When the pressures of fame grow too great, not even $50 million can keep some artists from ditching the limelight. After signing an eight-figure megadeal with Comedy Central in 2004, Dave Chappelle abandoned his hit show in May 2005, fleeing to South Africa in the middle of filming the show's third season. In retrospect, many saw signs of his slow but sure meltdown coming years earlier. During a 2003 stand-up performance, he reportedly told his audience, "You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid."
After his flight to South Africa, where he stayed with a friend, rumors raged about drug abuse, mental instability and problems with the network. The only one of those things that seemed supported by his behavior were the creative struggles with Comedy Central. Yet in an interview with TIME just after Chappelle flew the coop, the comedian refused to blame the show's producers. Instead he cited some people in his inner circle and himself for the stresses that seemed to be troubling him.
"All that stuff about partying and taking crack is not true," he told TIME. "Why do I live on a farm in Ohio? To support my partying lifestyle?" Chappelle returned to his Ohio estate after several weeks in Africa, but he never went back to The Dave Chappelle Show though he later promoted the documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party in 2006. He has returned to stand-up sporadically and was even rumored to play Rick James one of his most popular parodies on his show in a biopic, though that eventually fell through. He's no Thomas Pynchon, but he was still the best recluse of 2005.
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