When it comes to the wild, shocking, and eccentric way that rock stars live, it seems that for many of them, the most remarkable moments are those that happen onstage. Whether it’s some strange deviant act, a serious crime, or causing bodily harm, there are some things that only musicians can get away with in the name of “art.”
Is it art, though, when Ozzy Osbourne eats a bat’s head? Or when Iggy Pop vomits onstage? While some stage stunts are most definitely on purpose, like the ones just mentioned, some wild situations weren’t intentional at all, like heart attacks and injuries. From diving off speakers to throwing chickens into the crowd to embarrassing meltdowns on stage, these are the wildest moments on stage.
The Who has several “firsts” that they can claim. They made the first bass solo in a major rock single; they were the first band to be called “the loudest in the world,” and, most important, they were the first band to regularly smash their equipment onstage. The band was known for their wild antics on the stage, but the explosive incident of 1967 stands out.
While the band had already planned on smashing their instruments, nobody knew that Keith Moon loaded ten times the “normal” amount of cherry bombs into his bass drum. So, when the explosion hit, it was big – so big that Pete Townshend, who stood right next to the drum, permanently lost his hearing in one ear.
Smashing equipment and causing deafness for band members is only part of The Who’s onstage experience package. In November 1973, the band was riding the success wave after their rock opera masterpiece, Quadrophenia. However, their tour for the album proved to be disastrous from the get-go.
The lowest point came on the tour’s opening night when, before going on stage, Keith Moon took PCP to calm his nerves. Midway through the track Won’t Get Fooled Again, Moon literally slumped over the drums and passed out. But, of course, the show must go on. Townshend asked the crowd: “Can anybody play the drums?” That’s when 19-year-old Scot Halpin took to the stage and played drums with the band for the rest of the show.
Jackie Wilson, also known as “Mr. Excitement,” was famous for his feverish live performances in the 1950s and ‘60s. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer, who sang To Be Loved and the 1967 classic Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher, gave his all during his performances – with splits, jumps, and vocal acrobatics.
And on one fateful day, that meant giving his life. On September 29, 1975, as he performed Lonely Teardrops at a New Jersey nightclub, Wilson collapsed. He suffered a heart attack, went into a coma, and never recovered. He died at the age of 49, after spending eight years in a coma.
Unfortunately for Ashlee Simpson, she suffered a brutal moment of lip-syncing panic when she performed on Saturday Night Live back in 2004. It was so bad that it essentially ruined her career. She was booked to perform two songs on the show. The first one, a rendition of her single Pieces of Me, went smoothly.
But when the pop star returned to the stage to run play the title track of her debut album, Autobiography, things went absolutely terribly. Just as her backing band began playing, the vocals for the first track started to play, and Simpson was like a deer caught in headlights. Her lip-syncing plot had failed. In a panic, Simpson looked at her band with the microphone by her side as the vocals were playing on the speakers.
She burst into an awkward jig and made her way off the stage. The producers then cut the performance and went to a commercial. At the end of the show, next to host Jude Law, Simpson blamed her band: “I feel so bad,” she said to the camera. “My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn’t know what to do, so I thought I’d do a hoedown. I’m sorry. It’s live TV. Things happen. I’m sorry.”
In the days that followed, Simpson claimed that she had lost her voice due to acid reflux, and she was under doctors’ orders to use a backup track. Later, though, she confessed on her website that she was lip-syncing: “I’ll hold my head high and say I think it was silly of me to do it, silly of me to blame the band, I was just so f***ing embarrassed.”
This is one of the more famous onstage stunts, but it wouldn’t be proper not to include the one and only Jimi Hendrix and his notorious guitar-lighting performance. Hendrix wasn’t satisfied being one of the most innovative musicians to play the guitar; he had to literally destroy the instrument.
According to manager Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s guitar-lighting started during a European tour in early 1967. Hendrix accidentally cracked his guitar when climbing back onto the stage and decided to pull a Pete Townshend and just smash the thing. It then became a repeat stunt, depending on his mood.
