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  • Stephen James Napier Tennant (1906 - 1987)
    Stephen James Napier Tennant (21 April 1906 - 28 February 1987) was a British aristocrat known for his decadent lifestyle. It is said, albeit apocryphally, that he spent most of his life in bed. He w...
  • Émilie Barthe (1849 - 1930)
    Notes Location info: Lived in Arthabaska , Montréal , Ottawa. A habité Paris dans sa jeunesse, Détroit de 1874-75, Arthabaska, et Montréal Wilfred Laurier and Émilie Barthe had an "ambiguous re...
  • Jeanne Le Ber (1662 - 1714)
    Jeanne Le Ber (4 January 1662 - 3 October 1714), daughter of Jacques Le Ber and Jeanne Le Moyne , was a religious recluse in New France (Quebec, Canada). Jeanne was raised in a weatlthy and influenti...
  • Jean Arthur (1900 - 1991)
    Jean Arthur (October 17, 1900 – June 19, 1991) was an American actress and a major film star of the 1930s and 1940s. Arthur is best remembered for her feature roles in three Frank Capra films: Mr...
  • Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)
    Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust , known as Marcel Proust , was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu ( In Search of Lost Time ;...

Famous Recluses

This is a project connected to the '"Famous Eccentrics Project devoted to people of note who live in squalor; people who were hoarders.

A recluse is a person who lives in voluntary seclusion from the public and society. The word is from the Latin recludere, which means "shut up" or "sequester." Historically, the word referred to a hermit's total isolation from the world.

A person who withdraws from the world to live in seclusion apart from society and often in solitude.

NOTE: The following list has been compiled from references on line about reclusive people. If you think that there are others that should be included please add them. If you think that someone is included here who shouldn't be please contact one of the collaborators!

Émilie Barthe

Described in 1903 as the most brilliant society woman in French Canada, she was a mondaine fitting for an exceptional period of Canadian history. After moving in Arthabaskaville in 1877, Émilie lost no time in winning over the leading citizens of the place who, besides visiting celebrities such as Louis Fréchette and Hector Fabre, included lawyers, politicians, and artists, some of whom, like Wilfred Laurier and Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, were to become famous.

Until 1897, with her husband, Joseph Lavergne, their home was the social hub of Arthabaskaville, where people gathered to enjoy fine cuisine and discuss Liberal politics, literature, and history, often to the accompaniment of music and singing. Émilie was an outstanding hostess.

Even more juicy was probably her long lasting affair with Wilfred Laurier who became the 7th Canadian Prime Minister in 1896. Armand Lavergne is widely believed to be their illegitimate child.

After the affair had to stop for public relations reasons and the death of her only dauther, Émilie spiraled into a deep depression and reclused herself with the Grey Nuns of Montréal where she spent the rest of her life.

Syd Barrett

Famous for founding Pink Floyd with Roger Waters and writing much of the band’s early material

Just before Pink Floyd reached international stardom, Barrett suffered a breakdown related to his extensive use of psychedelics, particularly LSD. He left the band and retreated to Cambridge in England, granting no interviews since the 1970s and living off the royalties from Pink Floyd. He died from cancer in 2006.

Emily Bronte

Author of the literary classic "Wuthering Heights." A private and shy woman, she lived in a fantasy world and had little contact with the outside world, other than to listen in on the gossip of others. Her mother and two eldest sisters passed away when she was a child, but she grew up with two other sisters and a brother. Bronte died on December 19, 1948.

David Bowie

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 1,800 poems, but fewer than a dozen were published while she was alive. She spent the last two decades of her life never leaving the family property, and was known for refusing visitors and shouting to people out of windows. It is speculated that she may have suffered from social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia. Although she lived a solitary life, she corresponded with numerous literary figures, and was believed to have had an affair (by correspondence only) with Judge Otis P. Lord of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Dickinson died May 15, 1886, at the age of 55 of Bright's disease.

Emily Eliza Donnithorne

Eliza Emily Donnithorne showed an unusual defiance for young ladies of her age by spurning all the men to whom her domineering father attempted to marry her, insisting she would only marry for love. She did fall in love, with a shipping company clerk, George Cuthbertson, and accepted his proposal. The wedding was to be at the Donnithorne family home, Camperdown Lodge, in the Sydney, Australia hamlet of Newton.

