R.E.M.'s Bill Berry regretted quitting after onstage aneurysm as band reunites for first interview in 30 years

The drummer, who left R.E.M. in 1997, performed with bandmates Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last week

R.E.M's Bill Berry became emotional as he reflected on his decision to leave the band at the height of their success.

Berry and fellow University of Georgia students Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills formed R.E.M. in 1980 and became one of the bestselling bands of all time. During a 1995 concert in Lausanne, Switzerland, Berry suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and collapsed on stage. The drummer made a full recovery but stunned fans two years later when he announced that he was quitting the group.

R.E.M. continued on as a musical trio with Stipe, Buck and Mills until disbanding in 2011. Ahead of their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last Thursday, the original four members reunited for their first group interview in almost 30 years.


Bill Berry, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck in 1984

Bill Berry, left, opened up about leaving R.E.M. at the height of its success. (Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

While speaking with "CBS Mornings," Berry was asked if he ever had second thoughts about walking away from R.E.M.

"Of course I did," the 65-year-old said as he became emotional.

Berry paused for a moment and wiped away tears as "CBS Mornings" correspondent Antony Mason asked, "You OK?"

"Yeah," Berry said. "That was a weird time for me and I made it weird for these guys, too."

"No, you didn't," Buck said, while Stipe reassuringly squeezed Berry's shoulder.

"We respected your decision 100%," Mills told him.

"Yeah, because we're all sitting here friends again… still," Berry said as the group chuckled.

the original R.E.M. members at the songwriters hall of fame red carpet in 2024

R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Berry and Mike Mills recently reunited for their first group interview in almost 30 years. ( L. Busacca/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame)

"You had some major health issues that you were dealing with at the time," Mason pointed out.

"Yeah, I'm not going to use that as an excuse," Berry replied.

However, he explained that his medical crisis in Switzerland had been a turning point, saying, "It may have lowered my energy level and I just didn’t have the drive I once did."

"I didn’t regret it at the time, but I’ve sort of regretted it a little later," Berry said.

"But enough about me," he said with a smile as the group laughed.

REM in black and white

The bandmembers of R.E.M. pose outdoors next to a sculpture at Park West, Chicago, Illinois, in 1983.  (Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Along with Berry on drums, R.E.M. featured Stipe as the lead singer, Buck as the guitarist and Mills as the bassist. After debuting their first single "Radio Free Europe," the band began their rise to fame and released a succession of successful albums including "Murmur," "Reckoning," "Fables of the Reconstruction," "Lifes Rich Pageant," "Document" and "Green" during the 1980s.


Their breakthrough came in 1987 with the hit song "The One I Love." The group landed a deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1988 and began performing to sold-out crowds at arenas all over the world. 

R.E.M followed up with the chart-topping album, 1991's "Out of Time," which featured the massive hit "Losing My Religion." The success of "Out of Time" propelled the band to international stardom and earned R.E.M. three Grammy Awards.

rem at 1995 mtv awards

R.E.M. is one of the bestselling bands of all time. (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

In 1992, R.E.M. released "Automatic for the People," which was met with critical acclaim and commercial success. They followed up with 1994's "Monster" and embarked on a tour to support the album after taking a six-year hiatus from the road.

During the tour, three members of R.E.M. were hospitalized for medical emergencies. After Berry's life-threatening aneurysm, he underwent an emergency craniotomy. Though the band's future appeared in jeopardy, Berry recovered and continued with the tour. While on the road, Mills underwent surgery to have a benign intestinal tumor removed and Stipe later went under the knife due to a hernia.

In 1996, the group re-signed with Warner Bros. for a then-recordbreaking $80 million deal. The band went on to release the album "New Adventures in Hi-Fi." It would be the last that R.E.M. recorded with Berry before his departure and is widely considered by both the band members and fans as representing their artistic peak.

bill berry playing drums in 1995

Berry left the band in 1997 after suffering a brain aneurysm two years earlier. (Independent News and Media/Getty Images)

When R.E.M. began work on their next album, Berry came to the realization that he had lost his passion for music. He was also weary of touring and the media attention that came with the life of a rock star.

After a series of difficult conversations with his fellow band members, Berry decided to leave R.E.M. and pursue a simpler life as a hay farmer in Farmington, Georgia. In November 1997, he announced his departure in an official statement from the band released by Warner Bros.

"I’ve been playing the drums since age 9," Berry said via Rolling Stone at the time. "I’m at a point in my life where my priorities have shifted. I loved my 17 years with R.E.M. but I’m ready to... move on to a different phase of my life."

However, Berry had refused to leave R.E.M. if his departure would cause the band to break up.

The day following the announcement, the group conducted an interview with MTV. Stipe admitted that the band initially took the news hard when Berry told them that he wanted to leave.

"I was shocked. I was speechless, and I felt like I could probably change his mind and convince him to stay," Stipe said. "But after talking to him for three weeks, I know that he doesn't want to stay, and we have to respect that." 

