Idol performing in June 2012
|Birth name||William Michael Albert Broad|
|Born||30 November 1955|
Stanmore, London, England
William Michael Albert Broad (born 30 November 1955), known professionally as Billy Idol, is an English musician, singer, songwriter, and actor who holds dual British and American citizenship. He first achieved fame in the 1970s emerging from the London punk rock scene as the lead singer of a band called Generation X. Subsequently, he embarked on a solo career which led to international recognition and made Idol a lead artist during the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion" in the United States. The name "Billy Idol" was inspired by a schoolteacher's description of him as "idle".
Idol began his music career in late 1976 as a guitarist in the punk rock band Chelsea. However, he soon left the group. With his former bandmate Tony James, Idol formed Generation X. With Idol as lead singer, the band achieved success in the United Kingdom and released three albums on Chrysalis Records, then disbanded. In 1981, Idol moved to New York City to pursue his solo career in collaboration with guitarist Steve Stevens. His debut studio album, Billy Idol (1982), was a commercial success. With music videos for singles "Dancing with Myself" and "White Wedding" Idol soon became a staple of then-newly established MTV.
Idol's second studio album, Rebel Yell (1983), was a major commercial success, featuring hit singles "Rebel Yell" and "Eyes Without a Face". The album was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of two million copies in the US. In 1986, he released Whiplash Smile. Having accumulated three UK top 10 singles ("Rebel Yell", "White Wedding" and "Mony Mony") Idol released a 1988 greatest hits album titled Idol Songs: 11 of the Best; the album went platinum in the United Kingdom. Idol then released Charmed Life (1990) and the concept album Cyberpunk (1993).
Idol spent the second half of the 1990s out of the public eye focusing on his personal life. He made a musical comeback with the release of Devil's Playground (2005) and again with Kings & Queens of the Underground (2014).
Life and career
1955–1975: Early life
Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad on 30 November 1955 in Stanmore, Middlesex. He is of Irish descent on his mother's side. His parents were devout Anglicans and attended church regularly. In 1958, when he was two years old, he moved with his parents to Patchogue, New York. They also lived in Rockville Centre, New York. His younger sister, Jane, was born during this time. The family returned to England four years later and settled in Dorking, Surrey. In 1971, the family moved to Bromley in southeastern London, where Idol attended Ravensbourne School for Boys. His family later moved to the Worthing suburb of Goring-by-Sea in West Sussex, where he attended Worthing High School for Boys. In October 1975, he attended the University of Sussex to pursue an English degree and lived on-campus (East Slope) but left after year one in 1976. He then went on to join the Bromley Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, a loose gang that traveled into town when the band played.
1976–1981: Generation X
The name "Billy Idol" was coined due to a schoolteacher's description of Idol as "idle". In an interview on 21 November 1983, Idol said the name "Billy Idol" "was a bit of a goof, but part of the old English school of rock. It was a 'double thing' not just a poke at the superstar-like people ... It was fun, you know?" In another interview for BBC Breakfast in October 2014, he said that he wanted to use the name "Billy Idle", but thought the name would be unavailable due to its similarity to the name of Monty Python star Eric Idle and chose Billy Idol instead. Idol has claimed in interviews that the name was an inspired response to being described on his school report card as "idle" by his Chemistry teacher, a subject which he admits he hated and in which he underachieved.
In late 1976, he joined the newly formed West London 1960s retro-rock band Chelsea as a guitarist. The act's singer/frontman Gene October styled Idol's image, advising him to change his short sighted eye-glasses for contact lenses, and dye his hair blonde with a crew cut for a retro-1950s rocker look. After a few weeks performing with Chelsea, Idol and Tony James, the band's bass guitarist, quit the act and co-founded Generation X, with Idol switching from guitarist to the role of singer/frontman. Generation X was one of the first punk bands to appear on the BBC Television music programme Top of the Pops. Although a punk rock band, they were inspired by mid-1960s British pop, in sharp contrast to their more militant peers, with Idol stating; "We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing 'No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones', but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones". Generation X signed with Chrysalis Records, released three albums, performed in the 1980 film D.O.A., and then disbanded.