In March that year, the Jimi Hendrix Experience joined a British tour, and they thought of an entirely new way to get attention. And it had everything to do with a new song they were playing at their shows: Fire. On March 31, at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria, rock writer Keith Altham suggested to Hendrix and Chandler that it would be cool if the guitarist played Fire and then actually played with fire.
A roadie was sent out to buy lighter fluid, and a plan was concocted. After their opening set of Fire, Hendrix put down his guitar next to the amplifiers and went back to the front of the stage. While Hendrix distracted the crowd, Chandler doused the Stratocaster with lighter fluid.
Hendrix then grabbed the guitar, knelt down, and set it ablaze after a few burnt matches. Thanks to the sizeable amount of fluid, the flames soared four feet high, burning Hendrix’s hands as well as the emcee’s, who rushed over to extinguish the fire. Hendrix continued performing on another guitar, but he was later treated at a hospital for his injuries.
Apparently, the headlining band Walker Brothers wasn’t happy about Hendrix stealing their thunder and reportedly treated Hendrix and the band poorly for the rest of the tour. For the rest of that tour, Hendrix didn’t set any more guitars on fire, although he did the gasp-inducing stunt during his legendary performance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival a few months later.
In 2004, Bowie was putting on a show at the Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo when he suddenly got a lollipop to his eye. Someone had thrown it from the crowd, with the stick hitting the musician in the eye, lodging itself in between his eyeball and eye socket (sorry if that made you cringe).
Bowie swore at the unknown offender, lost in a crowd of 7,500 people. He shouted out that he only had one good eye, as the other was damaged in a childhood fight (the source of his uniquely colored eyes). “Lucky you hit the bad one,” Bowie announced, demanding to know who threw the candy stick. Obviously, no one came forward. Whoever you are, lollipop thrower, it’s safe to come out now.
There was another eyebrow-raising onstage moment on Saturday Night Live, and this time it was Sinead O’Connor who pulled the stunt. The singer, furious about the child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, decided to use her SNL appearance in 1992 to make her point… with fire.
She didn’t tell producers in advance that she was going to tear up a photo of the Pope after a performance of Bob Marley’s War. This stunt came long before the public was ever aware of the Catholic Church’s role in the covering up of child abuse. O’Connor’s act ignited a firestorm. To this day, the musician says she has no regrets, although it resulted in a near-deadly blow to her career.
In 1983, during the band’s early days, The Red Hot Chili Peppers became so popular with their “socks on c**ks” routine. It’s exactly as it sounds: They would go out on stage and perform music wearing nothing but socks over their you-know-whats.
The band members repeated this routine on numerous occasions over the years. Playing live in their birthday suits was something they were very comfortable doing, despite the results. There was one incident when guitarist Flea got arrested for obscenity. Thanks to the socks, though, no private parts were injured in the making of these performances.
At the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, Creed frontman Scott Stapp got intoxicated before a performance but went on to play anyway. He reportedly couldn’t remember the words to his own songs, and he was slurring his lyrics.
He continued to stammer around on stage, and before long, he passed out in the middle of the stage. The band continued to play without Scott on the mic. Stapp soon woke up and made another attempt to sing along, but they were quickly booed off the stage. The result: getting sued over damages.
The Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer was already a legend, but a 2015 incident during a concert in Sweden sent the musician to new fame and respect levels. Grohl fell off the stage and calmly told his audience that he had just broken his leg.
He was then attended to backstage as the rest of the band played covers. A short while later, Grohl reappeared and announced to the crowd: “I may not be able to walk or run, but I can still play guitar and scream.” He finished the set, sitting down on a throne made of guitars.
According to Geezer Butler, back in Black Sabbath’s good ole’ days, the band liked to consume their favorite substances before hitting the stage. One time, guitarist Tony Iommi wanted to show off his musical skills during a show by picking up a flute and trying to play it.
, the thing is that the flute was kinda a bit too far from his mouth, and all he was really doing was blowing into the microphone. The rest of the band found it hilarious to watch their buddy, in a trance, think he was doing an epic flute solo. Ozzy Osbourne decided to grab a mirror and place it in front of Iommi to show him how silly he looked.
