By the beginning of the year Pete was a mess, separated from his wife, living it up in London, drinking heavily and acquiring a cocaine habit. Nevertheless, he had one of his greatest triumphs with his solo album, Empty Glass, released April 4, 1980, containing the hit "Let My Love Open The Door" that matched The Who’s highest U.S. success on the singles chart at #9. Just before that album came out, he presented The Who with his demos for their next album, songs that were as quirky and personal as the ones he had just recorded, only to see them get a cool reception.
Roger, who had continued with his acting career, released the movie McVicar that May as part of Who Films. It did not make much money and The Who decided to end their effort as movie producers. Once again, a planned Lifehouse movie was cancelled.
The new album, Face Dances, was launched March 6, 1981 to heavy publicity by The Who’s new record label Warner Brothers but tepid reviews from the press. The band came to agree that the material did not fit the Who.
It was during the British Face Dances tour that Pete began to unravel. After drinking four pints of brandy, he launched into a political rant during The Who’s February 4 show at the Rainbow Theatre. Roger began to believe that if The Who continued touring, Pete would soon join Keith Moon in death.
Stardom was also taking its toll on the other members as well. John’s marriage came to a bitter conclusion after he began dating a Hollywood wardrobe set designer while working on a solo album and Kenney’s marriage was collapsing as well.
Finally, in December, Pete’s parents convinced him to seek help. He moved back in with his wife and left for California for addiction treatment.
Pete returned from California clean if a bit shaky to find The Who already rehearsing and ready to record another album. Since he had been unable to write any new songs for it, Pete asked the band to decide on the approach; what were they concerned about/interested in now? The answer was the current political climate, then in a buzz over the combination of the recent war over the Falklands, riots in Brixton and President Reagan’s decision to place U.S. nuclear missiles in Europe.
The result was It’s Hard, the most political of The Who’s albums, recorded that June with producer Glyn Johns. Publicly the band was united behind the album but privately Roger loathed the new songs and tried and failed to get the album stopped. Released September 3, the new LP got a rave review in Rolling Stone but was panned, often viciously, by most other rock writers. Also flattened by reviews was Pete’s new solo album, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes released that June. From this point until the mid-1990’s, almost everything from The Who would receive rote dismissal by the rock press.
The Who started their new tour September 10 to stadium-filling sales but more cries of betrayal from the rock press. Following the lead of The Rolling Stones who had their 1981 tour sponsored by Jovan, The Who supplemented their gate with commercial sponsorship by Schlitz Beer. Critics who had long championed The Who turned on them for what they saw as The Who selling-out their integrity and making a hypocritical choice of sponsor right after Pete’s revelation of his alcoholism and drug addiction. Pete answered the band’s critics roughly in public statements but changed few minds.
Tensions between Pete and Roger were invisible on stage but were in full evidence to reporters backstage as the two got into loud arguments or kept out of each other’s way. One thing they agreed on was that this would be The Who’s last tour. John and Kenney had no interest in stopping but their opinion was ignored as publicity declared it to be "The Who’s Farewell Tour." The run concluded December 17 at the Toronto Maple Leaf Garden with a widely shown but rather tired final performance.
The Who’s contract with Warner Brothers still called for another studio album, so Pete began composing new songs for a concept album to be called Siege, but he quickly gave up, afraid of presenting the band with another failing batch of songs.
Meanwhile Pete and Roger got on with their lives, Pete releasing a collection of his old demos as the double-LP Scoop and getting his first day job as a book editor for Faber & Faber Publishers. Roger worked on a new solo album and took acting roles on the BBC in The Beggar’s Opera and The Comedy of Errors.
That summer Pete gathered the band to break the news that he could no longer write songs for The Who and he wanted out. Assuming he would come around as he had done so often in the past, the other members of The Who began looking for alternative composers, perhaps an album with people like Bruce Springsteen writing for The Who?
Pete was serious, however, and went to Warner Brothers begging for a release from The Who’s contract. He got it and on December 16 held a press conference to state he was out of the band and would have nothing further to do with The Who. Roger, John and Kenney had no say in it and denounced Pete’s decision.