1981–1985: Solo career and breakthrough
Idol moved to New York City in 1981 and became a solo artist, working with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin. Idol's punk-like image worked well with the glam rock style of his new partner on guitar, Steve Stevens. Together they worked with bassist Phil Feit and drummer Gregg Gerson. Idol's solo career began with the Chrysalis Records EP titled Don't Stop in 1981, which included the Generation X song "Dancing with Myself", originally recorded for their last album Kiss Me Deadly, and a cover of Tommy James & the Shondells' song "Mony Mony". Idol's debut solo album Billy Idol was released in July 1982.
Part of the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion" of the US in 1982, Idol became an MTV staple with "White Wedding" and "Dancing with Myself". The music video for "White Wedding" was filmed by the British director David Mallet, and played frequently on MTV. The motorcyle smashing through the church window stunt was carried out by John Wilson, a London motorcycle courier. In 1983, Idol's label released "Dancing with Myself" in the US in conjunction with a music video directed by Tobe Hooper, which played on MTV for six months.
Rebel Yell (1983), Idol's second LP, was a major success and established Idol in the United States with hits such as "Rebel Yell," "Eyes Without a Face," and "Flesh for Fantasy". "Eyes Without a Face" peaked at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100, and "Rebel Yell" reached number six in the UK Singles Chart. This album and its singles saw Idol become popular in other countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand.
1986–1992: Whiplash Smile and Charmed Life
Idol released Whiplash Smile in 1986, which sold well. The album included the hits "To Be a Lover", "Don't Need a Gun" and "Sweet Sixteen". Idol filmed a video for the song "Sweet Sixteen" in Florida's Coral Castle.
In 1986, Stevens appeared with Harold Faltermeyer on the Top Gun soundtrack. Their contribution was the Grammy-winning instrumental "Top Gun Anthem". Stevens was working on Whiplash Smile, and Faltermeyer supplied the keyboards which led to both of them playing on the Top Gun score.
After Stevens' success, the partnership between Idol and Stevens fell apart. Besides playing an acoustic show for KROQ in 1993, Stevens and Idol did not tour again until early 1999. Stevens and Idol did collaborate in the mid-1990s, playing with Guns N' Roses members Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum in 1995. Idol, Stevens, McKagan, and Sorum performed "Christmas in the USA" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1995.
A remix album was released in 1987, titled Vital Idol. The album featured a live rendition of his cover of Tommy James' "Mony Mony". In 1987 the single topped the United States chart and reached number 7 in the UK. The album had already been available in the UK for two years.
Idol and his girlfriend Perri Lister moved from New York to Los Angeles. Lister became pregnant with Idol's son, born on 15 June 1988. Idol did not stay loyal to Lister and started seeing Linda Mathis, who was 13 years younger than Idol. At the age of 19, Mathis became pregnant and chose to move in with her mother to have her child, a girl, born on 21 August 1989.
Idol was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, which nearly cost him a leg, on 6 February 1990 in Hollywood. He was hit by a car when he ran a stop sign while riding home from the studio one night, requiring a steel rod to be placed in his leg. Shortly prior to this, film director Oliver Stone had chosen Idol for a role in his film The Doors, but the accident prevented him from participating in a major way and Idol's role was reduced to a small part. Idol played Jim Morrison's drinking pal, Cat. He had been James Cameron's first choice for the role of the villainous T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day; the role was recast entirely as a result of the accident. He was considered for the role of the villain Jacob Kell in Highlander: Endgame, but Bruce Payne was cast.
Charmed Life was released in 1990, and a video for the single "Cradle of Love" had to be shot. The song had been featured in the Andrew Dice Clay film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Because Idol was unable to walk, he was shot from the waist up. The video featured video footage of him singing in large frames throughout an apartment while Betsy Lynn George was trying to seduce a businessman. The video was placed in rotation on MTV. "Cradle of Love" earned Idol a third Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Against his doctors' advice, he managed to make appearances to promote Charmed Life.
1993–2004: Cyberpunk, decline, and resurgence
In 1993, Idol released Cyberpunk. Regarded as experimental, it was recorded in a home studio using a Macintosh computer. Idol used Studiovision and Pro-Tools to record the album. The album took ten months to make. Idol recorded the album with guitarist Mark Younger-Smith and producer Robin Hancock. Special editions of the album were issued with a floppy disk which contained a screensaver. It was one of the first albums which listed the e-mail address of the artist (firstname.lastname@example.org, now inactive) in its booklet. The album was successful in UK and Europe, but it did not perform well in the United States despite the commercial success of Shock to the System. Idol toured in Europe and played a Generation X reunion show in 1993.
