Some rock acts become controversial because it’s all part of the show – like Marilyn Manson’s crazy antics or Jim Morrison’s unpredictable behavior on stage. It’s the persona that intrigues people and keeps them coming to their concerts. They like the attention obviously which is why there’s no such thing as over-the-top for them. It’s about the publicity – whether it’s good or bad, it’ll keep everyone talking and business-wise, that’s a huge win unless it’s John Lennon’s infamous comment which cost The Beatles A LOT.
On the other side of the spectrum, however, some icons become the subject of controversy because of something unintentional – like substance abuse problems and mental health issues. Or maybe it’s due to a run-in with the law and worse, there are those which involved serious crimes – things so unspeakably vile it turns your stomach.
Here are the 10 most scandalous figures in rock history and what they did to land a spot on this list.
Syd Barrett had the world at his feet as his band was becoming huge. But what happened to him wasn’t just unfortunate, it was utterly heartbreaking. He’s a musical genius with a potential for greatness – his light burned only briefly but he was still a huge figure blanketing the band even during the time he was no longer with them.
He was a prolific songwriter but towards the end, he wrote songs which became impossible for anyone to play. And it wasn’t long before he was booted off Pink Floyd.
“I don’t think I’m easy to talk about. I’ve got a very irregular head. And I’m not anything that you think I am anyway.” – Syd Barrett
He’s basically known for various musical experimentations and innovative guitar work. But substance abuse made him unpredictable and his erratic behavior caused numerous problems for Pink Floyd. Rumors also began circulating that the rockstar had schizophrenia. He would be missing for a few days and would become disoriented – he wouldn’t know where he was or even recognize familiar faces. One story claimed that Barrett once crushed drugs, mixed it to a hair cream and applied it on his hair which melted on his head and down his face. Nick Mason denied that.
Even after his departure, Pink Floyd created masterpieces as a tribute to him most notably the classic hit “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
Anyone who went to Marilyn Manson’s concert knew they should expect the unexpected ALWAYS. His name became synonymous with ‘shocking’ or ‘scandalous.’ There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to uphold his wild image.
He named himself after the psychopath and serial killer Charles Manson. For over two decades, he has never failed to attract controversy – from allegations that his music inspired suicide and the infamous Columbine massacre to urinating on the crowd mid-concert.
“My point on Earth is chaos. I’m the third act of every movie you’ve ever seen. I’m the part where it rains and the part where the person you don’t want to die dies.” – Marilyn Manson
He’s also a reverend in Anton Szandor LaVey’s Church of Satan. And his live performances ranged from entertaining to dangerous just like the time he took a broken beer bottle and plunged it to his chest.
And he had brushes with the law too – one example is when he gyrated his genitalia on a security guard’s head all the while wearing only leather thong and pantyhose.
In 1966, John Lennon’s comments about Christianity became much talked-about in all corners of the globe. He was quoted saying “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”
In the UK where it was originally published, it was no big deal. But a few months later, that piece was republished in the US and Lennon found himself receiving backlash. That single remark turned ugly real quick – radio stations refused to play their songs, there were protests left and right, their press-cons were cancelled and they even received threats.
“If I’d said, ‘Television is more popular than Jesus,’ I might have got away with it!” – John Lennon
The Ku Klux Klan also burned Beatles records publicly. Even John Lennon didn’t mind that so much until everything got more serious and not only their tours were affected but their security as well. It basically propelled them to stop touring especially when during one of their concerts, some kids set off a cherry bomb which they thought was a gunshot.
It didn’t end there because years later, a born-again Christian Mark David Chapman was a huge fan of The Beatles until he heard the controversial comment and he ended up hating The Fab Four. In 1980, he waited outside New York City’s Dakota building for John Lennon while carrying a loaded gun.
Where do we even begin with Iggy Pop? ‘Controversial’ is his middle name. He popularized stage diving but he retired from that signature more a few years ago after a nasty fall. But more than that, some of his wildest moments include getting whipped at a concert, carving an X into his chest, falling flat on his face during a stage-dive, and giving Valium to two dogs.
And of course, let’s not forget the time he smeared peanut butter all over his chest and whisked it to his audience.
“I thought, ‘If they’ve got a hit record out and they can get away with this, then I have no fucking excuse not to get out on stage with my band.’ It was sort of the case of, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ There really was some of that in there.” – Iggy Pop on being inspired by Jim Morrison’s crazy performance with The Doors
One time, he also landed on top of shattered glass and ended up spurting blood to the crowd. Oh and of course, there was the incident when he pulled out his penis and put it on top of an amp. Well, nothing’s too wild for the Godfather of Punk.
You know, if we say we don’t live for drama, we’d be lying. And Ozzy Osbourne has given us a fair amount of controversy over the years. And no, we’re not even talking about his latest issue – the messy affair back in 2016.
