A frighteningly common phenomenon is that of people who, for whatever reasons, have suddenly and without explanation simply vanished without a trace, never to be seen again. There are countless cases of this throughout history, and such accounts never fail to incite curiosity, speculation, and wonder. We are somewhat macabrely drawn to the idea that someone could just seemingly cease to exist, and the desire to have some closure and explanation can be alluring to the point of obsession, a gnawing need for answers that may never come. While many of these vanished people have become famous simply because they have disappeared so inexplicably, there are others that were well-known even before these incidents. Here we will look at famous actors, musicians, and writers who had promising futures, but who have mysteriously disappeared and left a legacy of both artistic endeavors and strange mysteries.
Hollywood has had its fair share of mysterious crimes and unsolved mysteries over the decades, and some of the most baffling have been actors who have just seemed to have stepped off the face of the earth to never be seen again, of which I have covered to some extent before. One odd and tragic case is that of the child TV and movie actor Joe Pichler, perhaps most recognizable for his film roles in the Beethoven series, The Fan, Varsity Blues, Children and their Birthdays, and When Good Ghouls Go Bad. Starting acting at 6 years old, Pichler had a bit of success in Hollywood and was making a name for himself, particularly with his role as Brennan Newton in the 3rd and 4th Beethoven movies, so it was disappointing to him when his family inevitably made him move back to his hometown of Bremerton, Washington in 2003 in order to finish high school.
After graduating in 2005, Pichler had planned to go back to Los Angeles and continue his acting career, but the plan was delayed due to his desire to wait until his braces were out, which was scheduled to take about a year. He grudgingly went about getting a normal job in the meantime, and settled into a normal life in Bremerton. On the evening of January 5, 2006, Pilcher was hanging out drinking and playing cards at a friend’s house, which was a pretty usual night for them. On this evening nothing seemed to be amiss, and Pichler would later be described as having been cheerful and in good spirits all evening. After the party Pichler drove some friends home and then headed home himself, but he would never arrive.
At around 4 AM Pichler called his friend in a bizarre call during which he would be described as delirious and crying inconsolably before hanging up. This would be the last time anyone would ever hear from him. On January 9 his abandoned car was located near a river, and it was found to hold all of his belongings except his wallet and car keys. As to where Pichler himself had gone there was no clue. His apartment was found to be unlocked and the lights had been left on, which seemed rather odd for him, but stranger still was a handwritten note by the missing man which lamented not being a strong enough brother and requested that all of his belongings be given to his younger brother. Authorities at the time believed that he had committed suicide by jumping into the river, but not only had he been looking forward to pursuing his acting career and had never been suicidal, but no body was ever found despite intensive searches of the river and surrounding areas. Joe Pilcher’s disappearance has never been solved.
Another actor who famously vanished under strange circumstances was Sean Flynn, perhaps better known for his father, legendary actor Errol Flynn. Although he started out with an acting career, he was forever in his father’s shadow and he got bored with acting, deciding to branch out into something new, going through a slew of different careers, including a safari and big game hunting guide in Africa, a game warden in Kenya, and a singer, before really finding his footing with photojournalism. He was quite good at it, working for such big publications as Time Magazine, and he was most well-known for his intense photos from war-torn areas of the world, in particular during the Vietnam War. It was perhaps this constant putting himself in harm’s way that would lead to his mysterious disappearance.
In April of 1970, Flynn was in Cambodia on assignment along with a group of other photojournalists, and he got the ill-advised idea in his head to travel by motorcycle with a colleague, Dana Stone, rather than ride in the more protected limousines like the others. Hoping to get up close photos of Viet Cong guerillas, Flynn and Stone rather recklessly made their way up Highway 1 to a known Viet Cong checkpoint alone. They were never seen again. It was not necessarily a surprise, as many other reporters had been kidnapped at around that time by the Viet Cong as well, but in this case there was no ransom ever demanded and no bodies ever found. It is believed that the two men were held captive for up to a year before being killed, but no one knows, and no sign of either one of them has ever been found, despite massive search efforts.
There have been just as many strange and famous disappearances, if not more, in the world of music. One of these cases revolves around the artist Connie Converse, now widely revered by many as being one of the first modern singer-songwriters. Converse got her start in the 1950s, and was known for her acoustic guitar skills and her haunting, melancholic ballads, which she crafted from her humble apartment in Greenwich Village at a time when future musical legends such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell were still little kids. She gained quite a bit of respect from her contemporaries for her poetic, intimate style, and subject matter of loneliness and love and loss, which was rare in an era when traditional folk music, upbeat jaunts, and political ballads were the order of the day.
