Press "Enter" to skip to content

Flying Too Close to the Sun: The Top 20 Musicians Who Thought They Could Act, Succeeded, and in Their Hubris Attempted Brain Surgery

Some people just aren’t satisfied with being the best at one thing. Many a successful musician have tried their hand at acting, often with painful results, but not always! A handful of them actually flourish in film and completely pivot their careers finding even higher echelons of success! Is it enough for them? Absolutely not.

Here are the top 20 musicians who tried to pivot into acting, found success, and had their egos so inflated they just assumed they would be able to perform complicated surgery on the human brain.

20. Anthony Kiedis

1991 was an incredible year for Kiedis. With “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” topping the charts and his role in “Point Break” garnering praise, it seemed like there was no medium in which he couldn’t fail upward. Then came brain surgery. Kiedis opened up about his short-lived medical career in his autobiography “Scar Tissue.”

“I was operating on my friend’s parent’s brains, and they had this scar tissue that I didn’t see. I wish I had saw it. They both bled out, so my friend had to say goodbye to his maw and paw. I thought ‘Well, maybe I can get a song out of this,’ so I started putting pen to paper and 3 months later I had the rough draft for what would become “Snow (Hey Oh.)”

19. Debbie Harry

After the Blondie singer worked on David Cronenberg’s body horror masterpiece “Videodrome” she started telling friends “Now I want to do something body helpful, like brain surgery.” The results were infamously a disaster. At the time she was sensitive and highly defensive about her botched brain surgeries, but she was able to joke about it in a recent interview:

“That song ‘Heart of Glass?’ Really we ought to have called it ‘Brain of Glass.’ It really, really cannot be understated how fragile those things are, like one wrong knick and bam, you’re dead. I think I’ll stick to rock music now!”

18. Ludacris

Ludacris turned to brain surgery as part of a method-acting exercise. Though his portrayal of Tej Parker in “2 Fast 2 Furious” was generally well received, Ludacris wanted to bring his performance to the next level:

“I was just thinking okay, Tej is a tech guy, so when he’s not doing the Fast and Furious movies he’s probably doing science stuff, so what kind of science stuff can I do? My first thought was brain surgery, and honestly, I should have weighed more options. I don’t even know why we say ‘as easy as brain surgery,’ those procedures are hard!”

17. Sting

“Transitioning from The Police to a solo career was easy because it only meant I could do band meetings on Thursday nights when Stewart Copeland normally has his bowling league. Then going to acting was easy because acting is just singing without singing, ini’t? I thought to myself ‘Well, brain surgery, you don’t even have to act to do that!’ Even now saying it out loud it sounds perfectly logical, but for reasons I still can’t explain it’s just not in the cards love.”

16. Joe Strummer

It’s not Joe’s fault really. Jim Jarmusch loves working with musicians with little to no acting experience, and in order to get the best possible performance out of them, he works hard to bolster their confidence on camera. A little too hard. Between every take on “Mystery Train,” Jarmusch would grab Joe Strummer by the face and say “Look at me. You are the smartest man in the world. Every brain surgeon on earth is dog shit compared to you. I don’t even know why you’re in my movie, it’s beneath you, you should be out doing all of the brain surgeries.”

15. David Johansen

If you thought this founding member of The New York Dolls was scary as the ghost cab driver from “Scrooged,” you’ve never had a loved one on his operating table with their brain exposed. That’s real fear.

14. Flea

Flea can play the hell out of a bass, and can even flush out a scene or two in “The Big Lebowski,” but when it comes to practicing medicine, he doesn’t know his blood sugar from his sex magic.

“I thought getting into brain surgery would be reminiscent of my early days with The Peppers, just all about bombastic energy and flow. It was way different than that. Brain surgeons are all about precision and technique, like, most of them actually go to school for it. I respect the hell out of those guys, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.”

13. Tom Waits

“Mr. Waits showed up to our hospital with one of those plague-era bird masks and a rusty bone saw asking if we had any brains that needed a tune-up. It’s not standard procedure to let an amateur attempt complicated brain surgeries with antiquated equipment, but he had just crushed it in “Mystery Men” and we wanted to see if he was a triple threat. He did so badly, we actually wound up banning the entire cast of “Mystery Men” from practicing medicine at our hospital for 5 years. Eddie Izzard was understandably furious, but as doctors, we have a duty of care.”

12. Steve Van Zandt

“For a while, I was chasing an EGOC, you know, when you win an Emmy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and a Cushing Medal for achievements in neuroscience? I show up to this hospital and I says ‘Let me take a crack at it.’ They gave me some push-back, but when I told them David Chase originally wanted me to play Tony Soprano they let me go ahead. I did okay. Messy though. Plus everyone I touched that day died. Anyway, come to find out it’s not EGOC, it’s EGOT, the T standing for Tony Soprano. So there goes that dream.”

11. Beyoncé

It’s hard to believe that someone fresh off the heels of “Austin Powers: Goldmember” felt confident enough to attempt surgery on the human brain with no prior experience or training but that’s what happened. There’s a reason you don’t see the other members of Destiny’s Child anymore.

10. Elvis Presley

At the height of his film career Elvis occupied a tier of celebrity that simply doesn’t exist anymore. That and the fact that he was constantly surrounded by his Memphis Mafia yes men, it was only a matter of time before the King’s hubris brought him to the operating table. Elvis completely butchered every brain he laid a scalpel on, but his cronies would always convince him that his patients not only lived but were fully cured of their neurological ailments and actually stronger than they were before.

