Musicians Who Suffer From Extreme Stage Fright

By: Jonny Hughes

It is the dream of millions of people around the world to be a famous musician who performs in front of thousands of people at shows and festivals. However, this is not the dream of many famous musicians. Many musicians hate performing for a live audience and would rather remain in the studio, but as a key (and profitable) part of the job, they understand the need and put on a brave face. Whilst many musicians are ego maniacs, there are also many musicians who are introverted types and therefore it is understandable that they suffer from stage fright.


10. Cat Power

Cat Power creates some stunning and beautiful music, but she is also known for her erratic and unpolished live performances. This includes songs starting and finishing abruptly or blending into one another with no transition, and she has also been known to walk off stage and end shows with no explanation. She has attributed this to severe stage fright, and also alcohol (which she uses to cope with her anxiety). Cat Power has admitted that her stage fright comes from issues regarding depression, alcoholism and substance abuse. She has suffered mental health issues and has previously had a breakdown, but has also stated that her stage fright subsided somewhat when she quit drinking as she feels more clear-headed. This sobriety has also improved her performance style, but sadly she has suffered from physical health issues in recent years which have kept her from performing.

9. Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight, a singer in the boy band New Kids on the Block, famously struggles with anxiety and this caused him to leave the band and become reclusive. In 2001 he sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss the topic, and in 2011 he appeared on MTV’s True Life to help a fan that was suffering from panic disorder. At a concert in 2013 his anxiety got the better of him, seeing him walk off stage halfway through. Prior to this, he was visibly out of synch and kept to the back of the stage. Despite fans’ pleas, Knight was unable to return to the stage and later tweeted his apologies. There are some musicians who are able to mask their anxiety through brazen on-stage persons, but equally some are unable to hide their fears but still attempt to tackle these fears head on, and this is very respectable.

8. Cher

Cher first became famous as half of the terrific folk rock husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher, but Sonny originally wanted to market her as a solo act (which she would go on to successfully do). However, Cher suffered from such bad stage fright that she felt unable to perform unless he was on the stage with her. This saw him join her to sing the harmonies, and she would mask her anxiety by looking at him on stage. Later on, she would state that she sang to people through Sonny. It appears she overcame her anxiety as she went on to become an enormously successful solo artist and actress (both film and Broadway), although it is also possible that she still struggles but has managed to find a way to cope each time she is performing live.

7. Donny Osmond

As teen idol turned singer, actor, dancer and radio personality, his resume would not give you the indication that he is a person that suffers from social anxiety disorder. Donny Osmond is one of the few celebrities who has been open about his troubles with anxiety, and he has also discussed his treatment program which consisted of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This has helped him to recognize and control negative thought patterns, but he still feels anxiety before stepping onto the stage. He recalls running offstage after a song when he was just a young boy, but in 1994 is when it became a real problem for him after suffering a panic attack during a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He soon found anxiety having an impact on other areas of life, and it is at this time he tried professional help.


6. Carly Simon

Widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters ever and a multi-award winner, you are lucky if you have ever seen Carly Simon in concert. She has not performed a huge amount when compared to her body of work, and this comes down to a severe case of stage fright. The singer, best known for the hit song “You’re So Vain,” suffered panic attacks onstage since she was a child, and in 1981 she suffered a panic attack and invited fans on the stage to help her. At the next show, she collapsed backstage prior to performing. This saw her abandon the stage for several years and instead she focused on working in the studio. When she did return to the stage years later, she adopted a strange way of coping with her anxiety which was to have members of the band spank her in order to distract her.

5. Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists ever, but he hated performing on stage. This stemmed from his shyness as a child which led to a severe case of stage fright. At the age of just 12, his father introduced him to a way to combat this—alcohol. Although this helped his symptoms, it soon led to a problem with drinking and drugs. Whilst those around him were indulging to party, Eddie Van Halen was using alcohol as a tool to combat his anxiety. This is an approach that countless musicians and other performers use before going on stage, and although it may offer a short-term solution, it frequently leads to troubles with addiction which can be even harder to overcome. Eddie has managed to conquer his addictions and is able to perform onstage, but he is still plagued by anxiety before a show.

4. Brian Wilson

A legendary musician best known as the leader of the Beach Boys and mastermind of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson also famously struggled with mental health issues, nervous breakdowns and erratic behavior. He underwent years of treatment and recuperation, and after this he embarked on a solo career before briefly returning to the Beach Boys. Wilson stated that he has suffered stage fright “every single concert I’ve ever done…it’s absolute living hell.” His fear of performing is not the only reason that Wilson retreated from view for a few years, as he also engaged in self-destructive behavior following the death of his father, all of which took its toll on his mental health. Fortunately, Wilson was able to get the help he needed and managed to return to music, continuing his legacy an innovator, particularly in the field of music production.

3. Adele

In recent times, Adele has established herself as one of the greatest and most successful artists on the planet. The English singer-songwriter is one of the world’s best selling artists and her second album, 21, won dozens of awards, is the fourth best-selling album in the UK ever and held the top position in the U.S. charts longer than any album since 1985. She is therefore immensely famous and has adoring fans around the world, but she is also very shy and hates performing live. She has stated that she is scared of audiences and frequently suffers from anxiety attacks whilst on tour. She even admitted that she “projectile vomited on someone” once in Brussels due to her anxiety about performing. This just goes to show that no matter how popular and successful you are, stage fright and performing to an audience is a very daunting prospect.

2. Barbra Streisand

Sometimes, an artist will have a bad experience on stage which will change how they feel about performing in front of thousands of people. In a gig at Central Park in 1967, legendary singer and actress Barbra Streisand forgot the lyrics to one of her songs which triggered a bad case of performance anxiety. She stopped performing live for nearly three decades in fear of repeating the incident. Fortunately, she was able to overcome this with the help of therapy and anti-anxiety medication. Not just this, but Streisand will now only perform with a teleprompter which not only provides the lyrics, but also all of the talk in-between songs too. As an iconic and multi-award winning actress and singer you would not think that Barbra Streisand is the type to suffer from stage fright, but just one bad incident can be devastating to performers.


1. Ozzy Osbourne

As “The Prince of Darkness” and someone who once bit the head off of a bat during a concert in 1982, you would not think that Ozzy Osbourne cared what anybody thought of him, and that he felt no reservations about going up on stage either as part of Black Sabbath or through his solo career. This is not the case though, and the pioneering singer hated getting up on stage due to his crippling stage fright. He has been active in the business since the 1960s, but admits that he still suffers from stage fright which goes to show how difficult it is to overcome. Ozzy stated in his 2010 autobiography titled I Am Ozzy—“to say that I suffer from pre-show nerves is like saying that when you get hit by an atom bomb it hurts a bit.”