Sadly, although she was beloved amongst other artists of the time her career never really took off, and she remained obscure, finally quitting music altogether in 1961 without ever having had a hit. By 1974, Converse had dropped off the musical radar, and had spiraled into depression and alcoholism, made worse by the fact that her health was ailing her and she had been told she needed a hysterectomy. Then, in the summer of that year, she sent a series of letters to her family and friends, informing them that she was done lamenting her life and failures, and that she was going to go off and start fresh. She then packed up all of her things, hopped into her car, and drove off the face of the earth. Connie Converse has not been seen since, nor has any clue as to what happened to her ever been found, with even her Volkswagen Beetle remaining missing. Her mysterious vanishing has spawned a variety of theories, such as that she committed suicide or that she really did drop completely off the grid and start her life completely anew, but no one knows.
Interestingly, Converse would enjoy the fame, success and recognition she had so craved only after she dropped off the face of the earth. In 2009 some of her obscure songs that she had recorded in 1954 in the kitchen of her friend Gene Deitch were released on the record label Squirrel Thing Recordings, as an album entitled How Sad, How Lovely. People took notice, with many wondering who this lovely new artist was with the haunting voice and eerily beautiful songs, and very few were aware that she had long been a washed up musician who disappeared into thin air. She is now widely considered to be a musical legend and pioneer, one of the first modern singer-songwriters, and the record producer who started it all, David Herman, has said of Converse:
The music, considering when it was recorded, sounds eerily contemporary. Her voice is really compelling. Add to that the fact this was a woman writing singer-songwriter-style music in the mid-50s, before being a singer-songwriter was a thing, and before a female songwriter was something people were used to. And with the mystery of the disappearance, the whole thing leaves you with more questions than answers.
Connie Converse wasn’t the only well-known musician to mysteriously disappear in the 1970s, and it perhaps isn’t even the strangest case. In the 1960s, folk rocker Jim Sullivan burst onto the scene in Los Angeles, where he worked the club scene playing to sold out crowds, especially at the prestigious club Raft, in Malibu. Before long Sullivan was palling around with big shots in the industry, as well as Hollywood stars including Lee Majors, Lee Marvin, and Harry Dean Stanton, and he even had a small role in the cult classic film Easy Rider.
It seemed he was destined for greatness, and in 1969 he was able to scrape together the funding for his seminal album U.F.O., which had the talent and backing of the sessions musicians The Wrecking Crew, who’d played with acts like the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel on some of their biggest hits. Despite this talent on board, the record couldn’t find a major label, and so was released on the small label called Monnie Records, which had been cobbled together by Sullivan’s friend Al Dobbs for the purpose of getting it released. At the time the album released to little fanfare, and his second album, the self-titled Jim Sullivan, didn’t fare much better, and they were both considered to be flops, although U.F.O. would acquire cult status in later years.
Nevertheless, at the time he had bombed, and as with Connie Converse, Sullivan sunk into a thick depression and faced the demon of alcoholism. His marriage began to fall apart and he became increasingly paranoid that his music was being copied and stolen by other artists. On March 4, 1975, Sullivan packed up his stuff into his car, a Volkswagen Beetle strangely enough, and headed out on the road towards Nashville, Tennessee, where he hoped to revitalize his lagging music career. At some point during his adventurous journey he checked into the La Mesa Motel, in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and the following day he was allegedly spotted wandering around at a ranch about 26 miles away. This would be the last anyone saw of him, and his car would be found at the same ranch, locked, abandoned, and containing his wallet, money, guitar, clothes, and a box of his unsold records. Jim Sullivan himself was nowhere to be found, and hasn’t been since, despite intense searches and investigation. In later years it has been speculated that Sullivan was murdered, that he got lost in the desert and died, or even that he was abducted by aliens, but no one really has any idea.
In later years we have the strange disappearance of the British rock icon Richey Edwards, best known as being the guitarist and lyricist for the alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers. Edwards was known almost as much for his offstage antics and publicity stunts as he was for his music, with his most infamous being a time when he carved the words “4 REAL” into his arm with a razor when a journalist accused him of being a poser. Brooding, moody, and wild, Edwards was once deemed “a lightning rod of sorts for adolescent angst,” but his legacy would get even stranger still wish his vanishing.
On February 1, 1995, Edwards was getting ready to travel to the United States as part of a tour, along with Manic Street Preachers vocalist James Dean Bradfield. However, he would never get on the plane, and Edwards vanished from his hotel room, with his abandoned car later found on February 14 next to the Severn Bridge, which connects England and Wales. In the meantime, his hotel room was found to contain his suitcase, most of his belongings, and strangely a box wrapped up and decorated like a birthday present, which was inexplicably filled with books, videos, and a copy of the play Equus, all tied up and adorned with a note addressed to a “Jo” that simply said “I love you.”
