A lot of the time, musical superstars make their craft look incredibly easy. While they’re up there on stage belting out their hits, it totally looks like it comes naturally. However, being a singer is a far more punishing career than you might imagine. The throat and vocal cords are two incredibly sensitive areas of the body, and one wrong move can damage them – sometimes permanently.
The sheer number of famous artists who’ve suffered from vocal issues over the years is staggering. Some managed to avoid serious problems and were able to get a ‘quick fix’ to the damage they’d endured. Others saw the entire future of their career put in jeopardy. Vocal surgery is a delicate business and has the potential to go seriously wrong. Did you realize that stars like Adele, Elton John, and Sam Smith were nearly silenced for good? They’re not the only ones, either! Read on to find out which of your famous artists very nearly had to call it quits on their singing stardom due to severe vocal issues.
Pop superstar and generally incredible woman Adele first experienced vocal issues in late 2011, shortly after the release of her hit album “21.” The singer had to cancel tour dates after being diagnosed with a polyp on her vocal cords, a condition that could have been totally devastating for her voice if treated incorrectly. Luckily, Adele’s throat microsurgery was successful, and she was back to performing within a few months.
Unfortunately, it seems that the surgery was not a permanent fix. Adele once again had to cancel live shows in 2017 due to vocal damage. It’s still unclear to what extent she’s recovered from these latest issues – if she has at all. Hopefully, the damage won’t be permanent.
2. Julie Andrews
Even total singing legends like Julie Andrews haven’t escaped vocal issues over the years. Andrews famously sued her surgeons back in 1999 after an operation to remove vocal nodules went wrong. Andrews was left totally unable to sing after the disastrous surgery, which also left her speaking voice raspy and damaged. Doctors initially reassured Andrews that her voice would be back to normal within six weeks. When there was no change two years on, Andrews contacted her lawyers.
Andrews has subsequently had four operations that have restored her speaking voice back to normal. However, her singing voice is still highly impaired. However, she did manage to perform “Crowning Glory” in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, for which we are eternally grateful.
3. Keith Urban
Country artist Keith Urban was left seriously worried back in 2011 when it emerged that a polyp had grown on his vocal cords. His voice had been put under a lot of pressure during his 2011 Get Closer World Tour, and unfortunately the polyp was the result of this. Urban quickly postponed all of his upcoming gigs to deal with the issue and underwent surgery to have the growth removed. The surgery was a success, although Urban couldn’t speak for three weeks afterward. Luckily, a helpful fan sent him cards with written messages on to hold up whenever he needed something. That’s one way to get people’s attention, I suppose!
With a singing career spanning over fifty years, it’s unsurprising that Goddess of Pop Cher’s voice has suffered a bit of wear and tear. The exact details of her vocal issues are unclear. However, celebrity vocal cord surgeon Dr. Steven Zeitels has previously stated that Cher is among his long list of illustrious clients. The singer has apparently worked hard to make her voice stronger and suppler over the years, employing numerous vocal coaches and taking great care to look after her cords. All of this effort has paid off: she still sounds stunning despite being 71 years old!
5. Lionel Richie
Turns out Lionel Richie is a veteran of both the music industry and the vocal surgery scene. He’s had no less than three operations over the years to resolve unspecified vocal issues. Richie has disclosed in the past that the anxiety he felt pre-op was worse than anything else he’d experienced. He intensely feared the operations going wrong, undergoing a crisis of identity each time. Who really was he without his voice? How would he cope if vocal issues robbed it? Luckily, he didn’t have to answer these questions. Each successive surgery was successful, and Richie is still performing to this day.
6. Celine Dion
Celine Dion has been plagued by vocal issues from the very beginning of her career. She first ran into problems in 1988, aged just 20, when doctors discovered polyps on her vocal cords. An aghast Dion only realized something was wrong mid-performance and had to escape from the stage while a member of her band played an extended guitar solo. This first surgery was a success, and thanks to extensive vocal training Dion managed to keep her singing voice mostly healthy for decades. However, that changed in 2012. After struggling with voice issues once again, two Canadian doctors told Dion her that her polyps had returned. Luckily, this turned out to be false: she was merely suffering from a viral infection that temporarily weakened her vocal chords. What a relief!
U2 frontman Bono has been singing professionally for over forty years. However, his career was nearly cut short back in the 1990s thanks to persistent vocal troubles. He suspected that something was wrong for many years. The Irish singer could feel his voice becoming more gravelly and strained, but was too busy on tour to do anything about it. However, things came to a head in 1999 when he was forced to undergo an operation on his nose, ears, and throat. The root of Bono’s issues was a sinus complaint; however, it was so severe that his singing voice was genuinely put at risk. Luckily, he made a full recovery.
8. Meghan Trainor
Pop princess Meghan Trainor has been seriously unlucky when it comes to her vocal health. In 2015, she had to cancel her tour after hemorrhaging her vocal cords numerous times. A swift operation saved her skin in that instance, but earlier this year her problems resurfaced. She revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she’d suffered another hemorrhage and had to go under the knife again. This time, however, she had her boyfriend – former Spy Kids actor Daryl Sabara – to help her through it! Sabara even learned sign language so he could communicate with Meghan while she was on voice rest. How adorable is that?