Peeing on the Alamo monument, snorting a line of ants, biting the ear off a live bat, accidentally peeing on fans, thrashing Black Sabbath’s hotel room with a dead shark – these are the stuff WE KNOW. We can only imagine how much craziness happened that were not made public!
“I get high, I get fucked up … what the hell’s wrong with getting fucked up? There must be something wrong with the system if so many people have to get fucked up … I never take dope or anything before I go on stage. I’ll smoke a joint or whatever afterwards.” – Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne has been sued two times by parents of teens who killed themselves, saying that his songs promoted suicide. The court ruled in Osbourne’s favor on both cases.
Controversy followed Jim Morrison everywhere including his death – apparently, some people still believe he’s alive and just living in recluse. So anyway, more than a rock god, he’s a poet too. And yes, he’s a creative genius who lived a life of excesses.
On September 17th, 1967, The Doors were guests at The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan requested Morrison to change the lines in “Light My Fire” by singing “Girl we couldn’t get much better” instead of “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.” Morrison agreed but sang the original lyrics anyway.
“I just remember that some of the best musical trips we ever took were in clubs. Concerts are great but it gets into a crowd phenomenon that really hasn’t that much to do with music.” – Jim Morrison
Aside from inciting a riot and shouting obscenities at the audience, he was also issued a warrant for indecent exposure during a live performance after exposing his penis on stage. Other controversies he was involved in were larceny, public drunkenness, and disturbing the peace.
Axl Rose is one of the bad boys of rock. He was talented, hot and Guns ‘n Roses had huge hits left and right. But of course, he had to mess it up with his temper and tardiness. First off, who the heck would attack their fans directly at a concert? Second, who walks out mid-show and incites riot not once but twice?
More than that and being perpetually late and making the audience wait for hours, Axl Rose also got into a fight with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.
“Guns n’ Roses was like the old Stones or whatever. Not necessarily the friendliest bunch of guys.” – Axl Rose
He’s also had some falling out with his band members particularly Slash. And who would forget his dramatic beef with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain? He didn’t just bad-mouth him but also included his wife Courtney Love. To be fair to Axl though, Love isn’t the most predictable woman out there.
The thing about scandals and controversies is that a single one could easily wreck your career and destroy everything you’ve worked hard for. Take Jerry Lee Lewis, for example. Often considered as “rock ‘n roll’s first great wild man,” he’s had several hits which catapulted him to international stardom.
At the age of 22, he married for the third time. That wouldn’t have been controversial except for the fact that he wedded his 13-year old first cousin once removed. Also, he wasn’t yet divorced to his second wife when he remarried.
“I wasn’t the kind of guy who’d take a girl and put her up on a hill, and live with her for eight years, and then just marry her when I got her pregnant.” – Jerry Lee Lewis
His tour dates were cancelled and there was public outcry. And so, he went from $10,000 per show to around $100-200. Instead of stadiums, he started performing in smaller venues like clubs and beer joints. The Killer killed his career just like that.
The life of Sid Vicious is more tragic than controversial. He was only 21 years old when he died and he was in one of the biggest and most influential punk rock bands, The Sex Pistols. The fact that drug overdose is the cause of death isn’t what made him controversial. It was because of other things – Nancy Spungen and that he possibly committed suicide.
It was Spungen who introduced him to heroin but before he met her, he’s been using other drugs heavily and they were all supplied by his mother Anne Beverley. From hitting an audience member to using a razor to carve words into his chest, he was no stranger to violence and self-harm.
“We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye.” – a handwritten note found in Sid Vicious’ jacket, according to Anne Beverley
On October 12, 1978, Spungen was found dead on their bathroom floor. Vicious was arrested and he gave conflicting statements at one point said “I stabbed her, but I never meant to kill her.” Ten days later, he tried to commit suicide twice – first by slitting his wrist and second, by jumping out the hospital window. On February 2, 1979, Vicious overdosed and his body was discovered in the morning by his mother. It was unclear whether it was accidental or if it was suicide.
Gary Glitter was a glam rock icon who sold more than 20 million records. But behind the shimmering outfits, glamorous makeup and platform boots was a predatory pedophile. In 1997, he was slapped with several sexual offences starting with numerous pornographic photos of children in his computer. A girl also claimed he had sex with her when she was only 14 years old.
And it all went downhill from there. He was deported from Cambodia because of suspected child sexual abuse. In 2005, he was arrested in Vietnam after six Vietnamese girls ages 11-23 accused him of sleeping with them. And that’s only the beginning of a series of victims who came forward.
“Paul Gadd has shown himself to be a habitual sexual predator who took advantage of the star status afforded to him by targeting young girls who trusted him and were in awe of his fame.” – Detective Chief Inspector Mick Orchard of Operation Yewtree
More than 15 countries banned Glitter. On February 27, 2015, Gary Glitter was sentenced by Judge Alistair McCreath to 16 years in prison.