In 1994, Idol collapsed outside a Los Angeles nightclub due to an overdose of the drug GHB. After the incident, Idol decided that his children would never forgive him for dying of a drug overdose, and he ceased his drug use. Idol and Steve Stevens contributed a song titled "Speed" to the soundtrack of the hit film Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
In 1996, Idol appeared in a live version of the Who's Quadrophenia. Idol made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1998 film The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler, in which Idol played a pivotal role in the plot. The film featured White Wedding on its soundtrack.
In 2000, Idol was invited to be a guest vocalist on Tony Iommi's album. His contribution was on the song "Into the Night", which he co-wrote. That year, he voice acted the role of Odin, a mysterious alien character, in the animated fantasy film Heavy Metal 2000, also providing a song for the soundtrack.
VH1 aired Billy Idol – Behind the Music on 16 April 2001. Idol and Stevens took part in a VH1 Storytellers show three days later. The reunited duo set out to play a series of acoustic/storytellers shows before recording the VH1 special. Another Greatest Hits CD was issued in 2001, with Keith Forsey and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" appearing on the compilation. The LP includes a live acoustic version of "Rebel Yell", taken from a performance at Los Angeles station KROQ's 1993 Acoustic Christmas concert. The Greatest Hits album sold 1 million copies in the United States alone, providing Idol with a big comeback.
In the 2002 NRL Grand Final in Sydney, Idol entered the playing field for the half-time entertainment on a hovercraft to the intro of "White Wedding", of which he managed to sing only two words before a power failure ended the performance.
2005–2009: Devil's Playground
Devil's Playground, which came out in March 2005, was Idol's first new studio album in nearly 12 years. Idol reunited with guitarist Steve Stevens and producer Keith Forsey to record the album. It was after a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom that Sanctuary Records approached Idol about making new music in his older style.
The album was recorded with the entire band playing in one room, rather than each person recording their part separately. Idol's drummer, Brian Tichy, collaborated with Idol and Stevens and co-wrote some of the tracks on the album. The first single and video to be released was "Scream".
The album reached No. 46 on the Billboard 200. The album included a cover of "Plastic Jesus." Idol played a handful of dates on the 2005 Vans Warped Tour and appeared at the Download Festival at Donington Park, the Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans, and Rock am Ring. Guitarist Steve Stevens broke his ulna while taking a few bags into his hotel in New Orleans. The guitarist had to perform most of the tour in a two-piece removable cast.
In 2006, as his only UK live date, he appeared headlining the Sunday night of GuilFest. That same year he made an appearance on Viva La Bam where he helped Bam Margera succeed in "creating" a sunroof for his Lamborghini Gallardo and performed live for April Margera for her birthday. In 2006, Idol guested on his keyboardist Derek Sherinian's solo album Blood of the Snake, covering the 1970 Mungo Jerry hit "In the Summertime". A video was made featuring Idol and guitarist Slash. In November 2006, Idol released a Christmas album titled Happy Holidays.
In 2008, "Rebel Yell" appeared as a playable track on the video game Guitar Hero World Tour and "White Wedding" on Rock Band 2. The Rock Band 2 platform later gained "Mony Mony" and "Rebel Yell" as downloadable tracks. On 24 June 2008, Idol released the greatest hits album The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself. The compilation featured two previously unreleased tracks, "John Wayne" and "New Future Weapon." A third track, "Fractured," was available for download on iTunes. He embarked on a worldwide tour, co-headlining with Def Leppard.
In July 2009, Idol performed at the Congress Theater, Chicago for the United States television series Soundstage. This performance was recorded and then released on DVD/Blu-ray as In Super Overdrive Live, on 17 November 2009.
2010–present: Kings & Queens of the Underground
On 16 February 2010, Idol was announced as one of the acts to play the Download Festival in Donington Park, England. He stated "With all of these great heavyweight and cool bands playing Download this year, I'm going to have to come armed with my punk rock attitude, Steve Stevens, and all of my classic songs plus a couple of way out covers. Should be fun!" In March 2010, Idol added Camp Freddy guitarist Billy Morrison and drummer Jeremy Colson to his touring line-up.
In 2012, Idol appeared on the third episode of the BBC Four series How the Brits Rocked America.