9. Cher

If she could turn back time, we like to think Cher would undo all of the harm caused by her short-lived medical practice. The only patient to have their brain operated on by Cher and live was “Moonstruck” co-star Nicolas Cage, and there were clearly a few leftover parts when she put him back together.

8. Kris Kristofferson

“Sure I tried my hand at the cranial arts. Got some resistance from some of the ‘real’ docs. One of em had the nerve to ask if I actually knew how to do brain surgery. I shoot back ‘I don’t gotta know, my character does Jack.’ That got him bout as shook as a rattlesnake in a mongoose factory, he steered clear of me after that. By the time I was done with that brain, it looked like hammered shit and smelled twice as bad. I lost the patient, but I’ll tell you the same thing I told that yellow-bellied no good sonofabitch review board: If I hadn’ta done what I done, he woulda turned vamp!”

7. Frank Sinatra

At the height of his fame it was hard to say “no” to ol’ blue eyes, be you a beautiful woman, a movie producer, or even the chief of surgery at a hospital. An associate close to Sinatra recently opened up about the crooner’s first and only attempt at the craft of brain surgery:

“Franks looking at this poor guy, head sawed open, brain exposed, as says ‘Jesus, this guy needs a drink!’ He pours a gin & tonic onto the brain and the guy flatlines immediately. He tries a martini, a cosmopolitan, an old fashioned, but nothing works. Finally, he says to me ‘Beat the crap out of this guy until he comes alive again!’ I said ‘Frank, it doesn’t work that way!’ and then he told another goon to beat me up until I did what he asked. I relented and start smacking the hell out of this cadaver, which of course didn’t work, so Frank sends men to burn down my house. You never wanted to mess with Frank!”

6. Ice-T

“Think about it, if me, the guy who wrote ‘Cop Killer,’ can go on to play a cop on TV, I can do anything. The trick is to write a song condemning the thing you want to do. I reassembled Body Count, and we got to work on this dope-ass track called ‘Neurosurgeons Should All Rot in Hell.’ I played it for the chief of surgery at St. Christopher’s and he’s all ‘Well, that’s one dope ass track, let’s see what you got with a scalpel.’ I don’t know why it works, it just does! Anyway, lot of people died, but that’s the game, you know what I’m sayin’?”

5. Will Smith

Will Smith found so much success in acting that people tend to forget he was a rap artist first, and at the dawn of the Willenium, he briefly caught the neurosurgery bug. The infatuation was short-lived:

“I just couldn’t accept that the solution to brain tumors was violence against the brain. I just wasn’t okay with all of that violence. The sawing, the cutting, the sewing, it was all just violent. To me, the answer had to be love. That’s why I stepped away from both brain surgery and “Django Unchained.”

4. Mark Wahlberg

The artist formerly known as Marky Mark has come a long way. After becoming Hollywood’s top leading man, the former hip-hop star felt like he could do anything, but a funky bunch of attempted brain surgeries left him eating humble pie.

“I’ve come to accept that, yes, if I were on that plane 9/11 wouldn’t have happened, but when I’m on that brain, your vital signs will flatten. I just don’t know what I’m doing up in there. I regret the lives lost to my fool-hearted attempt at brain surgery almost as much as “Boogie Nights,” the movie for which I will burn in hell.”

3. Henry Rollins

While never quite reaching the status of leading man, the former Black Flag singer has turned in a lot of competent supporting performances in a lot of films. Slowly but surely, his success as a working actor bolstered him into believing he might be meant for a higher calling. You guessed it, brain surgery. The hardcore punk icon got candid about his foray into neurosurgery on his most recent spoken word tour:

“The two most embarrassing moments of my life, hands down, are the first time I tried to operate on a human brain and the first time I tried to eat pussy. In both instances, I thought I could make up for my lack of experience with unearned confidence and high energy, and in both instances that only made things much worse. I kept eating pussy, because when you eat a pussy bad you don’t need to break the news to an entire family in a waiting room, but brain surgery? It’s a young man’s game, I can admit that now.”

2. David Bowie

Bowie was a master of self-reinvention, so it’s no surprise he gravitated towards acting. From his celebrated run as The Elephant Man to “The Man Who Fell to Earth” to his lighthearted cameo in “Zoolander,” Bowie proved he had just as much range as an actor as he did as a musician. Then, after portraying Nicola Tesla in “The Prestige,” Bowie began taking an interest in science.

“I had become fascinated with brains. Marc Bolan had one, and it was rumored that Warhol did as well. I had a distinct feeling that they were going to be the next big thing, and I was eager to make it my own, so I started up a surgery.”

Unfortunately, his pivot into the world of brain surgery was distinctly one-note—the note of a flatline. Baron Brain Surgeon was Bowie’s shortest-lived persona, but his most prolific in terms of kills. Eight unfortunate souls lost their lives on Bowies operating table, beating out The Thin White Duke’s previous record of five.

1. Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop has dabbled with acting since the mid-’80s, and has gone on to work with auteur directors such as John Waters and Jim Jarmusch. After his noteworthy performance in “Dead Man,” the veteran punk rocker decided brain surgery was the next logical step. From the get-go, his methods were extremely unorthodox.

“I decided to approach brain surgery the same way I approached music. I had no training, and no technical skill, I just bashed all the instruments around until I found the sounds I wanted. I favored primal originality over saving lives, and the critics hated it, but I stand by that decision.”

Amazingly, Pop’s first two brain surgeries were successful, even iconic, but after that, it was just disaster after disaster.