They Wanted to Be Alone

Being a true recluse isn’t easy in the modern age. Between paparazzi, TV cameras and the rich rewards offered for simple public appearances, most celebrities find it hard to stay out of the public eye. Here are a few famous people who have turned the trick.

Billionaire Howard Hughes

The strange ways of HOWARD HUGHES were so famous that a James Bond villain was patterned after him. In the 1971 film Diamonds are Forever, evil billionaire Willard Whyte lives a secretive life atop his Whyte House hotel in Las Vegas. Howard Hughes did the same thing in real life, living in isolation atop the Desert Inn on the Las Vegas strip for much of the 1960s.

Hughes was always quirky, but he wasn’t always a recluse. During the 1920s and 1930s he was quite a famous businessman and flyer, even getting a ticker tape parade down Broadway after he broke the record for an around-the-world flight in 1938. But Hughes turned downright eccentric during his Vegas years, obsessing about germs and reportedly refusing to cut his hair or fingernails. He even declined to appear in person to denounce the false Hughes “autobiography” published by Clifford Irving (although he finally spoke with reporters in a telephone conference). Howard Hughes went unseen for years and then moved to his last seculsion in the Bahamas, dying in 1976.

Author J.D. Salinger

Author J.D. SALINGER dropped from public view in 1965 after his short story “Hapworth 16, 1924” appeared in The New Yorker. Salinger was a highly-regarded author of the day, thanks mainly to his hit novel The Catcher in the Rye. After 1965, Salinger’s whereabouts were never a secret — he lived in a remote compound near Cornish, New Hampshire — but his total withdrawal from public life became legendary. He refused requests for interviews and was hostile to fans who sought him out. (Rumors of his death persisted for years, until his actual death in 2010.) Salinger was sometimes reported to be still writing at his New Hampshire home, but he published no new works between 1965 and his death.

Actress Greta Garbo

GRETA GARBO‘s fans don’t consider her a true recluse: after all, the once-famous beauty was known to venture out for rare strolls in her Manhattan neighborhood. But Garbo’s sudden retirement from film at age 36, and her total disappearance from public life — refusing all appearances and comment — made it easy to see her as a romantic recluse hiding herself among New York’s teeming millions. Her famous line from the 1932 film Grand Hotel — “I want to be alone” — turned out to be prescient. Garbo never did return to public life, dying in 1990 after nearly 50 years of solitary retirement.

Author Thomas Pynchon

Unlike J.D. Salinger, THOMAS PYNCHON has managed to keep his precise whereabouts a secret. Because Pynchon is known to be married to literary agent Melanie Jackson, and he is presumed to live in New York City. In 1996, New York magazine published a story reporting that Pynchon lived a quiet and normal life in Manhattan; the journalist, Nancy Jo Sales, later told CNN that “he shops at neighborhood stores, he lunches with other writers.” And in 1998 a photographer from the Sunday Times of Johannesburg snapped a photo of a man purported to be Pynchon picking up his child at a Manhattan school. But the author of the books V and Gravity’s Rainbow rejects book tours, interviews and fan requests of all kinds. He continues to publish novels at rare intervals; his last was Against the Day in 2006.

‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski

The 18-year-long bombing spree of the unknown man called the Unabomber came to an end with the arrest of anti-technology hermit TED KACZYNSKI in 1986. He had been living in a 10 x 12 foot shack in the woods of Montana since 1971, keeping to himself and “living off the land,” allegedly inspired by the writings of Thoreau. In 1978, Kaczynski began sending homemade bombs to universities and airlines, often targeting individuals he considered representatives of modern technology. Over the years his bombs — handmade without the use of a machine shop — became more dangerous and deadly. After much legal wrangling over whether or not he was insane, Kaczynski pled guilty to his crimes in 1988 and was sentenced to life in prison.

From Reclusive to Just Plain Gone

Enough with recluses. Now it’s time for some people who just disappeared entirely.

See a few famous DISAPPEARING ACTS >>

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