Mind-Bending Facts About Syd Barrett, The Rock Star Who Lost It

February 26, 2024 | Byron Fast

Mind-Bending Facts About Syd Barrett, The Rock Star Who Lost It


Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett went away for a long weekend. When he came back, he was a completely different person.


1. He Had A Sudden Change

Many consider Syd Barrett Pink Floyd's guiding light, but the truth is he was only with them for a tiny fraction of their history. What ended his time with Pink Floyd was an abrupt and bizarre personality change that fans are still trying to come to terms with. 

Suggested causes include his unbridled drug use, mental illness, or just one of the side effects of being a rock n roll genius. It’s time to take a psychedelic dive into these facts and decide for ourselves. 

Photo of Syd BARRETTGAB Archive, Getty Images

2. He Became Syd

Syd Barrett was born Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge, England on January 6, 1946. As a teenager, Barrett gained the nickname "Syd"—and also a taste for collecting instruments. The order went something like this. First a ukulele, then a banjo, an acoustic guitar, and finally his holy grail, an electric guitar. 

Barrett was ready to blast into the music scene, but an unexpected tragedy derailed his plans. 

Syd Barrett, founding singer, songwriter and guitarist of Pink FloydChris Walter, Getty Images

3. There Was A Gaping Hole 

Just before Barrett turned 16, his father suddenly passed due to cancer. This loss left a gaping hole in Barrett’s life—but things were still going to get worse. Around the same time, all four of Barrett’s siblings moved out of the house to start their adult lives. Barrett had gone from a home full of familial warmth to a cold and empty house. 

And then mom did something that would make Barrett feel much, much worse. 

Syd Barrett performingAndrew Whittuck, Getty Images

4. He Couldn’t Get Over It 

The family home was eerily empty, and mom saw this as an opportunity to fill it full of strangers. She started renting out rooms to lodgers. Mom could see that, with all these changes to his life, Barrett was not getting over the loss of his father. To distract him from his grief, Barrett’s mom had a fantastic idea. 

One that would alter the future of rock music forever.

Singer and guitarist Syd Barrett (1946 - 2006) of Pink Floyd performingMichael Putland, Getty Images

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5. He Played Up Front 

Around this time, Barrett was playing in a band called Geoff Mott and the Mottoes and mom had the idea for the guys to play their music right in the living room. One of Barrett’s schoolfriends eventually came over to see what Barrett had going on. His name was Roger Waters, and this meeting would change rock music forever. 

The British pop group Pink FloydHulton Deutsch, Getty Images

6. They Were In Desperate Need 

Waters was a musician himself, and seeing Barrett's potential, eventually asked him to join his band Tea Set. Unfortunately, this band got off to a rough start. At one of their first gigs, they showed up and discovered that there was already a band named Tea Set on the bill. 

In desperate need of a new name, Barrett thought about his two favorite blues artists—Pink Anderson and Floyd Council—and came up with "the Pink Floyd Sound".  Being in a band was all Barrett wanted in life, but along with it came a very dangerous pastime. 

Pink Floydullstein bild Dtl., Getty Images

7. He Experimented 

Being in the music scene at this time involved drug use, and Barrett got into it early. He hadn’t reached 20 years old when he first used acid. One of his initial experiments with the psychedelic concluded in a bizarre way. Barrett found himself and a friend sans clothes, in a bathtub, and chanting “no rules, no rules”. 

If Barrett was looking for a world without rules, his next move made no sense at all. 

Syd Barrett in shirt and glassesBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

8. He Met A Guru

Barrett and his bandmates took their experimenting to a weird place: They found religion. No, they didn't join the local chapel, they turned to a Sikh sect called Sant Mat. To explore this further, Barrett went with a friend to meet the guru of the sect. The guru took one look at Barrett and shook his head. Apparently Barrett was too young for Sant Mat. 

If religion didn’t want him, Barrett was fully prepared to seek spiritual enlightenment—and it had disastrous consequences. 

