The first time I heard Avicii was seven years ago. In the shower. I remember feeling the water, then the music. It hit me with a rush, filling up my body with every beat, pulsing inside me to the point where I couldn’t distinguish between the rhythm and my own heartbeat.
I began dancing on the slippery wet white porcelain, not caring if I slipped and fell. My body had to MOVE, caution be damned:
That’s what inspired music does. It makes you fucking FEEL something. In the din and drudgery of day-to-day life, amidst the struggles and suffering, uncertainty and unknowns,music makes you feel.Connected to yourself, connected to others, connected to Life and to Spirit and this whole goddamn gorgeous, uncontrollable, inexplicable universe.
At some point, this creator of music struggled with his own connection and his own relationship with Life. At some point, maybe you have too.
This is an in-depth look at Avicii’s life, death, and search for meaning as we all continue the search for and creation of our own.
The Life of The Boy Who Became Avicii
Growing up, Tim Bergling was a timid kid whose acne outbreaks made him even more shy and withdrawn. As both an introvert and an empath, he was terrified to speak in front of people, extremely sensitive, and ultimately discovered an outlet for expression, feeling, and connection in a way that felt good and made sense through music.
When he was a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Tim began making remixes in his family home in Stockholm, Sweden. Safely shielded behind a screen name where nobody would judge him by his age or his complexion, he began sharing his mixes in electronic dance music forums.
Two years later, a manager stumbled across one of his postings online. Struck by the raw talent, he invited the 18-year-old out to coffee. Tim had no clue about the business and just wanted to have the chance to DJ in a club instead of his bedroom, but his new manager had a bigger vision in mind for him.
An interview with teenage Tim Bergling:
“Bromance” blew up in 2010, followed by “LE7ELS” in 2011:
Less than a year after that, Avicii was onstage alongside Madonna.
The kid who began by messing around with music in his teenage bedroom “hoping to have a chance to play a gig in a real club,” whose first-ever gig as a DJ was playing to forty students at a high school prom, was now, five years later, commanding $250,000 and up for one night of work to perform in front of thousands. In 2013, he generated $20 million in earnings, followed by $28 million in 2014. His talent was unique, his gifts undeniable.
He couldn’t say “no.”
With immense success came immense stress, pressure, and overwhelm. Avicii may have been invincible onstage, but Tim Bergling didn’t know how to say “no.” He didn’t know how to say “no” to pushy promoters who wanted him to keep touring past the point of exhaustion.
“When I started touring I was eighteen years old. I was straight out of high school, I had shows every single day. I completely overdid it.” –Avicii
He didn’t know how to say “no” to the drinks that were shoved into his hands, to the people, to the partying, to the lifestyle.
“I looked at myself like, “Fuck, you should’ve really stood up for yourself more there. Come on, Tim!” Why didn’t I stop the ship earlier?” –Avicii
All he wanted to do was make music, but everyone wanted a piece of him to break off and keep for themselves. Wanting to please, wanting to be accepted, and wanting to fit into an industry that pushes hard and promotes more, more, more, Tim kept saying “yes, yes, yes.”
The problem is, too much of anything will drown you.
“It’s very easy to become too attached to partying. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.” –Avicii
The signs began, softly at first, as they always do. If you ignore them, they become louder. They whisper, they speak, they shout, and finally, they scream.
January 2012, Age 22: Avicii Hospitalized in New York for 11 Days
Tim is hospitalized in New York City with acute pancreatitis, a consequence of heavy drinking. He remains in the hospital for 11 days.
March 2013, Age 23: Avicii Hospitalized in Australia
Tim is hospitalized again for similar symptoms while on tour in Australia. Doctors urge him to have his gallbladder removed, but he declines.
March 28, 2014, Age 24: Avicii Hospitalized in Miami
Tim is scheduled to be the headliner at the Ultra music festival in Miami. One day before what would have been his third performance in a row, he is again hospitalized with excruciating pain, fever, nausea, and other symptoms of acute pancreatitis. In the hospital, he learns that not only had his acute pancreatitis returned, but his appendix has burst. Both his gall bladder and his appendix have to be removed. Months of scheduled events are canceled so he can recover.
Five years earlier, Avicii released the song “Alcoholic” with the darkly, unapologetically aware lyrics, “Call it what you wanna call it, I’m a fucking alcoholic.”
The Miami hospitalization was a screaming sign, demanding attention after so many subtler ones were ignored: It’s time to do something different, or else you’re going to die.
“I’m happy I got that hospital visit now, ’cause if not I probably would have still kept going and in a year or two years probably something way worse could have happened. Something that’s irreversible. This is not irreversible at all. It was just kind of a wake-up call.” –Avicii
In 2016, in a dramatic move hearing and heeding the loudest wake-up call, Avicii unexpectedly announced that he was going to retire from all live tours. Excerpts from his retirement letter are as follows:
Thank you for letting me fulfill so many of my dreams. I will be forever grateful to have experienced and accomplished all that I have with the help of the team around me and my beloved fans.
Thank you to every fan who has ever bought a ticket or snuck in, bought a song or downloaded it, commented on posts or hated at them. Its your thoughts and ideas about the music that helped me evolve and I do owe everything I have to you.
My path has been filled with success but it hasn’t come without its bumps. I’ve become an adult while growing as an artist, I’ve come to know myself better and realize that there’s so much I want to do with my life. I have strong interests in different areas but there’s so little time to explore them.
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. It really helped me realize that I needed to make the change that I’d been struggling with for a while.
My choices and career have never been driven by material things, although I’m grateful for all the opportunities and comforts my success has availed me. I know I am blessed to be able to travel all around the world and perform, but I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.
I will never let go of music — I will continue to speak to my fans through it, but I’ve decided this 2016 run will be my last tour and last shows. Let’s make them go out with a bang!
One part of me can never say never, I could be back …but I won’t be right back.
“I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.” -Tim Bergling/Avicii