On the wedding day George failed to appear and her father announced that the wedding was postponed. Eliza descended the stairs in her wedding dress, and saw guests picking at the wedding feast. She screamed at them to leave the feast alone so that it would be perfect when the groom arrived, fainted and was carried to her room. She demanded that the wedding finery be left untouched; her father, fearing for her mental health, acquiesced and the doors to the dining room were locked, leaving the wedding feast to the cockroaches and mice.

Eliza never again left Camperdown Lodge. When she was 26, her father died, and she ordered all the windows to be closed with drapes drawn and shutters nailed shut, dismissed all but two servants (Sarah and Elizabeth Bailey) and abandoned most of the interior to fall to decay in total darkness while she waited patiently for George to return. Discharged servants remembered Eliza wandering the house clad in her wedding dress and allowing the wedding feast to rot on the table. Visiting ministers, who were the few people that the deeply religious Eliza would allow in, described furniture that fell apart at the touch, and swathes of dust and decay.

She is buried at Camperdown Cemetery -

Bobby Fischer

Considered by many to be the best chess player of all time, Fischer was was the youngest Grandmaster ever at age 15

Fischer shunned intense public interest in him, refusing to defend his title of World Chess Champion three years after it was awarded to him in 1972. In 1992, defying orders from the United States to honour a trade embargo against the former Yugoslavia, Fischer played Boris Spassky, the man he defeated to win the world championship, in Belgrade. The U.S. revoked his passport, and he was granted citizenship in Iceland, where he’d won the World Chess Championship as a young man. He spent the rest of his days there, scruffy and embittered, popping up to spout the occasional anti-American, anti-Semitic diatribe. After his death, the distribution of his estate was hotly contested when a woman with whom he’d had an affair as a younger man claimed that he had fathered her daughter and sought an inheritance for her.

Greta Garbo

Famous for captivating audiences as the star of MGM silents films and early talkies, such as Anna Karenina and Grand Hotel

Although she was regarded as one of the great beauties of the early silver screen, Garbo retired from acting at the age of 36, never to return to public life. She never married, and she spent much of her life “being chronically irritated and bored,” according to a recent biography of her. In 1947, a 70-year-old solitarian from Michigan gave Garbo the ultimate recluse props by leaving his entire estate to her upon his death.

Glenn Gould

Noted Canadian pianist who began composing music at the young age of five. Although described by some as a hermit and recluse, others argued that Gould lived a solitary existence but shared himself with others through his compositions. Friends described him as warm and charming. Gould died of a stroke in Toronto, Canada on October 4, 1982.

Cornelius Gurlitt

German recluse at the centre of a high-profile case involving artworks suspected to be Nazi loot has gone on the offensive, launching a legal bid for the return of the masterpieces.

Leona Helmsley

Real estate billionaire, despotic manager, and utterer of the infamous phrase “Only the little people pay taxes,” began retreating from high society after serving a prison term for tax evasion and secluded herself when her husband died in 1997. Mrs. Helmsley spent her final years with her Maltese, Trouble, who inherited $12 million upon her death in 2007.

Howard Hughes

Aviation mogul, broke land-speed records in planes of his own design, revolutionised Hollywood, collected his urine in bottles, acute OCD, dictated lengthy memos to his staff regarding the number of tissues to use when turning doorknobs.

After a career as a highly visible inventor and wooer of some of Hollywood’s most glamorous women, Hughes began to fade from public life in the 1950s. A fear of germs and deep paranoia about having his power usurped led Hughes to spend the last decades of his life in near total isolation. He was so successful in removing himself from the outside world that, before his death in 1976, the IRS considered declaring him legally dead in order to collect taxes on his massive estate. When news of his passing reached Washington, IRS officials were dispatched to take fingerprints from his corpse to prove it was really the elusive Howard Hughes in the casket.

Michael Jackson

Famous for the Moonwalk, Thriller, that glove and so many other things we miss

Once the world’s most beloved superstar, Jackson shrank from the public eye after he was acquitted in 2005 of child molestation. The last years of his life found “Jacko,” as the tabloids called him, scrutinised for his plastic surgery, parenting choices, spending habits and relationship with children. His seclusion in his Neverland Ranch, complete with carnival rides and a zoo, only added to the mystery and suspicion surrounding the star, who died at 50 last year on the eve of a comeback tour.