9. Steven Tyler
Aerosmith frontman and former American Idol judge Steven Tyler discovered he had vocal issues in quite an unusual way. Back in 2006, he was touring with his band when he got into an argument with an unnamed bandmate. He shouted so loudly that the next morning, he found his voice to be severely damaged. After reluctantly canceling the rest of the tour, Tyler underwent laser surgery to seal off a ruptured blood vessel. Ouch! How loud do you have to be shouting to do that to yourself?! The surgery was a success, and Tyler was performing once again within a few months.
10. John Mayer
2011 and 2012 were tough years for John Mayer. Not only was he still reeling from being slated in a Taylor Swift song (“Dear John” was HARSH), he was also unable to sing due to a growth on his vocal chords. The first round of surgery to remove this polyp was botched, leaving Mayer even worse off than he was before. His second round of treatment was more successful, but a little less conventional. Mayer had Botox injected into his throat, paralyzing his vocal cords and giving them time to heal. By 2013, he was back to performing and touring. Ah, the magic of Botox!
11. R. Kelly
R. Kelly’s vocal issues came seemingly out of the blue back in 2011. He was suddenly hospitalized after undergoing emergency throat surgery, with nobody quite knowing what was wrong or how long it would take for him to recover. It later emerged that Kelly had been suffering from an abscess on one of his tonsils – OUCH. Painful stuff. He returned to the music scene a few months after his enforced silence, rather ironically recording a song called “Shut Up.” These days, however, Kelly is too busy dealing with allegations of sexual assault and claims that he runs a sex cult to worry too much about his voice.
12. Christina Perri
“Jar of Hearts” singer Christina Perri revealed back in 2011 that she’d had surgery to remove a nodule from her vocal cords. She actually had her operation weeks before Adele went through the same procedure! Perri decided to reach out to her fellow singer to give her some advice on how to cope with having such a risky surgery. Since her 2011 issues, Perri has been very careful to protect her voice. She no longer goes out partying after she performs, and instead sits in bed sipping some warm tea. To be honest, that sounds like a dream evening!
13. Roger Daltrey (of The Who)
When classic rock band The Who performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show back in 2010, lead singer Roger Daltrey received a lot of criticism for the quality of his singing voice. However, it turns out his voice issues were actually down to an operation Daltrey underwent just a few weeks before the show. After realizing in 2009 that all was not well with his voice, Daltrey discovered that he had a pre-cancerous growth sitting on his vocal cord. Luckily, it was successfully removed before his condition could become any more serious. In the wake of this initial scare, Daltrey now sees a doctor every time he finishes a tour to check that nothing else has gone wrong with his throat. He hopes to keep on singing well into his 80s!
14. Paul Stanley (of Kiss)
Classic American rock band Kiss has been performing for over 40 years now. Their lead singer, Paul Stanley, is famous for giving high-volume, high-energy performances, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s had his fair share of vocal issues. He went under the knife back in 2011 to deal with persistent and recurring voice problems, and the surgery was a total success. Kiss continues touring – although Stanley is now much more careful with his voice. His doctor, Dr. Joe Sugerman, has advised him to stop eating pizza late at night and to avoid aspirin at all costs. To be honest, the pizza part is the most tragic.
15. Elton John
It’s not difficult to notice that Elton John’s vocals sound totally different now compared to the start of his career. This major change in John’s vocal style came about in 1987 after he underwent surgery to save his seriously damaged vocal cords. Prior to the operation, John had performed around 200 gigs in the space of 15 months – no wonder his voice was suffering! It’s still not clear exactly what the issue was, with some sources reporting John had either vocal nodules or even throat cancer. Whatever the issue was, the surgery solved it and John was back to performing within a few months.
16. Sam Smith
Back in 2015, then-newcomer Sam Smith had to undergo a medical procedure on his vocal cords. Smith reportedly had an issue with unstable blood vessels in his vocal cords, a serious condition that can lead to permanent damage. If these blood vessels rupture, it can stop a person from singing for good. Poor Sam! Luckily, his surgery was a success and his beautiful, soulful voice was saved. Smith was operated on in Boston under the guidance of Dr. Steven Zeitels – the same doctor who saved Adele’s damaged cords. We have a lot to thank that man for!
17. Michael Bublé
In 2016, everyone’s favorite Canadian crooner Michael Bublé had to postpone a number of performances due to vocal troubles. He had to pull out of the prestigious Canadian Governor General Performance Arts Award Gala due to his voice issues and missed out on a Marvin Gaye tribute concert. There were worries that if the operation went wrong, Michael could lose his singing voice for good. Luckily, his surgery went perfectly! He was back to singing his heart out in no time, although he initially couldn’t speak or sing for two weeks. Bublé joked that his wife was thrilled by that particular development.