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Time Out: 10 Artists Who Walked Away

From recluse writers to retired musicians, we look back at the prominent figures who went on a temp-to-permanent hiatus

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It's been a good year for coming out of the woodwork: Earlier this month, the sorely missed cartoonist Bill Watterson, who stopped writing Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, shocked the comics world when he showed up as a guest artist in the strip Pearls Before Swine. (The creator of that strip, Stephan Pastis, compared the unexpected Watterson collaboration to getting "a glimpse of Bigfoot.") In May, the mostly retired Phil Collins shocked the crowd at a Miami school when he strolled onstage during a student performance and performed "In the Air Tonight" and "Land of Confusion" with the underage musicians; it was his first public  "concert" since 2010. Journey's Steve Perry recently came out of self-imposed exile to sing with the band Eels in St. Paul, Minnesota, Washington D.C. and L.A., saying, "I've done the 20-year hermit thing, and it's overrated."

And then there's Dave Chappelle, who's spent the intervening years since leaving his show in 2005 popping up sporadically to do shows and impromptu stand-up sets here and there before announcing a nine-date residency at Radio City Music Hall, starting June 18th. (His explanation on Letterman for his comic wandering: "I never quit, I'm seven years late for work.") Not every artist who's taken an extended professional break or straight-up walked away from a successful career, however, has returned to the spotlight. Here are 10 prominent figures — writers, actors, filmmakers, and musicians — who've taken an extended powder, more or less, from public life. By James Sullivan

tom lehrer

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Tom Lehrer

Most of us know Tom Lehrer as the crack satirist-songwriter of the Fifties and Sixties, responsible for such witty ditties as "Be Prepared," "The Vatican Rag," and "We Will All Go Together When We Go." Just don't wait for him to return to performing any time soon; he retired from singing and tickling the ivories in the early Seventies, dedicating his life to higher learning. The 86-year-old former math professor taught his last class at U.C. Santa Cruz in 2001, on — ironically — the concept of infinity.  

captain beefheart

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Captain Beefheart

After two decades making some of the strangest, most uncompromising music in rock, the artist who answered to Captain Beefheart declared that he'd gotten "too good" at the various horns he played. So Don Van Vliet quit the music business after his finishing his 1982 album Ice Cream for Crow, and took up painting full-time until his passing in 2010. "The stars are matter, we're matter, but it doesn't matter," he once said.

gene wilder

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Gene Wilder

The recent anniversary revival of Blazing Saddles reminded movie fans all over again of the impish appeal of Wilder, who also starred in The Producers, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Young Frankenstein. After appearing with Richard Pryor in their final film together, 1991's Another You, Wilder effectively retired from working in Hollywood; other than a few TV movies and two appearances on the show Will & Grace, he's been content to stay offscreen. It's not that he wouldn't act on a regular basis; he just doesn't get good scripts anymore. 

garth brooks

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Garth Brooks

Over the last several years, Brooks has gone back and forth with the late Elvis Presley as the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history. Not bad for a guy who took most of the 2000s off from touring, has spent spring training with several major league baseball teams and once disappeared into an unfortunate alter-ego as a rock singer called Chris Gaines. He eventually came out of retirement in 2009 for a five-year residency at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

bill withers

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Bill Withers

The soul singer had a string of hits in the Seventies, but after releasing his last album in 1985, Bill Withers walked away. Fans had hoped the success of the 2009 documentary "Still Bill" might convince the man behind "Lean on Me," "Grandma's Hands" and a long list of excellent songs to show some interest in touring, as he had not for decades. No such luck.  

fred neil

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Fred Neil

One of the weightiest talents to emerge from the Greenwich Village folk scene, the songwriter behind the classic Midnight Cowboy song "Everybody's Talkin'" left music behind in the early Seventies to co-found the Dolphin Research Project. Which gave his other best-known song, the much-covered "The Dolphins," that much more depth.

Terrence Malick

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Terrence Malick

We take it for granted now that the Texas-based filmmaker releases movies on a regular basis and seems to be working on several projects at any given time — but from 1978 to 1998, Terrence Malick was completely M.I.A. After finishing his second film Days of Heaven, Malick removed himself from the Hollywood rat race; depending on who you talk to, he then spent two decades writing prospective screenplays, living in Paris, possibly teaching, or simply sat around bird-watching for weeks on end. He's refused to do interviews since returning to filmmaking with The Thin Red Line in 1998, so no definite answer has been given. We're just ecstatic to have him back.

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