Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter John Mayer is more accustomed to adulation and the celebration of his many musical talents than he is to threats and intimidation. But that was exactly what the musician experienced when an obsessed stalker began making his life a nightmare back in March 2019.
In court documents obtained by E! News in August 2019, the extent of the events surrounding Mayer’s stalker have become clear. Naturally, it has been a difficult period for the singer. But it is just the latest chapter in an eventful life which has seemingly contained as many controversies and celebrity relationships as it has hit records.
Mayer, who in 2019 has been on a world tour, is certainly no stranger to media coverage. Indeed, since bursting onto the music scene in 2001 after being signed to Aware Records, he has rarely been out of the headlines.
Born in October 1977 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Mayer hit the big-time with his first full-length album, Room for Squares in 2001. The record contained a couple of commercially successful songs, including “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” which won him the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2003. But success came quickly for the young star, and he noted at his acceptance speech, “This is very, very fast, and I promise to catch up.”
Mayer pushed on from there, and his next album release, Heavier Things, reached the top spot on the US Billboard 200 chart that same year. One of the songs on that record, “Daughters,” also bagged the songwriter his second Grammy Award in 2005. The hit also won Mayer the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance gong for a second time.
To date, Mayer has won seven Grammy Awards and he has been nominated a further 12 times. And the star continues to sell out concert venues across America and internationally. As of October 2019 he is on tour in Europe, currently filling out venues in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Certainly, Mayer is recognized for his songcraft and accomplished guitar playing. Apparently, his interest in the guitar was reportedly piqued by watching Michael J. Fox’s turn on the instrument as Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Then, when the future star was 13 years old, his father rented a guitar for him.
One of Mayer’s earliest musical influences was legendary six-string player Stevie Ray Vaughan. And upon being presented with a cassette of the guitarist’s songs by a neighbor, Mayer became intrigued with Vaughan’s blues style. From there, the teen went on to explore the music of other famous blues guitarists such as B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
To those familiar with Mayer’s music, the blues influence is clear. But as a youngster, his passion for music bordered on obsession. Apparently, it worried his parents at times and they even made him see a psychiatrist. But he continued with his playing, and the future star received lessons from the proprietor of a local guitar shop.
Later, while still at high school, Mayer began playing at bars and honing his style on stage. As well as being a solo performer, Mayer was in a band called Villanova Junction, whose name was a homage to another of the guitarist’s musical heroes: Jimi Hendrix.
With influences such as Hendrix and Vaughan, it is clear where Mayer’s guitar style originated – but what about his songwriting? Well, Mayer explained that it began after he was hospitalized with cardiac dysrhythmia when he was 17. He told Rolling Stone magazine in 2006, “That was the moment the songwriter in me was born.”
In 1997 Mayer enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, despite telling his parents he didn’t want to study. However, after two semesters the musician was persuaded by his college friend Clay Cook to quit his studies. The two men then headed off together to Atlanta, Georgia, where they formed the band LoFi Masters.
So Cook and Mayer started playing in clubs and local coffee houses, but it wasn’t to last. According to the former, Mayer wanted to emulate a more pop sound, and the two later split up. The latter musician then recorded the EP Inside Wants Out, with Cook co-writing several songs, including “No Such Thing,” which became a hit. Then in 2001 Mayer was signed to Aware Records, and also began enjoying a dedicated following from the nascent online music market.
In 2002 Mayer released the aforementioned Room for Squares, which led to a number of radio hits and saw him win a Grammy a year later. Fame soon arrived, and the musician later embarked on a number of high-profile romances. He dated actresses Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jennifer Aniston, Minka Kelly, Jessica Simpson and singer Katy Perry.
Mayer’s love life soon garnered attention with the press, particularly his relationship with Jessica Simpson. Elsewhere, the singer had said early on that he aimed to avoid drugs, clubbing and anything which prevented him from producing music. But in 2006 he admitted that he was smoking marijuana, and around that time was also seen making appearances at glitzy clubs in Los Angeles and New York City.
Mayer’s alleged relationship with Taylor Swift, although never confirmed by the pair, reportedly ended badly. In fact, both of them wrote tunes about the other in individually released songs. Swift’s 2010 song “Dear John,” rumored to be about Mayer, provoked a strong response from her supposed ex.
Aside from the celebrity relationships and breakups, Mayer has also admitted to having issues with alcohol. In 2018 he began airing an Instagram Live series named Current Mood. There, the singer revealed that he had been in a self-imposed period of sobriety. Apparently, it had stemmed from a six-day hangover he experienced after Drake’s 30th birthday celebrations.
Yet one of the darkest chapters in Mayer’s career came back in 2010 when he gave a controversial interview to Playboy magazine. The singer was asked if black women were attracted to him, and he gave an expletive-laden response which compared his manhood to a “white supremacist.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, Mayer was also heard to use the N-word in that same interview. He then later apologized after the event via Twitter, saying, “It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize… a word that is so emotionally charged.” He also tearfully apologized on stage at a show in Nashville that same night.
Mayer later admitted that this period had been difficult for him, and he tried to avoid the limelight for a time after. In 2012 he explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, “I lost my head for a little while and I did a couple of dumb interviews and it kind of woke me up… It was a violent crash into being an adult. For a couple of years, it was just figuring it all out, and I’m glad I actually stayed out of the spotlight.”
