It was a decision that shook the electronic dance world, and one Tim Bergling, then 27, did not take lightly.
Before Bergling, the Swedish DJ and producer known as Avicii, announced his retirement from touring just five years after his 2011 song “Levels” launched his meteoric rise, he had to break the news to the people closest to him. He had to explain to friends, handlers and business associates why, to attain happiness, he had to change his definition of success.
Then he had to explain to his fans.
“Two weeks ago, I took the time to drive across the U.S. with my friends and team, to just look and see and think about things in a new way,” the musician wrote in an emotional letter on his website in 2016. “It really helped me realize that I needed to make the change that I’d been struggling with for a while.”
He was grateful for the opportunities and comforts of his lucrative career, he wrote. But the lifestyle was exhausting, leaving too little for the “life of a real person behind the artist.” Avicii had canceled tour dates in 2014 after having his gall bladder and appendix removed, and had been hospitalized twice in the preceding two years for acute pancreatitis, according to Billboard.
He did leave the door open for a possible return to the electronic dance music scene.
“I will however never let go of music,” he concluded. “One part of me can never say never, I could be back … but I won’t be right back.”
Perhaps more than ever, those words resonated with his fans Friday. They were devastated by the news that Avicii, 28, was found dead in Muscat, Oman. The cause of his death has not yet been released.
His fans’ unyielding devotion had made Avicii reluctant to retire from touring. “Wake Me Up,” “Hey, Brother” and “Levels” are among the biggest songs of the decade, having been streamed on Spotify more than a billion times. In 2012 and 2013, Avicii was nominated for two Grammy Awards for best dance recording.
“I was nervous when I made the announcement, mainly that I would look ungrateful,” Avicii told the Hollywood Reporter shortly after announced his retirement. “But I’ve gotten so many supportive texts from friends in the industry, other DJs, other artists. The fan response has been incredible. And even the press response has been incredible. So yeah, it’s been a lot better than I expected.”
Fans on Friday wrote heartfelt tributes on their social-media accounts and shared vibrant videos of the times they saw him perform live. Some said that even after Avicii announced his retirement, they’d hoped they would see him on stage again.
Geffen Records president Neil Jacobson, who first worked with Avicii on “Levels,” described to Variety the DJ’s ability to entrance his audience.
You want to go lose your mind? Go to a middle of pit of a festival crowd for an Avicii concert. He understood the ebb and flow of a show, of a set, of how to get people to dance; how to know when to let them down. How to know when to bring them back up, and bring them back down again. Then you’d end up crying three-quarters of the way through the show and you didn’t know why. That’s what he did. That was his talent.
On Saturday, Avicii’s former manager Ash Pournori said on Instagram that the DJ and producer was “raw talent. You were one in a billion.”
But Avicii’s decision to leave the limelight conveyed the pressures he felt as the face of electronic dance music, an industry he helped bring to prominence. A documentary about the DJ released six months ago, “Avicii: True Stories,” provides an unvarnished look at Avicii’s rise to fame, according to a Variety review. The film reveals how managers and agents can risk a star’s health and friendship to maximize the star’s publicity and profitability, and includes moments when Avicii — who around this time was the world’s sixth-highest-paid DJ, making about $19 million a year — is dreading his next plane ride or headline set.
“Young people can learn from this movie,” Levan Tsikurishvili, the director and a longtime friend of Avicii’s, told Variety in September. “That life can look exciting and glamorous on Instagram and social media, but you don’t really have any idea what’s going on behind that.”
Health scares made things harder. Before his gallbladder and appendix surgeries in 2014, he learned at age 21 that he had acute pancreatitis, which he said was in part caused by excessive drinking, Billboard reported.
“To me it was something I had to do for my health,” he said about the decision to quit touring, according to Billboard. “The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. All the other parts of being an artist. I’m more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think.”
But that didn’t mean he wanted to forgo success, Tsikurishvili told Variety. Avicii worked so hard during his years touring that a documentary scene shows him working from his hospital bed.
“But I think he didn’t really know from the beginning [at age 19] what it means to be that successful,” Tsikurishvili said. “No one knew that he could be that successful. It has been a weight for him. He’s had to find himself.”