Pink Floyd Perform At The Architectural AssociationAdam Ritchie, Getty Images

9. There Was A Terrible Noise

Around this time, Barrett was living in a flat in London’s South Kensington neighborhood. Writer Jonathan Meades remembers knocking on the door one day looking for Barrett. While trying to get past Barrett’s wild looking and protective roommates, Meades heard some really disturbing noises that he thought could be a major plumbing problem. 

When he asked what it was, the roommates gave a shocking answer. 

Pink Floyd Portrait SessionMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

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10. They Locked Him Up 

Barrett’s roommates explained to Meades that the terrible noises were actually Barrett himself, who was having a bad trip. His roommates had locked him in a linen closet until he calmed down. That's the kind of life Syd Barrett was living in his South Kensington flat. Unsurprisingly, it often became life threatening. 

Syd Barrett, leader of British psychedelic rock group Pink FloydNick Hale, Getty Images

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11. He Locked Her Up 

There’s no shortage of stories that’ve surfaced about Barrett while living in this flat. Some say he locked his girlfriend—Lindsay Corner—in a room for three days. The legend goes that for nourishment, Barrett passed her cookies under the door. What he did to her when she finally emerged from the locked room, though, is beyond shocking. 

Syd Barrett in white shirtVoxel-Ux, Flickr

12. He Was Brutal

Rumors have it that when Corner came out of her imprisonment, Barrett smashed her over the head with his guitar. The thing about these stories, however, is that it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. Don’t forget, Barrett’s roommates were likely as high as Barrett was and weren’t sure themselves what actually happened and what they made up just for fun. 

One thing was for sure: Barrett was off the deep end. But he still had a ways to go before he hit rock bottom.

Syd BarrettCindy Cornett Seigle, Flickr

13. He Recited Shakespeare 

Pink Floyd soon became the house band at a psychedelic club called UFO. Sometimes when there was a smaller crowd, the inimitable Barrett would do something outrageous for a rock star. He would recite Shakespeare. Specifically, Hamlet's “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Apparently, his performance was quite moving.

But reciting Shakespeare was simply odd. What he did next was just plain freaky. 

Pink Floyd Perform At UFOAdam Ritchie, Getty Images

14. He Freaked Out 

Pink Floyd advertised their shows with all kinds of psychedelic references, including Timothy Leary's “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out”. So, when Barrett jumped on stage and performed a bizarre, nursery-rhyme freakout, the crowd went wild. Barrett was having a blast just doing whatever he wanted to. But now it was time for the music industry to step in. 

Sadly, this would be the beginning of the end for Syd Barrett. 

Pink Floyd Perform At UFOAdam Ritchie, Getty Images

15. They Had Originals

Eventually Pink Floyd found their management team. This was Andrew King and Peter Jenner, who quickly set up a recording session to make demos to find these guys some work. When Barrett arrived with Pink Floyd, however, King and Jenner got a huge shock. They thought Pink Floyd was a cover band, and here Barrett had brought a whole slew of original songs. 

As it turned out the songs were great, and these demos were going to pave the band’s way to superstardom.

Peter JennerRalf Lotys , CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Cheated 

During this pivotal time in Barrett's life, he was dating a woman named Jenny Spires. One thing that Barrett didn’t know was that Spires was also seeing someone else. Her secret affair was with filmmaker and counterculture expert Peter Whitehead. 

It’s usually impossible to find a silver lining when your girlfriend is cheating on you, but Barrett didn’t have to look very hard. Spires was concocting a devious plan that would take Pink Floyd to the next level. 

Syd Barrett in shirtBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

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17. He Wasn’t A Fan 

While cheating on Barrett doesn’t make Spires look like the ideal girlfriend, she still had his best interests at heart. You see, Whitehead was making a counterculture film called Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, and Spires knew it would be great for Pink Floyd to appear in it. There was one huge problem. Whitehead thought Pink Floyd sounded terrible. 