Stanley Kubrick

Directed classics such as A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kubrick felt strongly that there was no need to explain his films or to add anything to them through interviews, and therefore granted few. He did most of his work from his home in England and rarely traveled due to a fear of flying. He was also rarely photographed, so that even at the height of his career, many fans didn’t know what he looked like. This allowed Alan Conway, a con man, to go around the UK impersonating Kubrick for quite some time, gaining entrance into parties and nightclubs. The story is the subject of 2007’s Color Me Kubrick, starring John Malkovich. The authentic Kubrick died in 1999.

Jeanne Le Ber

Jeanne Le Ber (4 January 1662 - 3 October 1714), daughter of Jacques Le Ber and Jeanne Le Moyne, was a religious recluse in New France (Quebec, Canada). Jeanne was raised in a weatlthy and influential family. As a child, Jeanne was a frequent visitor with her godmother, Jeanne Mance at the Hotel-Dieu in Montreal. She also had a friendship with Marguerite Bourgeoys, foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

She was interested in a religious vocation at an early age and spent three years, 1674 to 1677 as a border with the Ursulines in Quebec where her aunt, Marie Le Ber de l'Annonciation, taught. Jeanne performed many acts of self denial while with the Ursulines.

At 15, Jeanne returned to her family in Montreal. As the only daughter of her wealthy family (she had three younger brothers), Jeanne's dowry was approximately 50,000 ecus. She was therefore considered the most eligible girl of New France.

In 1679 Jeanne entered seclusion for a five year period. She lived in a cell at the rear of the Hotel Dieu church and left only to attend mass. When the sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame decided to build a church on their property, Jeanne paid for a three room apartment behind the altar. Jeanne's amended vows covered seclusion, chastity and poverty but did not require her to divest herself of properties given to her by her family.

In November 1682 she refused to leave her seclusion to attend her dying mother and refused to manage the household for her widowed father. On 24 June 1685 Jeanne took a vow of perpetual seclusion, chastity and poverty. However, these vows were tempered by the fact that she retained an attendant through her years of withdrawal from the world. Her cousin Anna Barroy saw to her physical requirements and accompanied her to mass.

Her father visited her twice a year. When he died in 1706, he was buried in the church of the sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame to be near his daughter. However, Jeanne did not attend his funeral.

Jeanne was a well known person in her community and met with important visitors. Jeanne also attended to business matters, for she had not felt obliged by her vows to divest herself of property. She ceded her farm at Point Saint-Charles to the Hopital General of the Charon Brothers, Today this land is in the Jeanne Le Ber federal election district.

Jeanne became ill in September 1714. She divested herself of her remaining possessions at this time. The sisters of the Congregation received 18,000 livres and all her furniture. She died on 3 October 1714 and is buried next to her father.

The Roman Catholic Church, prior to considering cannonization of Jeanne, required proof that the remains buried are hers. They sent a forensic team to analyse the remains. As a recluse, Jeanne spent her days sewing vestments and praying. The team found that the teeth were notched as if they had regularly bitten thread. The knees were marked by arthritis, as the knees of a person who often kneeled to pray would be. Other notable features agreed with Jeanne's known age and size, establishing that the remains were hers.

Harper Lee

Wrote her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird

Although she wrote an essay for O magazine and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, Lee spent most of the time since her debut out of the spotlight. She was a childhood friend of Truman Capote and didn't give an interview in more than four decades . She never published another novel.

Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951):

Sculptor, engineer, The Heartbreak Kid; eccentric recluse

When Agnes Scuffs, his 16-year-old fiancé, broke up with him the day before their wedding, a devastated Edward traveled from Latvia to Florida and spent the next 28 YEARS creating a monument to her: Coral Castle.

He referred to her as his “Sweet Sixteen,” and hoped until the day he died that she would come and live with him again.