Back in 1969, Alice Cooper played at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Festival. During the concert, something very, very strange occurred that ultimately gave the band some publicity. As the story goes, a fan in the audience tossed a live chicken onto the stage during their set.
Cooper, in the moment, though it was some other kind of a bird, threw it upwards, figuring it would be able to fly. Well, as chickens don’t fly, this poor thing went down into the audience and suffered an awful end to his existence. According to bassist Dennis Dunaway, as he wrote in his biography, the story’s rendition isn’t exactly true, although it had the same ending.
Dunaway admitted that the band had two pet chickens, Larry and Pecker, which they used for some “minor on-stage gags.” At one point, during a crazy stunt, guitarist Michael Bruce fell down while using a fire extinguisher. Cooper was holding Pecker, and, confused, he tossed the chicken skyward only for it to fall into the audience and meet its demise.
In addition, the festival promoters rushed Gene Vincent onto the stage, and they were supposed to play the gig with chicken parts splattered all around. Alice Cooper has many insane, onstage antics under his belt, including pierced baby dolls on swords and walking around with a boa constrictor around his shoulders.
In 2012, during an Auckland, New Zealand show, one of Lady Gaga’s male backup dancers accidentally smacked her in the head with a metal prop piece. Ouch. She quickly left the stage to assess the damage but soon returned.
She told the audience, “I want to apologize, I did hit my head, and I think I may have a concussion. But don’t you worry, I will finish this show.” The undefeatable pop star went on to perform 16 more songs. The accident videos showed her staggering and rubbing her head, and continuing to sing as she went backstage.
Sometimes, technology and pop stars don’t mix. Enrique Iglesias knows this from personal experience. In 2015, during a concert in Tijuana, Mexico, he reached out to grab a camera drone to film the audience, which is actually something he had done many times before.
But this time was regrettable as he grabbed the wrong part of the drone, and its fast-moving metal propellers cut his fingers badly. It immediately fractured his hand, but he managed to finish the show with a t-shirt wrapped around his bloody wound. He had to get reconstructive surgery and, to this day, can’t feel the affected fingers.
It was 1971, and Frank Zappa was on a European tour with his band The Mothers of Invention. Zappa experienced two incidents one week apart that left him nearly convinced that someone unknown was trying to kill him. In Montreux, Switzerland, their gig ended with an audience member firing a flare gun towards the ceiling.
The venue was a casino, and the flare gun caused the entire building to erupt in flames. As you would expect, the show ended abruptly, and people started flocking toward the exit. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. However, the band lost $50,000 worth of equipment.
Zappa wasn’t injured on that very bizarre night at the casino, but the week after, he certainly was. The band had to rent equipment to keep playing their scheduled gigs, including a show in London. It was there that Zappa was met on stage by an angry audience member.
The “fan” claimed that Zappa was “eyeing his girlfriend.” The guy then pushed Zappa off the stage onto the concrete floor. The fall was near-fatal as it caused a crushed larynx (which happened to alter his singing voice forever), multiple fractures, and head trauma. He was in a wheelchair for months afterward.
The lead singer of Tool is known for his eccentric showmanship, which make Tool’s concerts exciting. One particular show stands out, though. A fan got up on stage during the band’s performance, apparently in the hopes of hugging Maynard.
Maynard — wearing only underwear, shoes, and blue paint — used one of his moves on the guy and brought him down to the ground. Funnily enough, Maynard kept on singing as if nothing happened, safely holding the lucky/unlucky fan in his awkward embrace. Maynard eventually turned the fan onto his stomach and sat on his back for “an uncomfortably long period of time.”
Nirvana’s bassist Krist Novoselic was part of the notorious 1992 “bass toss” – a weird and noteworthy event that needs to be noted here. During the band’s Lithium performance at the MTV Music Awards, Novoselic threw his bass 25 feet up in the air.
