Photo: Wikipedia

Billy Idol, Budapest Park, June 29, 2022

A survivor of rock’n’roll’s extreme lifestyle

The last time that curled-lip, spiky-haired punk rocker Billy Idol caught The Budapest Times’ attention was with his “Charmed Life” album in 1990, and so it is surely time to catch up ahead of his appearance at Budapest Park on June 29 this year, lest it be said that we are totally out of date. Sometimes it’s a surprise to see that these ageing rockers are still on the go.

Delving into the information superhighway, we note that Idol, now in his 67th year, gave an “overwhelmingly successful” gig at Budapest Park in 2018, an occasion that we were completely ignorant about. The “overwhelmingly successful” verdict comes from the Budapest Park people themselves, who are obviously hoping for a repeat performance.

A bigger discovery comes from one of those “celebrity wealth” websites that we have been checking out lately, where it is estimated that Idol has a net worth of USD60 million. Sixty million big ones! That’s what a punk with a few hits under his belt can achieve?

The future Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad in Stanmore, Middlesex, England, on November 30, 1955, the first child of Bill and Joan Broad. Dad moved the family to Long Island, New York, in pursuit of the American dream, when William was 2 years old. Four years later they returned to the UK, living next to The Running Horses, a 16th-century pub in attractive Mickleham village near Dorking, Surrey.

William had been impressed by the big American gas-guzzling cars and its rebellious rock music but had a fairly normal childhood in Surrey, happily hanging out with his pals and getting up to the usual mischief they enjoyed. The family attended church and Billy became a Boy Scout, though he reportedly left after being caught kissing a girl in preference to tying knots.

He was bright and passed the 11-plus exam but became bored at grammar school, and when a teacher made the remark that “Billy is idle” it stuck in his mind. In 1971 the family moved to Bromley in Kent and in September 1975 he began studying English and Philosophy at Sussex University. But now came the explosion of punk rock, capturing his imagination more than English and Philosophy. And Bromley was handily placed for the clubs and pubs of London.

Billy and his like-minded friends, who included Susan Dallion, later Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, hung out at Malcolm McLaren’s SEX clothes shop and went to the anarchic Sex Pistols’ gigs. Bill Broad changed his name to Billy Idol and formed his first band, The Rockettes, with a classmate, Steve Upstone, playing covers of The Animals, Beatles and Doors, among others.

The Rockettes gigged in the campus cafeteria and played one gig outside of the university at the local youth hall but never recorded. They auditioned for famed music managers McLaren, who had signed the Pistols, and Bernie Rhodes, who told Upstone that he was the real star. This and Billy’s father’s doubt and disapproval only served to make Billy more determined.

He dropped out of university and formed the punk band Generation X, who played their first show in November 1976. They wrote original material and started to get noticed. Chrysalis Records signed them in 1977 and they had a taste of fame, but after three albums and with management problems, band discord and the decline of punk, Idol went solo.

He relocated to New York, signed with Kiss manager Bill Aucoin and in 1981 his EP “Don’t Stop” included a cover of Tommy James’ 1960s hit “Mony Mony” and two Generation X tracks, including “Dancing with Myself”. A solo deal with Chrysalis followed, resulting in the successful self-titled “Billy Idol” album in 1982.

Idol’s peroxide spiky hair, sneer and leathers made full use of the 1980s MTV explosion, and he became one of the cable channel’s first stars. The greatly successful music videos for “White Wedding”, “Eyes Without a Face” and “Dancing with Myself” defined him as a member of the glam rock contingent made popular by music videos in that decade.

The stage was set for the big hit album “Rebel Yell” in 1984, earning a nomination for a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1985 (Bruce Springsteen won with “Dancing in the Dark”.) His 1986 album “Whiplash Smile” sold well and contained “To Be a Lover”, which was also Grammy-nominated for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, in 1987 (pipped again, this time by Robert Palmer with “Addicted to Love”).

But some felt the album failed to impress. Also, Idol’s hell-raising was attracting as much (if not more) publicity than his music, and he parted ways with his important collaborator, guitarist and co-writer Steve Stevens.

This is around the time where we started to lose interest in Idol too. It seems he relocated to Los Angeles, formed a new band and appeared on stage in The Who’s “Tommy”. Around the time of “Charmed Life” he proved the opposite, running a Stop sign on his Harley-Davidson motorbike and almost losing a leg. He spent six months in bed and the video for a single, “Cradle of Love”, showed him from the waist up (emulating Elvis, but for a different reason: Idol was paralysed for a while below the waist).

His past success carried him through commercially and “Charmed Life” was another platinum seller. Recovered, he took a break and tried acting, making his screen debut as Jim Morrison’s drinking buddy in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” in 1991. The following year he pleaded guilty to punching his lady friend outside a West Hollywood nightclub and was fined and required to appear in a series of anti-drug commercials.

His “Cyberpunk” album in 1993 saw the sound change to synthesised techno beats and the peroxide locks change to dreadlocks. The album flopped. He collapsed outside a nightclub. He sank into drugs, overdosing in 1994. The brushes with death saw him calm down and father a son in 1988 and a daughter in 1989, though from different relationships.

He had a cameo in the hit Adam Sandler comedy film “The Wedding Singer” in 1998, a wax model in Las Vegas, a strong-selling “Greatest Hits’ in 2001 and two VH1 specials, “Behind the Music” and “Storytellers”, both in 2002. Idol continued to tour and worked on new music with Stevens.

The hedonistic, hell-raising days caught up in the rock’n’roll lifestyle seem to be over but the passion for music and performing remain and his shows are said to be still no holds barred. Behind the bad boy reputation, he is described as quite gentle and sensitive offstage, knowledgeable with a good sense of humour and a vegetarian.

Out of the entertainment industry, he apparently loves touring Third World countries while assisting less fortunate people through grants and donations. This helped him to win the Most Generous Celebrity Award in 1998 and 1999, and be the Most Celebrated Celebrity in UK in 2002.

He attained the height of respectability with a Christmas album, “Happy Holidays”, in 2006, and his memoir “Dancing with Myself” was a “New York Times bestseller” in 2014 (many books seem to earn this accolade, or “Sunday Times bestseller” in the UK).  There was also a confessional album, “Kings and Queens of the Underground”, and in September 2021 he surprised his fans with a four-track EP called “The Roadside”, recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic with Stevens and featuring “Bitter Taste”, which looks back to his near-fatal motorbike crash.

He has also been battling MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, caused by a type of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections, but is hopeful of a full recovery.

Bring on Billy at Budapest Park, 66 and still going strong, as they say.

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