"The first thing he said when he dropped this bomb on us is if it was going to break up the band, he wasn't going to leave," he added.

Berry told the outlet that if Stipe, Mills and Buck told him that they were disbanding, they would all "be in the studio right now working on the record instead of having to deal with this."

When asked if he really would abandon his decision to quit, Berry responded, "I was prepared to. I said it and I meant it."

mike mills, michael stipe, peter buck

Mills, Stipe and Buck continued as a trio and never replaced Berry. (Frédéric REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Berry explained that his 1995 health scare in Switzerland led him to reevaluate his future.

"It first started dawning on me when I was recuperating," he said to MTV at the time. "I wasn't specifically thinking about quitting the band, but maybe reassessing my priorities and things I want to do with the rest of my life."

He continued, "Maybe not as much travel, for one. Being away from home. I had a lot of time to lay around in a hospital bed and think about things. Maybe I started feeling sorry for myself."

After Berry announced his departure, Stipe, Mills and Buck reluctantly decided to continue with R.E.M as a musical trio.

It's the end of an era for us... Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe... and that's sad," Stipe said. "I'm happy for Bill; it's what he really wants and I think it's a courageous decision." 

"For me, Mike and Peter, as R.E.M., are we still R.E.M.? I guess a three-legged dog is still a dog," he continued. "It just has to learn how to run differently."

REM on tonight show

Bill Rieflin was one of the drummers who performed with R.E.M. after Berry's departure. (Paul B)

placeholderAfter leaving R.E.M., Berry quit music entirely and turned his focus to farming. The other musicians also decided that they would never replace Berry with a full-time drummer and permanent member of the band. However, they continued recording and performing, hiring Joey Waronker and Bill Rieflin as drummers until they disbanded in 2011.

Berry's departure is also widely considered the beginning of R.E.M.'s decline. The band went on to release more albums but never achieved the critical and commercial success of their records with Berry.

During their interview with "CBS Mornings," Stipe, Buck and Mills agreed that they had chosen the right time to disband R.E.M. 

"I think the main reason was that at that point there wasn't anything we could agree on really — musically, what kind of music, how to record it or are we going to go on tour…" Buck said.

"We could barely agree on where to go to dinner. And now, we can just agree on where to go to dinner," Buck continued with a laugh. 

"I think we quit at the right time. This is a really good place to finish, you know — great tour, great album, go home," Buck added.

"We're also here to tell the tale, and we're sitting at the same table together with deep admiration and … lifelong friendship," Stipe said. "A lot of people that do this can't claim that."

rem with eddie vedder at rock and roll hall of fame

The band reunited and performed with Eddie Vedder, second from left, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

placeholderWhile speaking with "CBS Mornings," the bandmates reflected on being recognized for their songwriting by the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"We lived or died on the strength of our songs. So this is a huge honor," Buck said.

"It is the hardest thing that we do, and it's the thing that we've worked on the most from the very beginning," Mills added.

"We had to," Berry said. "I mean, really early on, you know, just to put food on the table, we had to write songs as fast as we could."

R.E.M is one of the rare bands in which all members share songwriting and publishing credits. The group explained to Mason that their songwriting had always been a collaborative effort.

"We'd all show up at 1 o'clock and bring in any ideas that we had and see if it inspired anyone to do something with it," Mills said.


placeholderMason noted that R.E.M. found their sound as a band relatively quickly after they first formed the group.

"It felt like kismet to me. When it happened, it felt right," Stipe said.

Some of the rockers' biggest hits include "Losing My Religion," "Everybody Hurts," "It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," "Drive," "Man on the Moon," "The One I Love," "Driver 8,"·"Radio Free Europe" and "Fall On Me."

REM performing 2007

R.E.M. performed together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

The group told Mason that while they sometimes struggled to write songs, they found writing their iconic track "Losing My Religion" to be easy.

However, the members agreed that they never thought it would become a massive success.


"I love the song, but we never thought it was going to be a hit," Stipe said.

placeholder"Yeah, it should not. It's like a bumblebee. They shouldn't be able to fly," Mills joked.

"But boy, did it fly," Mason said.

"Yes, it did," Mills added with a smile.

REM performing at songwriters hall of fame

The quartet performed "Losing My Religion" at the Songwriters Hall of Fame. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images  )

Over the past decades, since leaving R.E.M., Berry has reunited for performances with Stipe, Mills and Buck a handful of times, including at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Last Thursday night, the four original members returned to the stage together once again and performed an acoustic version of "Losing My Religion" at their Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. 

The other 2024 inductees included Steely Dan, Hillary Lindsey, Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley and Dean Pitchford. The late country star Cindy Walker was also posthumously inducted.

Despite their reunion at the ceremony, Stipe, Berry, Mills and Buck have ruled out a reunion tour for R.E.M. 

"What would it take to get you guys back together one more time?" Mason asked.

"A comet," Mills joked as Berry quipped, "Superglue."

"It ain't happening is what you're saying," Mason said as the band shook their heads in unison.

"It'd never be as good," Buck said.

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