Celebrity autographs serve two purposes. They can provide tangible proof you once captured the attention of a famous individual, and they can be profitable if you opt to resell them to collectors. (In 2014, someone who really loved Charles Dickens purchased a signed copy of A Tale of Two Cities for nearly $400,000.) Either way, there’s usually a feeding frenzy for them when celebrities step out in public.
But not everyone with a recognizable face is agreeable to putting pen to paper. Take a look at eight people who usually opt out of scribbling something on a napkin. (This list isn’t to imply those named never sign, only they’ve expressed a desire not to.)
1. William Shatner
The 91-year-old Star Trek actor—and recent Blue Origin space traveler—will usually pass up autograph solicitations unless he’s appearing at a convention. After some fans deemed the policy rude, William Shatner explained his reasoning in a 2018 Twitter thread: “If I’m out and about with family or waiting for a plane and I do it for one [person], an instant line [of] 50 forms,” he wrote. “So if I say no to No. 1 or No. 21 it’s the same—I’m a jerk. So to save time the answer is no. There’s a time and place for everything and conventions are that place.
One fan asked Shatner if there was ever a good time to ask him while out in public. “No,” he replied.
2. Bryan Cranston
Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston is one of television’s most beloved personalities, but the tsunami of Breaking Bad merchandise and accompanying pleas to have them personalized eventually wore the actor down. “After 18 years of signing everything for fans, I’m retiring,” he said in 2018, leaving the door slightly open for “selfies.”
Cranston still appears amenable to signing during pre-planned events. In spring 2022, he and Breaking Bad co-star Aaron Paul promoted their Dos Hombres tequila by doing bottle signings.
3. Steve Martin
Steve Martin, who is winning over a new generation of fans thanks to the success of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, once devised a clever way of avoiding autograph seekers without making them feel alienated. In the 1980s, Martin handed out business cards that read: “This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and you found me warm, polite, intelligent, and funny.”
Actor Jonah Hill adopted a similar strategy. In 2015, a fan reported that Hill handed him a card that read: “I just met Jonah Hill … and it was a total letdown.”
4. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr, who was the drummer for The Beatles, is arguably one of the most famous people on the planet—which makes demand for his signature understandable. Yet Starr has held up an edict first announced in 2008 that he would never grant an autograph request because he’s uncomfortable with people profiting from them. (He made the announcement in a video, in which he said “I’m warning you with peace and love” that he would no longer sign any mail sent to him.) “I don’t autograph,” he said in 2016. “All autographs are on stuff that I’ve (done). One of my paintings or something I’m involved with, and it goes to charity. It doesn’t just go out there for other people to sell.”
Beatle bandmate Paul McCartney shared the sentiment in 2021, telling Reader’s Digest that he “won’t typically do the photo thing these days” and prefers conversation over an autograph.
5. Bruce Campbell
The cult star of The Evil Dead franchise makes frequent appearances at conventions, where he will happily sign paper or pose for photos. But Bruce Campbell doesn’t appear to have much interest in signing something sent to him. “I want to poke holes in the Hollywood myth that it means something,” he said in 2000. “I often get people sending 3 x 5 index cards for me to sign, which means people are just collecting them. I will often do conventions so I can meet the people. I respect them and want to intermingle with them. I think that’s the best format to do autographs. I don’t like the impersonal side of celebrity. Overall I hope people will understand. People are putting people in the public eye on pedestals which just isn’t right.”
6. Billie Eilish
The singer said she stopped signing autographs in 2019 after overzealous autograph seekers made her uncomfortable. “It’s something that I don’t do because I used to, but I realized all anyone did was sell everything that I signed, so I stopped doing that,” she said. “It was kind of like a policy of mine that I don’t.” Once, when Eilish opted not to sign, fans began booing her. “The fact that people can switch up like that, damn. They wait outside for you and then immediately they don’t get what they want and they boo you, and f***ing curse at you. I’m like, ‘Bro, I’m 17.’”
7. Greta Garbo
It’s obviously hard to snag the signature of Greta Garbo, who died in 1990. But even at the height of her fame, Garbo was not complicit in demands for her attention. The actress reportedly refused all autograph requests and ignored all her fan mail. One theory is that she hated her own handwriting. Owning to its scarcity, a Garbo autograph fetched $5355 at a 2021 Bonhams auction. It was made out to her translator, Sven-Hugo Borg.
8. Bonus: Joaquin Phoenix
The Oscar-winning star of Joker may not have a hang-up about autographs, but he is averse to photos. Phoenix told Playboy [PDF] that a woman once came up to him in a store and asked for a picture. “I said, ‘You know what? I don’t do that, but thanks so much for coming up … We chatted a bit. It was fun. Then she went and bought her tube socks, and I bought my stupid little sweatpants, and that was it.”
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