Whether it was out of frustration with the crappy stage setup or if it was just boredom isn’t clear. But it was a stunt Novoselic had done for years, only this time the bass landed on his own head and knocked him out cold. In a 2008 article, Novoselic claimed that he faked being knocked out and that Queen’s Brian May was waiting for him backstage with a glass of champagne.
Almost all music fans have at least heard of this story, but as some of the other well-known stunts, these are must-includes. In January 1982, at a show in Iowa, a fan threw a bat onto the stage. Ozzy, apparently thinking it was a toy, grabbed it and bit its head off.
The act automatically pissed off various organizations around the country. A year before that concert, Ozzy was scheduled to give a speech at CBS Records after signing a contract with the company. At the event, an intoxicated Ozzy was given three white doves for him to release as a sign of peace. Instead, he bit one of the dove’s heads off. This time, there was no accident.
If the ‘60s weren’t strange enough, The Doors’ Jim Morrison made sure to make things even crazier. On March 1, 1969, Morrison appeared onstage visibly drunk and on something during a live show in Miami. He couldn’t remember the lyrics and sang only parts of the songs.
He was rambling and even encouraging the crowd to have sex. He then pulled down his pants and showed his privates. He stated that people came to the concert to see his Johnson rather than enjoy the music. His antics got him arrested that night, particularly for waving his thing around onstage.
Like Ozzy, Marilyn Manson is famous for his onstage pranks. According to the police, the lyrical Satanist has done some very weird sh*t onstage, including cutting himself, ironing a German fascist flag, and urinating on the crowd. And those are just a few examples.
Manson, who Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor inspired, regularly destroyed the stage he performed on as well as his bandmates and himself. In his later years, Manson seemed to increase the number of substances he consumed, which resulted in less craziness but more incoherence.
Speaking of Trent Reznor, his crazy antics should also be noted. For the younger generation, Reznor is known as the award-winning composer with Atticus Ross. However, for those of us who know his music from the ‘90s, Reznor was a different kind of beast, as the insane leader of Nine Inch Nails.
These days, their shows are relatively tame (although energetic), but back in the Broken EP days, their shows involved broken guitars, Reznor covered in mud and fighting with his bandmates, and other on-stage cathartic experiences that no parent would ever approve of.
Killer Mike is a poet, political activist, and rapper. And after a 2015 SXSW concert for Spotify, he can also add “bodyguard” and “bandmate protector” to his list. At the show, a fan-made it onto the stage and tried to attack El-P, who’s the other half of the group Run the Jewels.
Killer Mike immediately stepped in to protect his bandmate. In the process, his shoulder was badly torn. After finishing the show, doctors urged him to cancel the tour’s remaining shows. Killer Mike refused, tweeting, “Doctor, I’m not leaving the road.”
Master guitarist Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple has a fiery temperament that tends to cause trouble off stage when he argues with his bandmates and management. It got to the point that shows were delayed, and other bands were removed from festivals.
Sometimes his attitude made its way onstage, like when he attacked the cameramen, destroyed his own instruments and others’ instruments. The most infamous Blackmore meltdown occurred at a California Jam in 1974, when he destroyed several guitars and amps during one of his solos, leaving scorch marks on the stage.
It’s debatable whether or not punk rocker Iggy Pop invented the stage dive, but what he did do for a fact was roll around in glass and slash himself on stage… more than once. Iggy Pop was punk rock before the genre was even named.
Iggy did too many crazy things on stage, like provoking the audience, cutting himself with sharp objects, whipping out his privates, and generally outdoing himself night after night. Legend has it that John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Mick Jones of The Clash formed their bands after seeing Iggy crowd surfing with a jar of peanut butter, covering himself in it.
Slipknot is considered to have been the craziest band of the ‘00s, for a good reason too. The band was keen on extreme stage diving, fighting on stage, setting one another on fire, and generally throwing stuff around. But some particular episodes stand out.
For instance, Michael Crahan, a.k.a Clown, found a dead crow at the side of the road. He then put it in a jar and took it with him to every Slipknot show, displaying the bird on stage. Once it completely decomposed, Crahan opened the jar and tossed its contents onto the audience. Yuck.
