Being rich, famous, or influential has plenty of perks—but escaping the spirit world’s torments isn’t necessarily one of them. Here are eight prominent individuals, both past and present, who have either claimed or been said to have had close encounters with ghosts.
1. Joan Rivers
Few people—either living or dead—would have wanted to mess with Joan Rivers. But when the late comedian purchased a swanky Upper East Side penthouse condo in 1988, she found herself facing a formidable foe: the ghostly niece of financier and banker J.P. Morgan.
Rivers’s new home was a Gilded Age mansion, which was converted into condos in the 1930s. When she tried to renovate her own digs, however, she noticed a peculiar presence: “It was just very strange,” Rivers recounted in a 2009 episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, according to the New York Post. “The apartment was cold. I could never get any of my electrical things to work correctly.” She also recalled that her pet Yorkshire Terrier refused to enter the room for months, and she saw strange graffiti on the walls.
When the building’s elevator operator heard about the strange occurrences, he reportedly said, “I guess Mrs. Spencer is back.” Instead of going head-to-head with the specter—who reportedly still thought of herself as “the grande dame of the building,” according to Rivers—the comedian called in a New Orleans voodoo priestess to cleanse the home of spirits, and Rivers reported that her dog finally came into the apartment. But the hauntings soon returned—until Rivers made nice with the ghost by hanging a portrait of her in the building lobby and leaving flowers out for her.
In 2015, less than a year after Rivers’s death, a Saudi prince purchased the penthouse for $28 million. According to reports, he disliked her decorating style and planned to gut-renovate the apartment. No word, however, on whether he’s also personally experienced the ire of Mrs. Spencer.
2. King George IV
Raynham Hall is a palatial estate in Norfolk, England, with a spooky backstory: It’s reportedly haunted by a ghost known as the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall”—and it’s said that King George IV once saw the spirit with his own eyes.
The Brown Lady (who gets her name from her brown brocade dress) became world-famous in 1936 after photographers from Country Life magazine allegedly took a photo of her floating down the stairs in Raynham Hall. She’s believed to be the spirit of Dorothy Walpole, the sister of Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.
An important noble family called the Townshends built Raynham Hall in 1620, and a member of the clan—Charles Townshend, an 18th century British secretary of state—married Dorothy Walpole. The marriage was rumored to have been a bad one, and in 1726 Dorothy died around the age of 40, reportedly from smallpox. (One alternate tale says that Townshend pushed her down the estate’s grand staircase and she broke her neck; another claims she died of a broken heart.)
Dorothy’s spirit lingered, and Norfolk legend says that when King George IV was the young Prince of Wales, he slept in the estate’s State Bedroom and woke to see “a little lady all dressed in brown, with disheveled hair and a face of ashy paleness.” The future king left Raynham Hall immediately, and swore he would never spend another hour in the cursed house again.
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
At the peak of his fame, Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became obsessed with the paranormal. He believed in ghosts, wrote books about spiritualism and fairies, and attended séances. He even opened a psychic bookstore. Doyle didn’t believe he possessed supernatural powers himself, but in his 1930 book The Edge of the Unknown, he described several chance brushes he’d had with spirits.
In one anecdote, Doyle described waking up “with the clear consciousness that there was someone in the room, and that the presence was not of this world.” His body was paralyzed, but he could still hear footsteps echoing across the room. Then, he said he sensed a presence leaning over him, and heard them whisper, “Doyle, I come to tell you that I am sorry.” Moments later, the mysterious visitor vanished, and Doyle’s body unfroze.
Doyle’s wife slept through the entire thing, but Doyle was convinced that the experience wasn’t a dream. He believed the ghost to be a “a certain individual to whom I had tried to give psychic consolation when he was bereaved.” The man had turned down Doyle’s offer “with some contempt, and died himself shortly afterwards. It may well be that he wished to express regret,” Doyle wrote. As for his sleep paralysis, the author believed that the spirit needed to borrow power from a living person to appear in the physical world, and it had chosen him.
Fans of Sting know he’s no stranger to singing about ghosts. But in a few interviews, the ex-Police frontman claimed to have seen one, too.
