October 1981: Carly Simon Collapses Onstage in Pittsburgh

 Carly Simon (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
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(The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

By 1981, Carly Simon was among America's most successful pop singers. With a slew of hit singles and albums to her credit, the only thing slowing Simon down was very real and traumatic stage fright.

Simon's fear of getting onstage was so bad that in 1976, she became the one and only Saturday Night Live musical guest to appear via a pre-taped performance.

It all came to a head in October of 1981, when Simon had embarked on a tour in support of her 1980 full-length, Come Upstairs, and breakout single, "Jesse," which peaked at #11 on the US Hot 100. While onstage for the first of two shows in Pittsburgh, the singer was gripped by an overwhelming anxiety attack.

''I had two choices,'' Simon would later tell The New York Times. ''I could either leave the stage and say I was sick or tell the audience the truth. I decided to tell them I was having an anxiety attack, and they were incredibly supportive. They said, 'Go with it - we'll be with you.' But after two songs, I was still having palpitations. I suggested that I might feel better if someone came on the stage. About 50 people came up, and it was like an encounter group. They rubbed my arms and legs and said, 'We love you,' and I was able to finish the first show. But I collapsed before the second show with 10,000 people waiting. In retrospect, the very idea of the tour was foolish. My marriage to James Taylor was breaking up, and my son, Ben, had been sick and had had a kidney removed, and I'd lost 25 pounds. I was in terrible shape, physically and emotionally.''

That was a fateful night in Simon's career. Returning home to New York after the incident in Pittsburgh, she checked herself into the hospital for exhaustion.

“They’d feed me intravenously, and then I’d go home at night to feed the kids,” she revealed to People in 1987. “Everyone breaks down in different ways—you could call what I had a breakdown or a fall-apart. I was emotionally wrecked and physically exhausted. What held me together was family, friends and my faith that it was going to be all right.”

Working with a therapist and with friend and neighbor John Travolta by her side, Simon would work her way back to the stage with a now-famous 1987 HBO concert taped at Martha's Vineyard.

“I went through about 25 different emotions, from feeling great to being seized up with fear,” she said after the show, which had been specifically designed to make the singer feel at ease. “The paradox of it all is I absolutely love to perform...I never know when it's going to happen, except that the larger the audience, the more I feel I've got to lose. I really never wanted to be a performing artist. I just wanted to be a writer.''



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