However, Meyer could hardly have expected the ordeal that would be coming his way in March 2019. That month, he began suffering at the hands of an individual who was unknown to Mayer and his team. At first, the singer believed the man was stalking and harassing him; however, the court documents gathered by E! News showed that the latter’s behavior had become more worrying still.
The situation had taken a turn for the worse when Mayer and his group began receiving threats via social media channels. In fact, some of the details of those posts have been released, and they make for particularly unsavory reading. But who was this alleged perpetrator?
According to the court documents, the man accused of harassing Mayer and his team is called Ryan Jeremy Knight. Other than his name and age, and the fact that he has a criminal record, nothing much else is currently known about the man.
So, clearly, Knight’s alleged behavior is of course considered stalking; but what is the difference between this and the actions of a superfan? Well, back in 2016 the BBC analyzed the issue of famous celebrities being stalked and examined the stages which fans go through to end up doing such a thing.
In that article, consultant forensic psychiatrist Frank Farnham suggested how both stalkers and superfans could be defined. He said, “Superfans are relatively stable. They gain a lot from being in a group of people who like the same person. It’s a pro-social behavior. The superfans know each other, they go to the same gigs together, they meet up and go for a drink.”
“With stalking, it’s an anti-social behavior,” Farnham continued to the BBC. “They think they have this special bond and this relationship with the celebrity and none of the other fans matter. When you’re breaking into someone’s bedroom, that’s not the actions of a superfan.” And for Mayer’s camp, they clearly believed that Knight’s actions had crossed a line.
For his part, Knight is alleged to have made violent and anti-Semitic threats to the singer and his group. Mayer’s father, Richard, a high school principal, is Jewish, and the former has previously said that he relates to the religion.
“I’ve put many a Jew in the hospital,” Knight is alleged to have told Mayer. And this threat was one of the major red flags for the singer and his team when they reported Knight’s actions to the authorities. Nothing has been released to confirm or deny if these past acts of anti-Semitic violence are true, however.
Another chilling aspect of Knight’s threats was that he allegedly referenced two notorious murderers. One was 1970s serial killer Ted Bundy. The second was Mark David Chapman, who became infamous after shooting singer John Lennon dead in New York City in 1980.
Bundy, for his part, is arguably one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history. Before his death in Florida in 1989, he confessed to 30 murders across the country, but was suspected of more besides. And in her book Defending the Devil: My Story as Ted Bundy’s Last Lawyer, Polly Nelson described him as “the very definition of heartless evil.”
Clearly, Knight’s alleged refence to Bundy was a worrying sign. Yet the second notorious criminal who he apparently mentioned is one whose criminal exploits are much more closely associated with famous musicians specifically.
Knight apparently made a nod to Mark David Chapman, the man convicted of murdering iconic singer John Lennon. Chapman was actually initially a fan of Lennon’s band the Beatles. But he turned against the singer after undergoing a religious awakening and taking particular offence at Lennon’s songs “Imagine” and “God.”
Chapman began hatching plans to kill Lennon three months before he actually did so. On December 8, 1980, the singer was shot four times in the back by Chapman outside the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan, where the musician resided at the time. Lennon, aged just 40, was pronounced dead upon arriving at Roosevelt hospital in New York City.
Chapman’s motivations for killing Lennon are muddled, but the former’s wife Gloria has argued that he was angered by the singer’s lifestyle. Lynne H. Schultz’s book March 4, 1966: The Beginning of the End for John Lennon? spoke to Chapman’s wife. She said, “[Lennon] told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music.”
Chapman was also said to have been influenced by his own religious conversion. Schultz’s book quoted him as saying, “I just wanted to scream out loud, ‘Who does he [Lennon] think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?’ Saying that he doesn’t believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage.”
As one of the best-known musicians in history, the reference to Lennon’s death at the hands of a crazed individual may have resonated with Mayer. Nevertheless, a judge gave the singer a restraining order, which ordered Knight to stay at least 100 feet away from Mayer and his home. What’s not known, however, is whether this ruling will be made permanent.
Unfortunately, the issue of stars being harassed by stalkers is sadly quite common. In April 2018 a man called Julius Sandrock was arrested outside the Los Angeles residence of singer Taylor Swift. Police also found items including a knife, rope, ammunition and gloves when they apprehended him.
Elsewhere, in 2011 singer and actress Selena Gomez was forced to take out a restraining order against Thomas Brodniki. The latter had claimed to have had multiple conversations with God about Gomez. Another singer, Ariana Grande, was repeatedly stalked and sent gifts by Timothy Normandin, who was given three years’ probation. He was also declared to be suffering from a delusional disorder.
In a particularly worrying development in the Mayer case, Knight actually attended one of the former’s concerts in North Carolina in June 2019. However, he was quickly identified by security and escorted away from the gig, according to the court documents obtained by E! News.
The temporary restraining order won by Mayer was set to be reviewed at the end of August 2019. However, details of that hearing are yet to be released to the public. What we do know, is this difficult experience is just the latest chapter in the colorful career of the world-renowned musician.