At the time of his sighting, Sting had young children and owned a 16th-century English manor house. One night, the musician awoke with a jolt at 3 a.m. He “looked into the corner of the room and thought I saw [my wife] Trudie standing there with a child—our child—in her arms, staring at me,” the musician recalled in a 2009 interview with BBC Radio 2.
Sting then reached over and noticed that Trudie was still in bed. He “suddenly got this terrible chill,” he said. “And she woke up and said ‘Gosh, who is that?’ and she saw this woman and a child in the corner of the room.”
The ghostly figure disappeared, but Sting’s spooky encounters were far from over: “A lot of things happened in that house, a lot of flying objects and voices and strange, strange things happened,” he said. “When you live in old houses, you get this energy there.”
5. Athenodorus Cananites
Historians remember Roman magistrate and writer Pliny the Younger for his dramatic, first-hand account of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 CE, but he could also tell a good ghost story. Around 100 CE, the scribe wrote a letter recounting the time the Greek Stoic philosopher Athenodorus Cananites stayed in a haunted house.
“There was in Athens a house, large and spacious, which had a bad reputation as though it was filled with pestilence,” the tale began. “In the dead of night, a noise was frequently heard resembling the clashing of iron which, if you listened carefully, sounded like the rattling of chains. The noise would seem to be a distance away, but it would start coming closer … and closer … and closer. Immediately after this, a specter would appear in the form of an old man, emaciated and squalid, with bristling hair and a long beard, and rattling the chains on his hands and feet as he moved.”
The home was eventually abandoned, and it remained empty until Athenodorus came to town. He considered buying the property, but was suspicious about its low price. The philosopher would soon learn that the house was haunted—but surprisingly, this made him want to buy it even more.
Athenodorus purchased the home, moved in, and stayed up late working, hoping to run into the ghost. Sure enough, he eventually heard the rattle of chains, looked up, and saw the old man’s spirit standing in front of him.
The philosopher pretended to ignore the ghost, but the impatient ghoul beckoned toward Athenodorus, motioning for him to come outside. He did, and the old man vanished—but the next day, Athenodorus ordered for the spot he disappeared on to be dug up. There, he found the ancient skeleton of a man clad in chains.
The bones were given a proper burial, and the ghost never haunted Athenodorus—or any other citizen of Athens—again.
6. Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd’s experiences with spirits aren’t limited to Ghostbusters. In a 2013 interview with Esquire, he claimed to have once lived in a Hollywood abode that was haunted by singer Cass Elliot, from American folk rock group The Mamas & the Papas, along with the ghost of a man buried under a hillside next to the house.
“I had several experiences,” Aykroyd recalled. “I saw things moving around on our counter, and doors opening and closing. The staff also had experiences, direct contact in terms of tactile touching, and then turning around and there’s no one there.”
One day, Aykroyd claimed, one of the two ghosts crawled in bed with him while he was taking a nap. He woke up “in a trance," he said, and noticed that the bedroom’s previously closed door was ajar. Then, the actor spotted “a depression in the mattress, like somebody was getting in there,” he said. Not one to be afraid of no ghosts, Aykroyd—whose family has a great interest in the supernatural—decided to snuggle the spirit instead of screaming for help.
In a Reddit AMA, Cher revealed that not only does she believe in life after love, she also believes in ghosts: “I love ghosts,” she said. “I prefer ghosts to some people.” The singer believes that her ex-husband, Sonny Bono, who died 1998, turns on a light in her house: “I have a beautiful chandelier that he makes the light go on when it is impossible, there is no power on.”
8. Keanu Reeves
In 2014, Keanu Reeves visited Jimmy Kimmel Live and recounted the time he’d seen a ghost as a child. Reeves said he was around 6 or 7 years old, and his family had just moved to New York from Australia. He and his nanny, Renata, were in the bedroom. “There was a doorway and, all of a sudden, we’re looking over there and this jacket comes waving through the doorway, just empty—there’s no head, there’s no body, there’s no legs,” Reeves recalled. “It’s just there and then it disappears.” When he looked over at the nanny, she appeared to be shocked, mouth agape, which led Reeves to think “that was real!” He described the experience as “cool.”
Additional Source: The Mammoth Book of True Hauntings
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2023.