Where Did They Go?: Four Artists Who Disappeared

We all know the experience. You’re sitting around wondering whatever happened to so-and-so, your true love from 8th grade, or whatever, so you pick up your iPhone and google, only to discover that an entire human being has vanished into thin air.

We have all had the same fantasy: to disappear and take on a new identity and a new life, to just vanish from our current situation. You may think that starting over somewhere else will give you a chance to be happier, freer or more fulfilled. Maybe that’s what happened to your true love from 8th grade.

Sometimes the person who disappeared is a public figure, an artist, writer, singer. They yearned for the spotlight, they wanted everyone to know their work. Then, suddenly, they didn’t anymore.

They may not vanish from their life (although sometimes they do), but they vanish from their online“presence.” Their public, even if it is very small, may never know what happened to them.  

Here are a few, well-known and less well-known, all mysterious.

Michèle Breton

Her face is downright iconic, it graced posters for the 1968 cult film, Performance. Michèle Breton was the fourth-listed star in this weird and influential midnight movie, which was  co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg, and which millions of people have seen on the screen, television, video, DVD, Blu-Ray. The movie has always been available. It is not unreasonable to argue that Michèle Breton is a movie star.

Yet today, no one knows where she is, or whether she is even alive.

In Performance, Mick Jagger starred as a reclusive, Jagger-esque rock star, with James Fox as the mobster who infiltrates his lair. Anita Pallenberg and Breton were the groupies who hung around the pad. I don’t think the movie is good at all, but it’s mostly, today, acclaimed and influential.

Despite the movie’s flaws, Breton’s performance was charming and vulnerable, and when the world learned about the very authentic conditions under which the film was shot — real drugs, and that was just the tip of the iceberg — it made us worry about her. She was either fifteen or seventeen when Performance was made, depending on whom you believe. The making of Performance was a documented case of child abuse.

She made a few minor appearances in the ‘seventies, including a one-minute, uncredited role in Godard’s Weekend, but her career stalled. Stories abound about the dissolution that followed.

Still, she was alive as recently as 1995, when she gave an interview in which she stated, “I’ve done nothing with my life. Where did it start going wrong? I can’t remember. It’s something like destiny.”

Nine years later, a 2004 article in The Guardian reported that “Pallenberg and Breton succumbed to heroin, Breton fatally so.”

This article, though amended in 2022, has been quoted and requoted for years, most recently without attribution in an Australian website, which stated with seeming authority that she had succumbed to heroin addiction.

But, as a writer named Rich Flint has suggested, all of this probably comes from a line in Marianne Faithfull’s 1994 autobiography, in which Faithful wrote, “She became a heroin dealer in Marseilles shortly after the film and is, I think, probably dead by now.

The writer of the Guardian piece told us that he probably “absorbed Marianne Faithfull’s comment via some intermediary piece…. I regret to think my repetition of what turned out to be hearsay had contributed to something false being taken as fact, particularly in respect of such a difficult story as Michèle’s…. Let’s hope she’s alive and well somewhere.”

Let’s hope. It sounds as though she is/was a nice, damaged person. And a good actress.

Melyssa Ha

Melyssa Ha is a comically “pervy” writer who used to post frequently on Twitter. She also wrote autobiographical essays on Medium, which were linked to her Twitter account.

Her tweets were witty; her essays were explicit, but funny and culturally insightful, uninhibited but not nearly as “pervy” as she claimed.

When she disclosed on Twitter that “Melyssa Ha” was not only a pseudonym but a kind of secret identity, known not even to her boyfriend, wereached out to her to write about her double-life for our magazine.

She thought about it for a while, then declined. She had writer’s block.

In the months that followed, she criticized Elon Musk and mused about leaving Twitter for good. Then, without warning, she was gone.

She also seems to have tried to scrub her entire literary oeuvre from Medium. An out-of-context essay remains; all the others, and her bio, have been erased.

Who was she really? A good writer, that’s all we’ll ever know.

Connie Converse

You may have seen an article in the Times in the last week about this singer/songwriter, who almost hit it big in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but just didn’t quite make it. She won a spot on the CBS morning show with Walter Cronkite, which was lost; her record album was never released. Frank Loesser deemed her uncommercial, and his music company passed.

(Full disclosure: Frank Loesser was my uncle, almost. He was my great-aunt’s brother; but not quite my uncle. I wish his company had done something for Connie Converse. How the world of music would be different today!)

She was Dylan-before-Dylan. She left New York, worked as a secretary, then vanished in 1974 at the age of fifty. She wrote a series of letters to friends and family announcing her intention to make a new life somewhere else.

In 2004, her music finally began to catch on, old recordings were released, and today she’s a hit on Spotify.

Maybe she committed suicide; maybe, indeed, she made a new life for herself. Back then, it was easier than it is today.

She would have been eighty in 2004; let’s hope she lived to see her renaissance.

Jon Etheredge

In the ‘aughts, self-publishing was re-dubbed “indie” publishing, and it had a little moment. Some writers, like J. L. Bryan and, of course, E. L. James, self-published genuine bestsellers.

The scene waned by 2011, due to a glut of awful self-pubbed books and a nasty change in Amazon’s algorithms that ghettoized self-pubbed authors. By 2012, when Jon Etheredge self-published his excellent neo-ghost story, Abigail Dare, the “indie” industry was dead.

This was too bad! Etheredge’s book is chilling, sweeping, intimate and scary in the most unexpected ways.

In 2022, I tried to reach Etheredge to talk about the tenth anniversary of the book’s publication, give it a little boost in this magazine, and hear his thoughts about the death of the indie book industry.

His email bounced; his Goodreads and Linked-In accounts are inactive. There is no obituary online.

Where did he go? Was he even a real person? Was that smiling face a stock photo?

One likes to think that quality will also rise to the surface, that the public is destined ultimately to discover a book as great as Abigail Dare. But it isn’t true. It doesn’t always happen.

But sometimes it does. And you can still buy it on Amazon; maybe the royalties are going somewhere, and he’ll know you bought his book.

^^^

Content by Oblivioni. Photograph by Kalyee Srithnam. Article written by Steven S. Drachman.

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