The Stories of 15 Famous Musicians Who Suffered From Stage Fright

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Stage fright is a very real emotional burden that affects most people. Studies claim that around 77% of us have glossophobia, which is being anxious if public speaking is required. Extreme athletes would rather climb a steep mountain bare-handed than talk in a TV show.

Some people struggle with it more than others though, especially, if their job requires performing to a large audience. 

You’d be surprised to see how many superstars suffer from appearing in live shows and concerts. Even tough guys and rock stars can feel overwhelmed before the curtain call. 

In this article, we’ll share with you the stories of 15 famous musicians with stage fright, and how they handle their predicament! 

1. Barbra Streisand (1942-)

The Broadway pop star with more than six decades of success in various arts is actually one of the biggest sufferers of stage fright. 

The story goes that Streisand was performing at a concert in Central Park, she suddenly forgot the lyrics to her song. That was back in 1966, but she never got over the panic she felt that night. 

She refrained from appearing on stages for about 27 years. And when she returned in 1994, Streisand never made a public appearance without a teleprompter. She doesn’t only have the lyrics displayed there, but also any other exchanges. 

All the intros, jokes, or stories she shares with the public are on the teleprompter to avoid any awkward repeats of the central park event. 

2. Adele (1988-)

For Adele, it wasn’t a single incident that caused her stage fright. She’s actually quite vocal about the matter and mentioned on more than one occasion what this is all about. 

Clearly, the English superstar who has sold more records than most stars would dream about gets extremely jittery on stage.

She feels that debilitating discomfort probably because she wants to be perfect for her beloved audience in every way. Managing stage fright is one of the major concerns Adele has constantly. And she seems to be doing alright.

She says that when she sees the crowd she melts, but she becomes chill after her second or third song.

3. Katy Perry (1984-)

Katy Perry is no stranger to music concerts, as the American singer started performing when she was a child. But that didn’t prevent her from feeling jittery and anxious every time she went on stage. 

Before becoming a pop star, young Katy Perry was very much into gospel music, and she often sang in church events. Rising to the top ranks wasn’t easy, and this artist had more than a few flops before becoming a best-selling artist. 

Her early years as a performer were probably the toughest, as that’s when she talked profusely about suffering from stage fright.

She mentioned on more than one occasion that she needed anti-anxiety medicine to overcome the feelings of unease as she stared at the crowds. Several times she even fell or messed up her choreographed show. But that all seems to be an old memory now. She barely talks about this issue at all.

4. Rihanna (1988-)

Rihana is an extra-confident pop star, fashion designer, actress, and accomplished entrepreneur. She’s originally from Saint Michael, Barbados, where she spent a rather hard early life. 

An American musician discovered her vocal capabilities and encouraged her to come to the US. She soon achieved remarkable success. Her 250 million sold records are good proof of that.

It’s hard to imagine that Rihana has a problem with public appearances, yet she does. And she’s quite vocal about it. 

She’s also realistic enough to know that this is a major part of her work, so she needs to find a way to adjust. Looking from afar, she’s nailing it! 

5. Rod Stewart (1945-)

Sir Roderick David Stewart, known to us as Rod Stewart, is a British rock, pop, soul, and disco singer. This talented artist is also a remarkable songwriter and savvy record producer.

His long, brilliant, and eventful career started in the early 1960s, and he’s still active up till today. He has 15 major awards, more than 30 albums, and he’s been on 32 tours all over the world.

Yet, when he first sang in the US, he was so apprehensive that he sang a whole score while hiding behind speakers.

6. Ozzy Ozbourne (1948-)

Ozzy Ozbourne

Who would’ve thought that the Black Sabbath “Prince of Darkness” would appear on this list! And yet, the British-born vocalist Ozzy Ozbourne has every reason to be here. 

The “Father of heavy metal” rose to stardom in 1970, at first as the lead singer of the notorious band, Black Sabbath, then as a solo act. He received seven platinum records for his US albums, went on countless tours, has his name carved in several halls of fame, and has also appeared in dozens of movies.

But he suffered badly in each and every one of these appearances. His fans might never have known about this if he hadn’t mentioned his stage fright issues in his autobiography; “I am Ozzie”. 

7. Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

Luciano Pavarotti was more than just a brilliant tenor or glamorous opera performer, he was a truly popular artist among the regular audience.

He is probably the first and only opera singer who took that sophisticated music genre from its niche opera-goers to music lovers everywhere. 

Luciano Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy in the middle of the war. His family was warm and loving though, and that let him explore music in spite of the many hardships of that time.

Pavarotti’s father was a tenor as well, and he owned an incredible collection of operas, which influenced Pavarotti in a big way.

In an interview with Pavarotti, he said that he never knew whether he could hit the right notes or not. And that always gave him stage fright. To the point, that he would mutter to himself that he’s walking to his death as he stepped out to the stage. 

8. Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

Eddie Van Halen was a world-famous American rockstar and legendary guitarist. Yet, he loathed being on stage more than anything in life! Van Halen was pretty shy, and stage fright always got the better of him.

Being born to a Jazz pianist, Jan Van Halen, definitely helped Eddie to get into the music field. Unfortunately, the father was a negative influence as well. 

His father taught him to drink alcohol before facing the crowds, and that wasn’t a very good idea.

The superstar struggled with various addictions throughout his life, in addition to serious health issues.

9. Steven Osbourne (1971-) 

The Scottish pianist Steven Osbourne is one of the most prolific classical music soloists of our times. He has been highly in demand all around the world, and probably performed with all the best orchestras in every major city. 

These brilliant concerts always came with a ‘healthy dose’ of stage fright. The pianist admitted that he always felt the visceral pangs of anxiety on stage.

However, he believes that a manageable amount of stage fright is good for the artist.

10. Carly Simon (1945-)

When Carly Simon started singing, she was only seven. Her family was very much into music, and it was the natural thing for her to walk down the same path. 

Unfortunately, a friend of the family assaulted her sexually at that young age. This trauma left her with a stutter and many other psychological scars.

In an attempt to heal herself, Simon immersed herself in writing songs and singing them.

Performing onstage remained a huge challenge for her though, and she reportedly collapsed on several occasions.

While she didn’t label it as stage fright, she didn’t like to be center stage and would have preferred to be a backing singer. That’s why she kept these public performances to the absolute minimum.

11. Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)

Horowitz was one of the true greats, and his influence on pianists worldwide is undeniable. And it’s probably his consistent need to be perfect that drove his stage fright in a big way. 

This pianist was born at the turn of the century in Kyiv, Russia, to an affluent family. His mother was also a pianist, and so, his talent was recognized early on, and he was sent off to the best music academies.

In his early twenties, Horowitz immigrated to Europe, then moved on to the US. He gave phenomenal concerts, and the audience was charmed. The artist was always under stress though, and finally, in 1953, he announced his retirement. 

12. Renee Fleming (1959-)

The famed opera singer Renee Fleming was once booed off stage, and since then, she became very nervous before giving any live performance. 

Fleming was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, to a family who taught music for a living. She started her musical career as a Jazz performer before college. Later on, she became a soprano and performed in numerous operas.

The unfortunate incident was at the La Scala in Milan, in 1998, where she was performing the role of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia”. This is definitely a legitimate reason to get stage fright from then on!

13. Andrea Bocelli (1958-)

Andrea Bocelli is another great opera singer who was deeply troubled by stage fright. He was born to a loving family, who often said that as a child, the only thing that soothed him was music.

At the age of twelve, Bocelli lost his sight, nut that didn’t deter him from pursuing a serious career in music and becoming one of the greatest blind singers in the world.

He eventually became one of the ‘three tenors’, and he’s idolized by audiences all around the globe.

Despite the warm welcome he gets, he always feels that he’s sharing an extremely intimate part of his soul. And he never knows if it would measure up to the people’s expectations. 

14. Cher (1946-)

The charismatic American entertainer Cher, has a ton of hits, tours, albums, TV shows, and cinematic appearances on her bio. Yet, she’s always apprehensive of public shows.

And that was the main reason why she appeared as a part of a duet with her husband and music partner Sonny.

Cher is a smart artist, and she always devised ways to overcome her anxiety. At the beginning of her career, she insisted on partnering on stage with her do, Sonny. And she would always look into his eyes to escape being aware of the crowd. 

Later on, she managed her stage fright well. And that wasn’t only in concerts. She started an acting career and seemed to enjoy taking part in various Broadway productions. 

15. Jonathan Knight (1968-)

Boy bands were a sensation back in the 1980s and early 1990s. And ‘The New Kids on the Block’ was among the pioneers who caught the music scene by surprise. 

Jonathan Knight is an American singer, and he was the oldest member of the band. Also, the first one to leave which was the event that caused it to disband, and broke the hearts of their fans.

Knight tried more than once to regroup with the former members of the band, but that didn’t last for too long. In 2008 he left the spotlight for good and worked in real estate. 

In an interview, Knight revealed that he had a generalized anxiety disorder that interfered consistently with his onstage performance.

To Summarize 

Famous musicians can perform all night, every night, and dazzle their audiences with their brilliant shows.

But quite often, they hide their struggles with stage fright. 

To achieve real stardom, artists often devise ways to cope with this debilitating fear.

Some do it in a healthy way, while others aren’t that wise.

The best ways of managing stage fright are often devising a routine or ‘ritual’ before going stage.

Then hoping for the best!

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Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.