Terrence Malick

Silver-screen classics such as The Thin Red Line, Badlands, and Days of Heaven

Malick is famously protective of his private life. His contracts stipulate that his likeness may not be used for promotional purposes, and he routinely declines requests for interviews

Alexander Kennedy Miller (July 14, 1906 – October 23, 1993)

... also known as A. K. Miller, was an eccentric recluse who operated Miller's Flying Service in 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey, USA. Miller provided mail and other delivery services by means of an autogyro, as well as listing "Expert Automobile Repairing" and "Aeroplanes Rebuilt & Overhauled" on his business card. In his later years he was known for his eccentricities, and his collection of valuable antique cars.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

J. D. Salinger

author of “The Catcher in the Rye” and novels about the Glass family. After his last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924", appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943

Brian Wilson

Famous for his work with the Beach Boys, the iconic Pet Sounds.

After finding success with the Beach Boys, Wilson fell off the map due to problems with drugs “so much so that he lost a lot of his money, his family left him. It wasn’t until he finally cleaned up in the late 1990s that he could get back into music,” says Dr. Stephen Valdez, who teaches History of Rock and Roll at the University of Georgia.

Those who avoid Publicity

Johnny Carson

Host of NBC’s The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 1962-1992

Carson, who once told a reporter, “I’m not gregarious. I’m a loner,” dropped from the public eye after his retirement, reportedly in fear of growing old in public. Severe medical conditions, including a quadruple bypass in 1998 and his battle with emphysema, further solidified his removal from the limelight until his death in 2005.

Dave Chappelle

Famous for the riotous and short-lived sketch-comedy series The Dave Chappelle Show on Comedy Central.

In 2005, midway through filming the third season of his mega hit TV show, Chappelle flew the coop, resurfacing in Durban, South Africa, a few weeks later.

Steve Ditko

Comic book artist who co-created Spider-Man and Dr. Strange alongside Stan Lee, walked away from his greatest creations in 1966 to draw heroes based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Mr. Ditko still lives in New York, and refuses to speak to the press or invite people into his apartment, although he occasionally corresponds with friends.

Lauryn Hill

Famous for her work with the Fugees and solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Mostly Hill stayed underground, refusing to grant interviews without exorbitant compensation.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

Popular 19th-century American painter known for his landscapes and ocean scenes. He lived and worked in New York for years, but left the city in the 1880s for a family home in isolated Prout’s Neck, Me., where he resided for the last 27 years of his life. He told the press he left to work undisturbed.

John Hughes

Movies like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Buller’s Day Off and more.

He remained out of sight since the 1990s, when he quit directing and moved back to the Chicago suburbs, choosing to focus on his family life and leave Hollywood behind. Though he wrote Maid in Manhattan, which starred J.Lo, and came up with the idea for Owen Wilson’s Drillbit Taylor, Hughes did his best to maintain a separation from showbiz until his death in 2009.

David Letterman

Host of the Late Show with David Letterman

In his first monologue following Salinger’s death, Letterman declared himself “now the world’s most famous living recluse.” - perhaps his announcement is the beginning of a sure-to-be-rewarding career as a recluse that will one day find him joining the ranks of Salinger, Pynchon and Howard Hughes.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Famous for his Oscar-winning performance in 1989’s My Left Foot; more recently, his stunning turn as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood

Perhaps the thing that most suggests Day-Lewis is a recluse is that he’s widely considered to be one. A remark years ago about his “lifelong study in evasion” trails after him to this day. However, Day-Lewis simply prefers to stay at home and raise his young sons as normally as possible. “How can you be a recluse in a house full of children?” he asked in an interview with The Guardian in 2008.

Jeff Mangum

One of Paste‘s Best Living Songwriters, Mangum fronted Neutral Milk Hotel and penned indie-rock opus In the Aeroplane over the Sea

Shortly after releasing Aeroplane in the late 1990s, Mangum went off the media grid and has stayed there since, with the exception of a 2002 interview with Pitchfork. He still pops up from time to time, but, after realising that he couldn’t “just sing [his] way out of all this suffering,” Mangum effectively walked away from life as a musician and avoids his own fame as much as possible.

Thomas Pynchon

Relatively little is known about Thomas Pynchon's private life; he has carefully avoided contact with reporters for more than forty years. Only a few photos of him are known to exist, nearly all from his high school and college days, and his whereabouts have often remained undisclosed.

National Book Award-winning author of “V,” “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and 2009’s “Inherent Vice,” is almost as famous for avoiding publicity as for his dense prose. Photographs of Mr. Pynchon are so rare that almost nobody recognises him, even at home in New York.