All Spires had to do was turn Whitehead into a Pink Floyd fan and get them in the movie. 

Syd Barrett in photo shootBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

18. She Used Her Charm

Whitehead’s film already had the Rolling Stones on board as well as counter culture art stars like Allen Ginsberg and David Hockey. Spires used her charms and convinced Whitehead to film Pink Floyd’s song “Interstellar Overdrive”. Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London went on to be the hit of the 1967 New York Film Festival and got Pink Floyd a ton of free publicity. 

This publicity would help Pink Floyd get their first album—and also drop Barrett in the middle of a controversy. 

Photo of PINK FLOYDAndrew Whittuck, Getty Images

19. He Told A True Story 

One of the songs on Pink Floyd’s first album was “Arnold Layne”. Barrett wrote it about a real person from his childhood. The story goes that when he was growing up, there was a crossdresser in the neighborhood doing night time raids and snatching his mother’s underwear from the clothesline. 

Barrett had no idea that this silly story would get him into a heap of trouble. 

Syd Barrett in shirtBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

20. He Was Ahead Of His Time

Radio London immediately banned Barrett’s song “Arnold Layne” because of its subject matter. Next, the media wanted to know why Barrett wrote the song in the first place. Barrett was well ahead of his time and said that a lot of people are into crossdressing, and that society had to “face up to reality”.

There was another reason why Barrett was so tolerant of crossdressing. A much more personal one. 

Pink Floyd, Masters Of Rockbadgreeb RECORDS, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

21. He Liked To Dress Up

With his girlfriend, Lindsay Corner, Barrett would sometimes walk around King’s Road in London in outrageous clothes and looking like “splendid peacocks on parade”. But David Gilmour says it went a step further. He remembers Barrett wearing black eyeliner, lipstick, and walking around in high heels. He was a man ahead of his time and enjoying every minute of it. 

Sadly, what Barrett was having a hard time enjoying was the music business. The stress was getting to him, and he was heading in a dangerous direction. 

David Gilmour 2016Egghead06, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

22. He Felt Pressure

Once The Piper at the Gates of Dawn came out—and it was successful—things changed for Barrett and Pink Floyd. Suddenly, their management team was desperately looking for the next big hit and putting intense pressure on Barrett to write it. This stress had abruptly torn away the fun and creativity Barrett enjoyed being a part of Pink Floyd. 

This was around the time people started to notice a chilling change in Barrett. 

Syd Barrett in green  shirt  and pink scarfBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

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23. He Changed 

If you asked most people who knew him, they’d say that Barrett was usually full of joy, friendly and mostly extroverted. In the late 1960s, something changed. People noticed he suffered from depression, seemed introverted and was hallucinating. Then things just got worse. 

Barrett began slurring his speech, and sometimes he even went completely catatonic. The ultimate test of the “new Barrett” came when an unexpected visitor showed up. 

Syd Barrett performingBelieve Media, Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (2023)

24. He Stared Through Him 

Barrett's best buddy David Gilmour met up with him and immediately noticed a change. The most striking thing was that Barrett didn’t seem to even recognize Gilmour, staring right through him. Other people mentioned that Barrett’s eyes were “vacant” and that it was like “someone reached inside his head and turned off the switch”. 

Of course, everyone wanted to know what the heck had happened. 

David Gilmour performingChris Walter, Getty Images

25. He Disappeared

At the time, some friends thought that they could pinpoint Barrett’s personality change to one single event. They say that Barrett went missing for an entire long weekend, and when he came back, he was a “completely different person”. 

What happened on that weekend remains a mystery, but Pink Floyd now had a very difficult bandmember on their hands. With a big US tour coming up, Pink Floyd had to fix whatever was wrong with Barrett. 

