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Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel: Artists At The End Of The Road

Track 70 | Musicians who can no longer perform.

Photo by Ross Halfin.

“So I went to the doctor, see what he could give me
He said, ‘Son, son, you’ve gone too far.’ ”
— Black Sabbath, Fairies Wear Boots

It was a little heartbreaking to read Ozzy Osbourne‘s explanation and apology to fans recently about why he was cancelling his upcoming European tour and would never tour again. The 74-year-old singer/songwriter, already diagnosed with Parkinsons, was in a bad crash four years ago and he’s never recovered enough to perform live — even after several procedures. Last year he had spinal surgery which successfully prevented paralysis, but he’s finally come around to the fact that he’ll never be able to tour again.

“Never would I have imagined that my touring days would have ended this way,” he announced on social media. “My team is currently coming up with ideas for where I will be able to perform without having to travel from city to city and country to country.” So, it’s not all bad news. He will perform again, just not on tour. Most importantly though, despite the devastating prognosis, his instrument — his distinctive voice — still works like a charm.

Many others have not been so lucky. Linda Ronstandt retired from singing in 2011, but had been scaling it back steadily since 2000 when she first noticed her voice deteriorating. Her last studio album came out in 2004 and she stopped performing altogether in 2009. After the announcement of her retirement, she revealed that she could no longer sing due to progressive supranuclear palsy — a degenerative condition for which there is no cure. On a happier note, her music got a boost recently when her song Long Long Time was used in the HBO series The Last Of Us.

Genesis drummer, frontman and solo artist Phil Collins can’t play drums anymore, and requires a chair to sing onstage — as seen during last year’s Last Domino? tour. The March 26, 2022 show at the O2 Arena was announced as the band’s last. Collins has two problems: Nerve damage in his hands which makes it impossible to play drums, but and vertebrae issues in his neck.

Prefab Sprout lead singer Paddy McAloon initially suffered from detached retinas which prevented the band from playing live from 1999 onward. His health problems worsened not long afterward when he was diagnosed with the incurable Meniere’s disease, a hearing condition which causes vertigo. All the loud noise at concerts makes live performance simply out of the question. The band has managed to record three albums since then, the most recent being in 2014.

Who really knows what’s going on with Tom Waits? He hasn’t done anything since appearing in Licorice Pizza and hasn’t performed since he was on The Late Show With David Letterman during Dave’s final week in 2015. Waits’ last album was Bad As Me and came out in 2011. There’s been no announcement, and he’s clearly still working, but Waits is a devoted family man and fiercely private. It may just be that some things are more important than music.

Country singer Randy Travis had a massive stroke in 2013 three days after being hospitalized for a critical viral upper respiratory virus. Surgery was done to relieve pressure in his brain. He went into physical therapy and needed a cane to walk for about a year. He gradually was able to begin relearning guitar and handwriting, though he also suffered from aphasia which makes it difficult to speak or comprehend things. He attempted, after rehabilitation, to perform at his Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony and it did not go as well as hoped. He announced in 2017 that his singing ability was severely impacted and that he had limited speech and a disabled right hand.

Viewers of the 2022 Oscars who didn’t bury their faces in their phones after the Will Smith slap may have been paying attention when Liza Minnelli was shown in a wheelchair with Lady Gaga to present an award. Minnelli seemed confused and had trouble speaking, but was assisted gracefully by Gaga. An Oscar winner herself for 1972’s Cabaret, Minnelli was diagnosed with viral encephalitis more than 20 years ago, which can cause balance issues and aphasia. She also did not want to be in a wheelchair and had asked for a director’s chair. Now 77, MInnelli still performs, but not very often due to her condition. She also did quite a lot of harm to herself as a legendary alcoholic and drug addict for decades. She was first given Valium to cope with the death of her mother, Judy Garland.

Legendary vocalist Roberta Flack was rushed to hospital in the middle of a performance at the Apollo in April 2018. She had already suffered a stroke previous to this. In November last year it was announced Flack had been diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) and had retired from performing. Her debut album, First Take, is simply stunning.

Last year Neil Diamond appeared at the opening-night performance of A Beautiful Noise, the musical based on his life. Diamond retired in 2020 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2018. At that time, he made the decision not to tour anymore but to continue to write and record.

Meantime, who knows what lies in store for Canada’s superstar diva Celine Dion. A year ago she issued a statement on her website and socials that the North American dates on her spring tour were cancelled due to severe muscle spasms. By December, Dion announced she had been diagnosed with the rare neurological ailment Stiff Person Syndrome. She then cancelled all future tour dates.

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.