He sent a vaudeville performer to a National Book Award ceremony in his stead. He famously said, “My belief is that ‘recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists…meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.’” He avoided the media spotlight far better than the lawsuit-loving Salinger, and he always seemed to have a little fun doing it.

Cormac McCarthy

Novels such as The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses

Moe Norman

Canadian professional golfer renowned for his ability to strike a ball accurately. He had an unconventional golfing style and was completely self-taught. It is believed that Norman may have been an autistic savant, though he would never see a doctor in order to be diagnosed. Norman was so afraid of strangers and talking in public that he once hid on a river bank rather than accept an award for winning a golf tournament. He died of congestive heart failure on September 4, 2004.

Sly Stone

Famous for fronting Sly and the Family Stone, which produced classics like “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music”

Stone’s 2006 performance at the Grammys was his first on-stage appearance in nearly 20 years. Like Howard Hughes, Stone’s disappearance from the public eye was so complete for so long that, for a while, many believed him to be dead. Legal problems, drugs and an expensive fall-out with his former manager kept Stone underground and out of the media.

Bill Watterson

Famous for creating the adventures of a boy and his tiger in Calvin and Hobbes

Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995 with a short statement to newspaper editors and his readers that he felt he had achieved all he could in the medium.

Watterson is known for his views on licensing and comic syndication and his move back into private life after drawing Calvin and Hobbes came to a closeIn what’s thought to be his first interview in over 20 years, a terse e-mail exchange with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Watterson showed little patience for the sentimentality many feel about him and his comic strip, praising fans who “are willing to give me some room to go on with my life.”

Ted Williams

One of the best and most controversial players the Red Sox ever had, arguably the greatest hitter of all time.

Williams was the sort of man who couldn’t let the prying and criticism roll off his back, and he became increasingly embattled with Boston’s sportswriters during his illustrious career, eventually spilling his ire over to the fans as well. Eventually he moved to Florida, where he enjoyed fishing and mostly kept the press at arms length, though his interview with Esquire in 1986 spawned a profile that is widely considered one of the greatest pieces of sportswriting ever written. The Hall of Famer died in 2002.

The Wachowski siblings

Famous for creating and directing The Matrix trilogy; writing and producing V for Vendetta

Although they continue to make movies the Wachowskis typically avoid interviews and generally keep to themselves.

Recluse list

  • Alexander Grothendieck [ born 1928 stateless mathematician
  • Axl Rose b. 1962 Guns N' Roses lead singer
  • Bill Watterson b. 1958 Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist
  • Brian Wilson b. 1942 leader and chief songwriter of the Beach Boys
  • Bobby Fischer b. 1943 2008 former world chess champion
  • Burkhard Heim b. 1925 2001 German theoretical physicist
  • Dalton Trevisan b. 1925 Brazilian essayist
  • Daniel Kitson b. 1977 British comedian
  • David Bowie b. 1947 singer and actor
  • Edvard Munch b. 1863 1944 Norwegian painter of The Scream
  • Emily Dickinson b. 1830 1886 American poet
  • Greta Garbo (1905-1990) movie actress
  • Grigori Perelman b.1966 Russian mathematician
  • Harper Lee b.1926 author of To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Howard Hughes (1905-1976) billionaire aviation pioneer, businessman and movie producer
  • J. D. Salinger (1919-2010) author of The Catcher in the Rye
  • João Gilberto b.1931 Brazilian singer and composer
  • Terrence Malick b.1943 American Filmmaker
  • Leo Ornstein b.1893 or 1892-2002 Noted avant-garde pianist-composer of early 20th century and centenarian
  • John Swartzwelder b.1950 writer for The Simpsons
  • Kamo no Chomei (1153 or 1155-1216) Japanese author, poet (in the waka form) and essayist
  • Marcel Proust (1871-1922) French novelist of In Search of Lost Time
  • Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) electrical pioneer and inventor
  • Phil Spector b. 1940 record producer and songwriter
  • Sly Stone b. 1943 musician, songwriter and record producer
  • Syd Barrett (1946-2006) former leader of the band Pink Floyd
  • Theodore Kaczynski b.1942 American terrorist known as the Unabomber
  • Thomas Pynchon b.1937 novelist

References and Sources

this project is in HistoryLink