Photo of Pink FloydMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

26. They Sent Him Away

Even though they needed him to promote the new album, Jenner and King made the managerial decision to send Barrett on a vacation. They rushed him and his girlfriend to a beautiful island in the Mediterranean, but this wouldn’t be a romantic getaway. Far from it. 

Along for the ride were chaperones to make sure Barrett stayed out of trouble. The success of this forced vacation would immediately be put to the test with the grueling US tour. 

Santorinni GreecePixabay, Pexels

27. He Was A Mess

Barrett’s arrival in Los Angeles set the tone for the US tour. First, he mistook Los Angeles for Las Vegas, then announced that he’d forgotten his guitar. Oh, and he followed that up by falling into a swimming pool. In short, Barrett was a mess—and this mess was about to go on broadcast television. 

Los Angeles, CaliforniaIIP Photo Archive, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

28. He Was Out Of It 

When Pink Floyd did publicity on the very conservative The Pat Boone Show, Barrett was so out of it that he couldn’t even manage to lip sync. What wasn’t clear was whether Barrett was high or just angry about appearing on this very “square” TV show. 

Well, there were more TV spots coming their way, and things were not going to get better. 

Syd Barrett /Pink Floyd at American BandstandABC, American Bandstand (1952–1989)

29. He Phoned It In

Just like on The Pat Boone Show, Barrett continued his “phoned in” performance on American Bandstand. It quickly became clear that host Dick Clarke had no idea what to make of Barrett as he gave his monosyllabic responses. Unfortunately, Barrett’s bizarre behavior was not just for the TV shows. 

It was about to bleed over to the concerts, where some fans would get the scare of a lifetime. 

Syd Barrett /Pink Floyd at American BandstandABC, American Bandstand (1952–1989)

30. He Had A Bad Hair Day

For the US tour, Barrett had, for some reason, opted to get a perm and was now regretting it. By the time of their Santa Monica concert, he’d had it with the perm and wanted to change it. Playing the role of his own hairdresser, Barrett dumped an entire container of Brylcreem on his head. 

A very freaky looking Barrett was now ready to face the audience. But were they ready to face him? 

Syd Barrett /Pink Floyd at American BandstandABC, American Bandstand (1952–1989)

31. He Had A Meltdown 

Barrett’s bad perm was now gelled up with gobs and gobs of Brylcreem, but the new look was not going to last. The heat from the concert lighting quickly melted the Brylcreem, and it started to run down Barrett’s face. Female fans at the front saw his face—which looked like it was actually decomposing—and screamed in terror. 

Barrett’s bandmates had reached the end of their rope. They needed to do something about Barrett, and they needed to do it fast. 

Pink FloydChris Walter, Getty Images

32. They Dropped Hints 

Pink Floyd barely survived the US tour and those embarrassing TV appearances. Back at home, they tried to give Barrett major hints that he should quit, but this tactic was falling on deaf ears. It was soon time to tour again, and the band was nervous. This was a UK tour with Jimi Hendrix and it had a brutal schedule. 

The fear was that this would be a repeat of the last US tour. As it turned out, it was much worse. 

Bob Marley FactsDiego Sideburns, Flickr

33. He Made A Run For It

During the UK tour, Barrett threw the band more than a few curveballs. On some occasions, he arrived but was unable to function. Other times he didn’t arrive at all. The third situation was the worst. They caught him trying to escape the tour by jumping on a train. Clearly, Barrett’s behavior was getting even more extreme. 

Well, Pink Floyd had an extreme solution to match it. 

Pink Floyd concertNational Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons

34. He Needed Augmentation 

The problem Pink Floyd had was that even when Barrett did show up for gigs, he sometimes did almost nothing on stage. It was embarrassing, and the band came up with an ingenious way to fix it. They hired someone to “augment” Barrett. This meant having a new Pink Floyd member on stage to cover when Barrett chose not to—or couldn’t—play guitar and sing. 

Of course, finding the right person would be crucial. Who they ended up hiring seemed like a slap in Barrett’s face. 

