What Avicii‘s life lacked in years, it more than made up for in sheer output. The superstar deejay, responsible for hits including “Levels” and “Wake Me Up,” was known for his creative intensity that pushed him towards punishing international tour schedules — like the grueling 27-day bus tour of the U.S. in 2012, for which he played 26 nights — and an astonishing release rate of two albums and three EPs over the course of just four years. The heavy workload resulted in health problems that forced his retirement from live performance in 2016 — and may have contributed to his premature death two years later on April 20 at the age of 28.
The high-octane life of a globally famous deejay became a strain on Avicii, born Tim Bergling, early on. In a 2013 interview with GQ, he admitted that performances made him “so nervous,” and he coped with the anxiety by drinking. “You are traveling around, you live in a suitcase, you get to this place, there’s free alcohol everywhere—it’s sort of weird if you don’t drink,” he told the publication. “I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it.”
Weeks and months on the road passed in a blur. In a 2012 interview, he revealed that he had “no time off” and often “forgot what city or country” he happened to be in. Even when he wasn’t on tour, the perfectionist streak that delivered musical excellence drove him to practically live in the studio. “I’m very intense, I have no problem being [in the studio] for 60 hours without sleep, just maniacally trying out millions of different melodies, that’s no problem for me,” he once admitted to Dubai’s The National.
The hard living took a toll. In January of 2012 he was hospitalized in New York City for acute pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that the doctors attributed to heavy drinking. The condition flared up once again in March 2013, resulting in another hospital stay — this time in Australia — and canceled gigs. At the time he rejected medical advice to have his gallbladder removed, and instead moved forward with preparations for his new album, True. Released that September, it quickly shot to the top of the Billboard Dance charts.
Though he quit drinking, his health woes continued. The following March he was forced to pull out of a headlining spot at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival due to stomach pains. The diagnosis was grim: a blocked gallbladder and ruptured appendix.
“My fans know that I have had issues in the past with my stomach and pancreatitis,” he wrote in an apologetic Facebook message to fans in the wake of the announcement. “I woke up on Wednesday morning with serious pain but I flew to Miami anyway, hoping that it would go away. The pain was still there when I landed so I went straight to hospital. I was treated and left later that night. Unfortunately, the pain came back yesterday afternoon and I returned to the hospital where they admitted me to stay overnight.”
His gallbladder and appendix were removed, yet he barely paused to recover. “I took a month off, but it wasn’t really a month off,” he later revealed to Billboard. “I was in the studio 12 hours a day, and then went right back to touring. It’s hard to say no in this industry. You want to play everything and be everywhere.” That September he was forced to cancel an upcoming tour to heal properly. “Since my operation, I’d just been going and going,” said after the cancellations were announced. “I was dropping weight. I needed to take a break.”
Avicii continued creating, delivering both an EP, Pure Grinding / For a Better Day, and the full-length Stories in 2015, but by the following year he finally decided to put himself first. In March 2016 he shocked fans by announcing his retirement from the concert stage.
“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,” he wrote in a message posted to his website. “It really helped me realize that I needed to make the change that I’d been struggling with for a while.”
The changes, he said in a revealing interview with the Hollywood Reporter soon after, were inexplicably tied to his physical well-being as well as mental. “To me it was something I had to do for my health. 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.”
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The choice to step back was indeed a difficult one, with Avicii calling it “the hardest decision of my life so far.” But he said the breathing room helped in claim his life and his art.
“I just feel happy. I feel free at this point. Like I have my private life back and focusing on myself for the first time in a long time,” he said as he wound down his final tour. “So far it has paid off tremendously in terms of well-being for me. I’m happier than I have been in a very very long time. Stress-free more than I have been in a very long time. I can’t say I’m never going to have a show again. I just don’t think I’m going to go back to the touring life.”