During a 2010 show in Italy, guitar virtuoso Slash, the former lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, was attacked by a fan on stage. The fan came from the side of the stage and rushed towards Slash during Guns N’ Roses anthem Sweet Child O’ Mine.
The guy nearly knocked the guitarist over as a crew member tackled him. Slash was neither hurt nor agitated and continued on with the show, but he had to call for a replacement guitar. Slash’s wife Perla was furious as the concert security did nothing to stop the attack. The man wasn’t even arrested afterward. Slash tweeted his reaction: “Ah, well, it was a kick-a$$ rock show.”
This might just be the craziest stage dive in history. Boy Hits Car frontman Craig Rondell jumped from a massive 68 feet after climbing onto a stack of speakers. But the boy didn’t hit a car, thankfully. Instead, he fell “safely” into the sea of fans.
“I didn’t even plan on jumping. I wanted to get a better vantage point to view the crowd, but once I climbed up and lowered myself onto the speakers, I got a bit of vertigo cause the speakers began to shift and move. I was stuck, and the whole crowd was chanting, “JUMP. JUMP. JUMP.” Peer pressure, much?
Vedder was a stage-diver, but in 1992 he performed one of the more impressive stage dives in history. As Pearl Jam played at the Pinkpop Festival, Vedder climbed on top of a camera crane that was filming their show. He then leaped into a death-defying dive, straight into the crowd.
“Someone sent me a postcard with the picture of me jumping from that little thing, and in the picture, there is the cameraman who looks at me like he wants to f***in’ kill me, and I realize he has every right to do so.”
When Mike Patton isn’t writing music or flipping into crowds, he’s eating strange things. The Faith No More frontman has eaten shoelaces, garbage, and even microphones. He’s asked, “What’s that big fuzzy thing?” as he points to a large microphone and chomps down on it.
When the reunited Faith No More played in Hungary, Patton swallowed a two-foot shoelace from someone’s shoe that was tossed on stage. He then tried to sing with half of the shoelace down his throat. The stories about Patton’s onstage antics are the thing that legends are made of. Some things are simply too gross to recount in detail, but there are stories involving tampons, urine, feces, and everything you automatically say “yuck” to.
DJ Steve Aoki has a thing for soaring above the crowd, whether it’s in an inflatable rubber raft or a stage dive into the crowd. But a performance in Puerto Rico involving an ill-considered trampoline jump proved to be the wrong move for the DJ.
The jump off the trampoline sent him headfirst into the side of the stage. After being sent to the emergency room, he tweeted: I wanna let everyone know that I’m A-OK!” Luckily, he suffered no spinal injuries. He even posted a “blow by blow” photographic account of the incident.
Remember Bjork? She was the strange but intriguing artist that was really big in the ‘90s. Well, the artist from Iceland can really pack a punch. She wasn’t afraid to show her bravery at multiple performances. The Icelander played a show in Shanghai and decided to dedicate the song Declare Independence to the Free Tibet movement.
During another show in Tokyo, she dedicated the song to the Kosovo freedom movement. She isn’t the typical wild child, but Bjork pulled it off. Unlike Sinead O’Connor, Bjork’s career wasn’t really ruined due to these acts.
Blind Melon was an underrated rock group in the ‘90s that happened to be very popular among the hippie crowd. Not so much in the mainstream. During a performance in 1993, frontman Shannon Hoon was beyond drunk when he came on the stage to sing.
He wasn’t singing the right words, and things went from not good to really awful fast. After a song, he started to pull down his pants and urinate on the crowd in front of tens of thousands of people. Of course, he was arrested. But he then continued on with the band’s tour.
There’s a reason why GG Allin is at the bottom of the list, and it’s because the stuff he does on stage is too gory for most eyes. GG Allin was a highlight of the politically charged New York punk scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
His live shows included self-mutilation, attacking fans, and even defecating on the stage. While some people loved his bizarre and violent shows, others (most) frowned upon them. He eventually passed away from an overdose in 1993 at the age of 36.