Syd Barrett Pink Floyd In A ClubKoh Hasebe/Shinko Music, Getty Images

35. They Didn’t Need Him 

Pink Floyd ended up hiring Barrett’s own best buddy David Gilmour. But if Barrett felt offended over this, he didn’t show it. At least not at first. It appeared to be a win-win situation, because having Gilmour there allowed Barrett to participate or not, whichever he wanted. The problem was that Gilmour was too good at his job, and suddenly Pink Floyd didn’t need Barrett at all. 

Firing anyone is difficult. Firing an unstable man from a band he helped create was going to be monumental. 

David Gilmour from Pink FloydGijsbert Hanekroot, Getty Images

36. He Just Showed Up

Pink Floyd did eventually let Barrett go. The only thing was that in his foggy brain, Barrett didn’t really understand that he was fired. On more than one occasion, he embarrassingly showed up at venues ready to play. When they told him he wasn’t going on stage, Barrett sat down in the first row and angrily glared at Gilmour for the entire show. 

Once Barrett actually realized he was no longer a part of Pink Floyd, his life began a slow spiral downward. 

Pink FloydTimDuncan, CC BY 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

37. He Shopped Till He Dropped

Around this time, Barrett was living in London and had found a new hobby. It was shopping. He had a ritual of going to Harrods and buying some enormously expensive items. Once he got his loot home, he would grow tired of it and just hand it over to the apartment caretaker. 

This was an immensely expensive hobby, and Barrett soon found himself in a terrible situation. He had no money. 

Harrods 2018Photo2023, CC BY 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

38. They Tried To Help

Of course, almost everyone in Barrett's life wanted to help him. His friends tried to get him into treatment, but Barrett refused. Pink Floyd’s management tried to get him to make music, but Barrett seemed unable to do it. By 1968, Barrett was still broke and, worse still, he was now homeless. 

It was looking bad for Barrett, and then it just got worse. 

Syd Barrett playing keyboardsAndrew Whittuck, Getty Images

39. He Boarded Up The Windows

A homeless Barrett soon turned up at his mom’s house in Cambridge, where he promptly moved into the basement. His deluded thinking soon conjured up bizarre images of the prying eyes of the media and fans. To deal with his hallucinations, he boarded up the windows. 

When a failed trip to London ended badly, he walked the entire 85 km (54 mi) home to mom. Barrett was quickly going mad—but he had one last trick up his sleeve. If this didn’t work, who knows where he’d end up. 

Cambridge - Bridge StreetTxllxt TxllxT, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

40. He Called It Quits 

To deal with his sanity Barrett attempted a solo career, but after two albums he called it quits. To make it perfectly clear he’d given up on music, he dropped the name Syd and went back to Roger. Years later when a radio DJ mistakenly called him “Syd,” Barrett replied, “Syd can’t talk to you now”. Like Elvis, Syd Barrett had left the building. 

Roger Barrett wasn’t a fun-loving musician anymore. In fact, he was becoming downright offensive. 

Elvis Presley Publicity Photo For The Trouble With Girls 1968MGM, Wikimedia Commons

41. He Insulted Her 

In 1977, Barrett bumped into an old girlfriend, and they had a drink together. All was going well as the two reminisced about old times. Sadly, the date took a dark turn when they got back to Barrett’s place. Barrett surprised her by yanking his pants down and then making an indecent offer. He wanted to pay her to go to bed with him. 

Yes it was insulting, but at least it wasn’t physical. That was coming next. 

Syd BARRETTGems, Getty Images

42. He Had Outbursts

In the 1980s, Barrett started having angry outbursts and checked himself into a facility that took care of “lost souls”. While there, he gave therapy a try, but quit when he thought a resident was slighting him. When he returned home, mom couldn’t deal with his outbursts anymore. 

She moved in with her daughter and Barrett was left on his own. Barrett's mother had always been his rock. Without her there was no telling what would happen. 