During the investigation into the odd disappearance some other strange clues would come forward as well. It was found that Edwards has steadily withdrawn cash from his bank account in the days before his vanishing, although it is unknown if this was merely for his scheduled trip or not. There was also a witness who claimed to have seen Edwards hanging around the Newport passport office and at Newport bus station in the time frame between when he left the hotel and when his abandoned car was found, although he did not realize the famous musician was technically missing at the time. A taxi driver also claimed to have driven Edwards around after his disappearance, saying that his mysterious passenger had been asked to be taken to Pontypool railway station and had gotten out at the Severn View service station. Strangest of all is the claim that on the night before his vanishing Edwards gave his friend a book called Novel with Cocaine, which tells of a man who goes to a mental asylum and vanishes, and told her to read it.
The official police consensus was that the musician had committed suicide by jumping from the Severn Bridge, a popular suicide spot, but his body was never found, and despite his flamboyant and shocking ways there was little to show that he was actually suicidal in any way. Indeed, he had actively derided suicide in the past. In more recent years Edwards has been sporadically spotted in places around the world like some sort of cryptid. He has allegedly been seen is such places as Goa, India, and on the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, among others. It is unclear what any of these clues mean, if anything, and the disappearance of Richey Edwards remains an impenetrable mystery.
We have looked at some odd disappearances in the worlds of movies and music, and now we come to the literary world, which has a few of its own, and one of the most famous of which I have covered before. One of the most colorful players in literature has to be Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, an American attorney, politician, novelist and outspoken activist in the Chicano Movement. Although Acosta wrote several novels of his own, he is perhaps most famous for being friends with the more successful author Hunter S. Thompson and the inspiration for the character Doctor Gonzo, in his 1972 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. By all accounts Fierro was a larger than life character indeed, with a prodigious appetite for drugs, booze, sex, fighting, and all manner of debauchery. Thompson would once say of Fierro in a 1977 article in Rolling Stone magazine:
Oscar was not into serious street-fighting, but he was hell on wheels in a bar brawl. Any combination of a 250 lb Mexican and LSD-25 is a potentially terminal menace for anything it can reach – but when the alleged Mexican is in fact a profoundly angry Chicano lawyer with no fear at all of anything that walks on less than three legs and a de facto suicidal conviction that he will die at the age of 33 – just like Jesus Christ – you have a serious piece of work on your hands. Especially if the bastard is already 33½ years old with a head full of Sandoz acid, a loaded .357 Magnum in his belt, a hatchet-wielding Chicano bodyguard on his elbow at all times, and a disconcerting habit of projectile vomiting geysers of pure blood off the front porch every 30 or 40 minutes, or whenever his malignant ulcer can’t handle any more raw tequila.
In May of 1974, Acosta was taking a trip through Mazatlán, Mexico, when he simply vanished off the face of the earth after calling his son to cryptically inform him that he was “about to board a boat full of white snow.” There is no trace of what happened to him after this, and this would be the last time anyone ever spoke to him or saw him. It was immediately presumed that the volatile Acosta had gotten himself into trouble with the wrong people while in Mexico and was probably murdered and buried in a shallow grave somewhere out in the desert or that he overdosed on drugs, while others have speculated that he may have decided to leave his life behind and live in Mexico, and still others insist that he moved to Miami, where he has been sporadically sighted. Hunter S. Thompson spent many years earnestly looking for his lost friend without any success, lamenting that he had probably been killed by drug dealers or a politically charged assassin, but Acosta’s body has never turned up.
Another influential writer from an earlier era was Barbara Newhall Follett, a novelist who was considered a child prodigy, writing the critically acclaimed novel The House Without Windows (1927) when she was just 12 years old and The Voyage of the Norman D. (1928) when she was 14. She was, and still is, considered a masterful writing genius, her novels beloved and influential within the literary world even now. This success was somewhat tainted by family problems, with her father, who she had been very close with, abandoning her and her mother to run off with another woman when she was just 14 years old. By all accounts Follett would never recover from this betrayal, and her writing dried up entirely.
While she was held up as a rising star in her youth, by the time she was in her 20s her life was beginning to unravel a bit. Her marriage to Nickerson Rogers was beginning to disintegrate and she found herself in a deep depression due to being convinced her husband was cheating on her. On December 7, 1939, the two got into an argument, and at some point Follett left the house to never return, only taking with her $30 in cash, or around $500 in today’s money. Her husband, Rogers, must have been pretty sure she would come crawling back, because it would be 2 full weeks before he finally contacted authorities to report her missing. Oddly, the whole case would not be seriously pursued until years later, and it was sort of be swept under the carpet, not being widely reported on in the media until 1966, decades after the actual disappearance. It is unclear why this should be, but no trace of this once great child prodigy author has ever been found.
Here we have looked at but a few of the many actors, musicians, and writers who seem to have simply blinked out of existence, and added a certain shadow of mystery over their already intriguing lives. What happened to these people and where did they go? Was this foul play, suicide, or simply a desire to shuck off an old life for something new? Will we ever find out the answers we seek or are these cases doomed to forever remain unsolved, these people’s fame tinged with dark puzzles we may never unravel? There is no way to know, and these individuals have grown to become just about as famous for their sudden vanishings as they were for anything else.