The music industry is filled with strange characters, who often actively market their eccentricity in order to sell more albums, create a mythology around themselves and keep themselves in the headlines. There are many strange, unbelievable stories about certain uber-famous musicians, some true and other pure myth. Here are a few, debunked:
The White Stripes. Brother and sister?
Since the beginning of their joint career, Jack and Meg White routinely spread the idea that they are siblings when, in fact, they were married and later divorced before becoming famous.
Gene Simmons’ Tongue
The front man of KISS, Gene Simmons, has gotten a lot of press for his tongue, which he famously sticks out quite often. While his tongue is indeed large, its size and exposure apparently led to a tale about his tongue actually being a surgically-attached cow tongue. The main reason why this is impossible is that a cow’s tongue is, on average, a foot long. Simmons’ is not. Nick Stoeberl, not a musician, actually holds the world record for the longest tongue.
Keith Richards‘ father’s ashes
The Rolling Stones guitarist, known for his lifetime of varied and excessive drug and alcohol consumption, teased the press by claiming that after his father passed away, he snorted his ashes. This gruesome event became the stuff of legend, until it was eventually denied by Richards himself, years later.
Michael Jackson and the Elephant Man’s skeleton
Michael Jackson was indeed bizarre. One of the laundry list of weird stories surrounding him was that he paid a large amount of money for the preserved skeleton of John Merrick a.k.a. “The Elephant Man,” a 19th century British man born with severe deformities who gained fame as a freak show act, and later as the subject of a series of Hollywood films. Whether Jackson wanted the skeleton or not, it has never been for sale, having been the property of the Royal London Hospital since Merrick’s death.
Robert Johnson and the devil
Robert Johnson is well-known among music industry people and aficionados as the grandfather of blues. Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived.” Legend has it that Johnson met the devil at a crossroads near Dockery Plantation in Mississippi, and sold his soul in order to obtain his world-class guitar skills. Adding to the musician’s mystique are the mysterious circumstances of his demise and unknown place of burial.
Cass Elliot and a ham sandwich
Cass Elliot was a member of the hit 1960s folk/pop band The Mamas and the Papas. While she was very far from skinny, the cruel rumor that she died (at age 32) by choking on a ham sandwich was the misleading result of a police report that mentioned a half-eaten sandwich having been found in the room where she died. When an autopsy was performed, a heart attack was ruled to be the official cause of death.
Paul McCartney is dead
This is one of the most famous musical urban myths out there, keeping legions of Beatles’ fans and conspiracy theorists occupied for decades. Where did the idea that Paul McCartney died in 1967 and was replaced by a lookalike come from? The source of the theory in unknown, but hit the air in 1969, two years after McCartney supposedly died in a car accident.
Theorists began finding “clues” to the truth in songs and band iconography. The most debated examples are the message “I buried Paul” that can be heard when playing the track “Strawberry Fields Forever” backwards, and the supposedly symbolic cover art for the Abbey Road album that features Paul dressed in a suit and without shoes, like a corpse.
On 21 October 1969, the Beatles’ press office officially denied the rumor, calling it “a load of old rubbish.” However, popular media would not abandon the idea, with sources as far reaching as the Batman comics mentioning the rumor in a 1970 comic book issue.