Pink FloydDoug McKenzie, Getty Images

43. He Became Ordinary

Surprisingly, living alone in mom’s house seemed to work for Barrett. He returned to his love of painting and started new hobbies. He was collecting coins and learning how to cook. He regularly met his mom in town and they’d go shopping together. 

Life was looking rather ordinary, but for Barrett, ordinary seemed like the only choice that worked. Sadly, his happiness would be short lived, as fate would soon deliver him a new tragedy. 

Person paintingDaian Gan, Pexels

44. He Had Extreme Grief 

In 1991, Barrett’s mother Win passed. She was an important constant in his life, and her passing set Barrett off on a dark and bizarre mission. He started by chopping down the fence and only tree in her front garden. In his misery, he made a pile of the debris and lit it ablaze. Next, he took his old art books and diaries and destroyed them all. 

All this was a way to get through his profound sorrow. Now, he had to pick up the pieces and see what he could make of his life. 

White vinyl picket fence on green lawn surrounding property grounds for backyard protection and privacyBilanol, Shutterstock

45. They Wanted A Souvenir 

To deal with the loss of his mother, Barrett threw himself more deeply into painting. Barrett worked outdoors—mostly because his canvases were extremely large—but there was a major drawback. Overzealous fans climbed the fence at night and took his brushes. 

Aside from this annoyance, however, life was good. Roger Barrett finally found a way to be in the world. Then he got an ominous call from his doctor.

Syd BarrettJulep67, Flickr

46. He Had To Change 

When he was just over 50, Barrett visited the doctor and found out he had B-type diabetes. This was apparently genetic, and to overcome it he simply needed to change his diet and take medication. For a complicated man like Barrett, this was too much to ask. He sporadically followed doctor’s orders, but often did not. 

This left Barrett living with a “tunneling effect” of his eyesight. Ten years later, he’d get much worse news about his health. 

Handsome bald doctor man pointing displeased and frustrated to the cameraKrakenimages.com, Shutterstock

47. They Remembered His Breakdown 

In the end it was cancer that took Barrett’s life at the age of 60. When remembering Barrett, the media at the time chose to refer to his “psychedelic-drug induced breakdown”. In fact, most people focus on this as the reason for his mental collapse. Pink Floyd certainly had questions about how they’d lost their friend and bandmate. To answer them, they decided to get creative. 

Syd Barrett's first guitar and other Pink Floyd memorabiliaLee Dedmon, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

48. He Was Like A Diamond

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here contains a tribute to Barrett that takes up most of the album. It’s called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and it may sum up best what happened to Barrett. In the song they say, “You shone like the sun. Shine on you crazy diamond. Now there's a look in your eyes, Like black holes in the sky. Shine on you crazy diamond”. 

The members of Pink Floyd thought they really knew Barrett, but here’s a story that suggests that they didn’t at all. 

Pink FloydPaul Carless, CC BY 2.0,Wikimedia Commons

49. He’d Changed Completely 

Back in 1975, a disheveled man walked into the studio while Pink Floyd was recording. He seemed quite comfortable around the place and even around Pink Floyd. When Roger Waters realized that this man with shaved head and shaved eyebrows was actually Barrett, he burst into the tears. None of them had recognized him. 

In an even more heartbreaking twist, the band had been recording "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" when Barrett walked in. He later left the studio without saying goodbye—it was one of the last times any of them ever saw him.

Pink Floyd , Roger WatersAndrés Ibarra, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Kept Them Away 

Pink Floyd drummer Richard Wright once related something that Barrett’s mother had said. Years after Barrett left Pink Floyd, Wright and other band members were eager to talk to him. Mom tried to dissuade them from reconnecting with her son. She said that these days any connection Barrett had to Pink Floyd always made him sad. 

What exactly made him so sad, is still a mystery. 

Rick Wright / Pink FloydDeep Schism, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


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