How tremendous and validating it must be to do art for a long time and to be recognized for it, in the form of a major award nomination, like a Pulitzer Prize or Academy Award. A lot of people would feel that way, but apparently not these people who said “thanks, but no thanks” to such plaudits.
GEORGE C. SCOTT
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can rescind an Oscar nomination — as it has done on occasion — but a nominee can’t take themselves out of the running. The great George C. Scott tried to do it in 1962 when he was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nod for his work in The Hustler. He lost to George Chakiris for West Side Story, but was nominated again in 1971 for Patton. That time he won. He didn’t attend the Oscars ceremony, and so he later publicly refused the award.
GUNS N’ ROSES
The extremely popular ‘80s and ‘90s hard rock band Guns N’ Roses was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. It was indeed elected, despite the protestations of group founder and lead singer Axl Rose. He released a long, open letter to Hall rejecting the idea. Owing to his complicated and contentious relationships with some past members, he wanted to “respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses.” The rest of the band played the induction ceremony without Rose.
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Another major group that didn’t want to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: pioneering punk band the Sex Pistols. None of the band’s surviving members attended its 2006 induction, while lead singer Johnny Rotten wrote on the band’s website that he and his bandmates were “not your monkeys, we’re not coming.” That’s pretty “punk rock,” as they say, although Rotten also said he objected to being charged $25,000 by the Rock Hall to attend his own fete.
SINEAD O’CONNOR and PUBLIC ENEMY
No, the politically-charged Irish singer-songwriter and politically-charged hip hop group didn’t team up with for an explosive duet, but both acts did sit out the 1991 Grammy Awards. O’Connor had received four major nominations, including Record of the Year (for “Nothing Compares 2 U”) and Best Alternative Musical Performance. She won the latter but told the Grammys to keep it, on account of how she found the whole endeavor to be extremely commercialized. Public Enemy was up for Best Rap Performance but wouldn’t be in the audience to accept if it won, in protest of how the Grammys refused to telecast the awards in rap categories.
The 1996 stage musical remake of the 1982 film Victor/Victoria was expected to earn a slew of Tony Award nominations, but it ultimately just nabbed one: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Julie Andrews, reprising her role. Andrews was so miffed that her hardworking coworkers weren’t recognized that she refused her recognition. At a curtain call after a performance one day, she tried to publicly withdraw her name from the ballot and said she’d rather “stand with the egregiously overlooked.”
One of the great American writers, Sinclair Lewis, was given one of the great American writing honors for his 1926 novel Arrowsmith: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Lewis issued a note explaining that he would not and could not accept the honor for his book about an idealistic scientist, writing that “all prizes, like all titles, are dangerous.”