Idol released his 8th studio album Kings & Queens of the Underground in October 2014. While recording the album between 2010 and 2014, he worked with producer Trevor Horn, Horn's former Buggles and Yes bandmate Geoff Downes and Greg Kurstin. Idol's autobiography, titled Dancing with Myself, was published on 7 October 2014 and became a New York Times best seller.
On 30 October 2018, former Generation X members Idol and Tony James joined with Steve Jones and Paul Cook, former members of another first wave English punk rock band, the Sex Pistols, to perform a free gig at the Roxy in Hollywood, Los Angeles, under the name Generation Sex, playing a combined set of the two former bands' material.
In late February 2020, Idol starred in a public service campaign titled "Billy Never Idles," intended to fight the unnecessary idling of automobile engines in New York City, to reduce air pollution. Idol teamed with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to open the campaign, which features Idol saying "If you're not driving, shut your damn engine off!" and other strong advice.
Idol's live band consists of:
- Billy Idol - lead vocals (since 1981)
- Steve Stevens – lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1981–1987, 1993, 1995, 1999–present)
- Stephen McGrath – bass, backing vocals (2001–present)
- Billy Morrison – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals (2010–present)
- Erik Eldenius – drums (2012–present)
- Paul Trudeau – keyboards, rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2014–present)
- Phil Feit – bass (1981–1983)
- Steve Missal – drums (1981)
- Gregg Gerson – drums (1981–1983)
- Judi Dozier – keyboards (1982–1985)
- Steve Webster – bass (1983–1985)
- Thommy Price – drums (1983–1988)
- Kenny Aaronson – bass (1986–1988)
- Susie Davis - keyboards, backing vocals (1986-1988)
- Mark Younger-Smith – lead and rhythm guitar (1987–1993)
- Phil Soussan – bass (1988–1990)
- Zane Fix – bass (1980s)
- Larry Seymour – bass (1990–1996)
- Tal Bergman – drums (1990–1993, 2000)
- Bonnie Hayes - keyboards, backing vocals (1990-1991)
- Jennifer Blakeman – keyboards (1993)
- Julie Greaux – keyboards (1993)
- Danny Sadownik – drums (1993)
- Mark Schulman – drums (1993–2001)
- Sasha Krivtsov – bass (2000)
- Brian Tichy – drums (2001–2009)
- Jeremy Colson – drums (2010–2012)
- Derek Sherinian – keyboards (2002–2014)
Idol has never married but had a long-term relationship with English singer, dancer and former Hot Gossip member Perri Lister. They have a son, Willem Wolf Broad, who was born in Los Angeles in 1988. Willem has been a member of the rock band FIM. Lister and Idol separated in 1989. Idol also has a daughter, Bonnie Blue, from another relationship with Linda Mathis.
In 2018, Idol became a US citizen during a ceremony in Los Angeles while retaining his British citizenship.
In 2020, Idol's daughter Bonnie gave birth to his first grandchild, a daughter named Poppy Rebel.
- Studio albums
- Billy Idol (1982)
- Rebel Yell (1983)
- Whiplash Smile (1986)
- Charmed Life (1990)
- Cyberpunk (1993)
- Devil's Playground (2005)
- Happy Holidays (2006)
- Kings & Queens of the Underground (2014)
Awards and nominations
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1985||"Rebel Yell"||Best Male Rock Vocal Performance||Nominated|
|1987||"To Be a Lover"||Best Male Rock Vocal Performance||Nominated|
|1991||"Cradle of Love"||Best Male Rock Vocal Performance||Nominated|
MTV Video Music Awards
The MTV Video Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony established in 1984 by MTV.
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1984||"Dancing with Myself"||Best Direction||Nominated|
|1984||"Dancing with Myself"||Best Art Direction||Nominated|
|1984||"Dancing with Myself"||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|1984||"Eyes Without a Face"||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|1984||"Eyes Without a Face"||Best Editing||Nominated|
|1990||"Cradle of Love"||Best Video from a Film||Won|
|1990||"Cradle of Love"||Best Male Video||Nominated|
|1990||"Cradle of Love"||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|1993||"Shock to the System"||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|1993||"Shock to the System"||Best Editing||Nominated|
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1991||Billy Idol – "Cradle of Love"||Best British Video||Nominated|
- Coral Castle, a stone structure where Idol got his inspiration for his song "Sweet Sixteen"
- Bromley Contingent
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