding of the media, neighbors would send tourists seeking Salinger on a wild goose chase. How far off-track they went “depended on how arrogant they were.”

2. Jeff Mangum
Famous For: One of Paste’s Best Living Songwriters, Mangum fronted Neutral Milk Hotel and penned indie-rock opus In the Aeroplane over the Sea
Reclusive Tendencies: Shortly after releasing Aeroplane in the late 1990s, Mangum went off the media grid and has stayed there since, with the exception of a 2002 interview with Pitchfork. He still pops up from time to time, but, after realizing that he couldn’t “just sing [his] way out of all this suffering,” Mangum effectively walked away from life as a musician and avoids his own fame as much as possible.

3. Terrence Malick
Famous For: Silver-screen classics such as The Thin Red Line, Badlands, and Days of Heaven
Reclusive Tendencies: Following 1978’s Days of Heaven, Malick went AWOL for two decades, returning to the public eye in 1998 with The Thin Red Line. His 2006 effort, The New World, received mixed reviews, and he’s reportedly still editing the oft-delayed Tree of Life as he gets cracking on a new film with Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem. Although there’s much excitement about the new projects, Malick remains mum, and it’s said that he goes so far as to make sure his images stay out of press materials.

4.Greta Garbo
Famous For: Captivating audiences as the star of MGM silents films and early talkies, such as Anna Karenina and Grand Hotel
Reclusive Tendencies: Although she was regarded as one of the great beauties of the early silver screen, Garbo retired from acting at the age of 36, never to return to public life. She never married, and she spent much of her life “being chronically irritated and bored,” according to a recent biography of her. In 1947, a 70-year-old solitarian from Michigan gave Garbo the ultimate recluse props by leaving his entire estate to her upon his death.

5. Thomas Pynchon
Famous For: Writing Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49
Reclusive Tendencies: He sent a vaudeville performer to a National Book Award ceremony in his stead. He famously said, “My belief is that ‘recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists…meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.’” He avoided the media spotlight far better than the lawsuit-loving Salinger, and he always seemed to have a little fun doing it.

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