Music News

Happy Birthday, Billy Idol!

To the world at large, Billy Idol will be forever remembered as the sneering, attitude-intensive punk whose hits "White Wedding," "Dancing With Myself," and "Rebel Yell" made him a staple on MTV early on. Idol turns 56 today, but thankfully, he retains that same insurgent stance. 

In keeping with MTV's early mantra, Idol transformed himself into a cartoonish character, one that remade the man born William Michael Albert Broad on November 30, 1955. And like most popular characters, his public persona remained mostly one-dimensional. 

Still, there are a few facts that might have escaped his fans the first time around. Here, then, is a series of trivial tidbits:

• William Broad became Billy Idol after a teacher suggested he was "idle" in class. "Idle" became "Idol," and the surly surname stuck. 

• Despite his Cockney persona, the young Idol actually spent some of his early years in the U.S., living on Long Island. In fact, his younger sister, Jane, was born in America. 

• Idol's first band was Generation X, an outfit infused with a mid-'70s punk ethos. Billy's first hit, "Dancing With Myself," was actually a cover of a song done earlier by Generation X on its album Kiss Me Deadly. Another early entry, "Mony Mony," was a remake of a tune originally recorded by Tommy James & the Shondells. 

• On the other hand, the song "Don't You (Forget About Me)" was originally written with Idol in mind. Idol declined, and the song was eventually given to Simple Minds, which scored a smash hit after the track appeared on the soundtrack album for the film The Breakfast Club. 

Rebel Yell, Idol's first full-length album, contained the hits "Rebel Yell," "Eyes Without a Face," and "Flesh for Fantasy." Several of the tracks were featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks blockbuster Big

• Idol boasts a strong South Florida connection. The song "Sweet Sixteen" from Idol's album Whiplash Smile was inspired by the tragic tale of one Edward Leedskalnin, who was jilted by his intended bride, Agnes Scuffs, and spent the next several decades single-handedly constructing Coral Castle in what was then the far reaches of South Miami-Dade. Idol filmed the accompanying video there as well, thereby adding authenticity. 

• Can agitation coexist with celebration? If so, be sure to check out Idol's album salute to the season, titled Happy Holidays

• Sell out or celluloid? Idol's 1989 cameo as "Cousin Kevin" in the concert version of the Who's Tommy morphed into an HBO special and later became available on DVD. He returned to the Who's canon to sing with the band on "Bell Boy," Keith Moon's track from Quadrophenia. Idol also voiced the role of Odin in the animated fantasy film Heavy Metal 2000. And, in 1998, he played himself in The Wedding Singer, an appropriate role considering the fact that "White Wedding" served as the film's title track. 

• Idol nearly lost his leg when he was injured in a serious motorcycle accident in Hollywood in February of 1990. He had been tagged by director James Cameron to play the T-1000 character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day but had to bow out after the mishap. Still, it didn't prevent him from making public appearances to support his ironically named album Charmed Life... and defying his doctors' orders. 

• Proving he had a knack for a Mac, Idol's 1991 album, Cyberpunk, was among the first discs recorded on a Macintosh computer. A limited number actually included a floppy disc that offered the user a bonus screensaver. Notably too, it was also the first album to provide the public with the artist's email address.

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Lee Zimmerman