Syd Barrett was born Roger Keith Barrett on January 6, 1946 in Cambridge, England. His father, Arthur, was a pathologist and his mother, Winifred, was a stay-at-home mom. From a young age his parents encouraged his interest in music and art. At the age of fourteen, he was given the nickname "Syd" in reference to a local jazz bassist named Sid Barrett. His father died of cancer when Syd was only fifteen.
As a youth he attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, which has since been renamed Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. After that, he went to the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, which has since been renamed Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University. In 1964, he enrolled at Camberwell Art School, located in the southern part of London. In his free time, he continued pursuing music by writing songs and performing them at local parties and for friends.
In 1965, Syd joined the band that would later become Pink Floyd when it was named "The Tea Set". However, they decided to change their name when they found themselves at a concert with a band using the same name. Syd juxtaposed the first names of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council to come up with "The Pink Floyd Sound". The band started out playing covers of American R&B songs, but by 1966 they had developed their own psychedelic rock song and became the featured house band at the UFO in London.
In 1967, the band recorded its first singles, "Arnold Layne", "See Emily Play", and "Apples and Oranges", which were all written by Syd. The singles convinced EMI to sign the band and record their first album, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn". Syd wrote eight of the eleven songs on the album and co-wrote two others. The album became a hit in the UK, reaching #6 on the British album charts after it was released in August of 1967.
In spite of the album's success, Syd's behavior became increasingly bizarre and detached. At the time he was experimenting with hallucinogens like LSD, which appeared to contribute to his mental breakdown. In some concerts, he would strum one chord the entire time or not play at all, much to the annoyance of his band mates. Syd's performance became so poor that after a tour of the United States, David Gilmour was brought into the band as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett. Barrett continued his bizarre behavior and in January of 1968, when the band was on the way to a show at Southampton University, someone asked "Shall we pick Syd up?" and another responded "Let's not bother".
After gradually removing him from live performances, they tried to keep him on as a songwriter, but even this failed. In their last practice session, Syd introduced a new song called "Have You Got It, Yet?". As the band tried to learn it, they realized that he was changing the arrangement each time as a joke. In 1968, their album "A Saucerful of Secrets" was released, after which Syd was kicked out of the band.
Despite being out of the band, he would often sit outside of the recording studio waiting for someone to invite him in. At a few concerts, he would even show up to glare at Gilmour, his replacement. In March of 1968, the band officially announced that Syd Barrett was no longer a member of Pink Floyd.
Following his departure from Pink Floyd, Syd released two solo albums "The Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett". On June 6, 1970 he had a concert at the Olympia Exhibition Hall with Jerry Shirley and David Gilmour, playing four songs, after which Syd unexpectedly put down his guitar and left the stage. During this time he had a few appearances on BBC radio as well.
In 1972, he formed a band called Stars with Twink and Jack Monck. The band initially did well, but had a particularly disastrous gig at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. After reading a review of the gig in the newspaper, Barrett approached Twink on the street and told him he was leaving the group.
In 1974, he returned to Abbey Road Studios at the behest of Peter Jenner to try recording again. After three days of sessions, he gave up and sold his solo album rights to the record label. He lived in a London hotel for a time, but eventually had to move into his mother's basement after his money ran out. Over the remainder of his life, he continued to receive royalties from Pink Floyd compilations and live albums.
In 1975, he paid an awkward visit to a Pink Floyd recording session for "Wish You Were Here". He showed up unannounced as the band was recording "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", a song that was coincidentally about him. Since he was overweight and had shaved his head and eyebrows, his band mates did not recognize him. Eventually they were told who it was, and a distressed Roger Waters broke into tears. This bizarre visit became the inspiration for the scene in "The Wall" where Pink shaves his head and eyebrows after succumbing to the pressures of fame and life.
Over the rest of his life, Syd lived a very secluded life. He continued to paint and took up gardening and communicated with the outside world through his sister, Rosemary. His sister claims that Syd was never diagnosed with mental illness and did not receive any treatment, other than a short stay at Greenwoods in Essex for a short time. He died on July 7, 2006 of pancreatic cancer, leaving his remaining money to his siblings.