No-one epitomises a certain brand of 80s rock and roll like Billy Idol. With his bleached blond hair, dangling chains and signature scowl, Idol snarled his way onto the scene with huge, melodramatic music videos and catchy choruses, and left a legion of fans in his wake. Even today, Idol has retained much of his iconic look, and is still curling his lip and belting out tunes.
Outside of the rock star image though, there’s a lot you might not know about the mind behind White Wedding. A huge tech geek, a dedicated pescetarian and very nearly one of the most iconic villains in cinema, Idol’s life has contained far more than you might expect.
To honour this pioneering artist, today we’re giving you 20 facts you might not have known about Billy Idol.
20. He’s become a regular Miley Cyrus collaborator
A couple of years ago, if you had tried to imagine a likely collaboration between Billy Idol and a current pop star, Miley Cyrus would probably be at the very bottom of the list.
Despite this, Idol and Cyrus have actually worked together professionally on a number of occasions.
They performed together live at the Live iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas back in 2016.
After that, Idol agreed to co-write and perform the song Night Crawling on Miley Cyrus’ album Plastic Hearts.
He was joined on the album by features from Joan Jett, Dua Lipa and Stevie Nicks, so it’s safe to say that Idol was in pretty good company.
The duo have since formed a close friendship and went on to perform alongside Joan Jett at the 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Show.
19. He almost played the T-1000 in Terminator 2
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Idol’s famous look comprises of a shock of white-blond hair, a leather jacket, leather trousers and lots of chains.
In other words: he couldn’t look much more different from Terminator 2‘s T-1000, played by Robert Patrick.
Nevertheless, director James Cameron was obsessed with the idea of Idol playing the iconic villain.
He believed himself, Idol and the character of the T-1000 to all share the same fascination with advancing technologies.
Idol was all set to do the film, but unfortunately got into a motorcycle accident early in pre-production.
This ultimately meant that he couldn’t do all the physical work that the role demanded. This led to Patrick getting the part.
18. He’s kind of a health buff
- Credit: David Haberthür via Wikimedia Commons
When you think of rock and roll stars from the 80s and 90s, the overriding stereotype is that they’re all badly behaved.
They’re more likely to be throwing televisions out of hotel windows and spending their time doing a whole cocktail of substances than eating broccoli and going jogging.
- Credit: Per-Olov Jernberg via Wikimedia Commons
While Billy Idol might have been true to the rock n’ roll stereotype in his early days, the Idol of this century refers to himself as “mostly” reformed.
Idol now spends the majority of his free time with his family, as well as religiously doing pilates and going to the gym.
Idol has also revealed that he eats a mostly vegetarian diet, more for his health than for any ethical reasons.
Looking back at his youth while speaking to Australian Daily Telegraph in 2019, Idol said: “To be doing that now at this age, to be that out of it, would be ridiculous.”
17. The video for Dancing With Myself was directed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper
By 1983, Billy Idol was already a star in the UK, thanks to Generation X being one of the most well-known groups in the country.
However, Billy Idol was yet to break America, and his record company were desperate for the group to chart on the continent.
In an effort to familiarise American audiences with Idol, a new music video was released in conjunction with US promotion of the single Dancing With Myself.
The video was inspired by 1971 film The Omega Man and saw Idol wandering around a post-apocalyptic city.
The promo video was a raging success and ultimately played in regular rotation on MTV for six months straight.
16. The White Wedding music video is referenced everywhere
White Wedding, released in 1982, is arguably Billy Idol’s most famous and best-loved track.
The song peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 in the US while it reached No. 6 on the UK charts.
Interestingly, the song has cropped up in a number of unusual places on both film and TV since its release.
Not only is the song used in the Alabama tattoo scene in 1993’s True Romance, White Wedding also became synonymous with skate videos for CKY.
The song was also used as in an ad promoting a storyline involving a wedding in British soap opera Hollyoaks.
It also featured on an advert for Coronation Street, another British soap opera, to promote a storyline which centred around bigamy.
15. He appears in The Wedding Singer as himself
- Credit: Zade Rosenthal – © 1998 New Line Cinema
Despite all the examples we’ve listed above, when most people think of media featuring White Wedding, they think of The Wedding Singer.
The Billy Idol track plays when Adam Sandler’s character decides to remain at the altar, telling his friends to turn it off.
Idol himself then makes a cameo appearance in the film and helps Sandler’s character to finally get together with the girl of his dreams, played by Drew Barrymore.
“There’s something about Billy Idol hanging on a plane, knocking back champagne, and getting involved with my love life,” Sandler said of the cameo in an interview at the time. “Everybody thought that’d be fun.”
Idol appeared in the film partly because his son insisted on it. “My son loved Adam Sandler and I thought: ‘I’m going to have to see it anyway, so why not be in it?,” he told WENN in 2005.
“I gained a number of diehard teenage fans through doing it, who are adults now and are still turning up to my gigs.”
14. He was the first artist ever to include an email address with his album notes
It might sound unbelievable that Billy Idol was ahead of the curve on tech in the early 90s, more so than any other artist, but that was pretty much the case.
In 1993, Idol released his album Cyberpunk, which was recorded at a home studio with an early Macintosh computer.
Idol created the album using Pro-Tools and Studiovision, and even included his email address on the album liner notes for fans to contact him, making him the first artist to do so.
The email address included in the booklet was [email protected] – although fans will be gutted to hear that this is now inactive.
As if that wasn’t 90s enough, special editions of the album came with a floppy disk which contained a Billy Idol screensaver.
The album performed well in both the UK and Europe, but was something of a flop in the US, peaking at a mediocre #48 on the Billboard 200.
13. He was briefly a member of Siouxsie and the Banshees
Billy Idol started his first foray into the world of music as a member of The Bromley Contingent.
The contingent were a group of music fans who would travel together to see punk bands like the Sex Pistols.
- Credit: Malco23 via Wikimedia Commons
It was in that group of people that Idol met Siouxsie Sioux, who would later go on to found the successful goth band Siouxsie and the Banshees.
In 1976, Idol joined the band Chelsea before spending a brief stint of time as a member of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Only then did he form Generation X, who gave Idol his success and was one of the first punk bands to ever play on Top of the Pops.
Robert Smith, of The Cure fame, also briefly joined Siouxsie and the Banshees in between his other projects.
12. He released a Christmas album in 2006
If you were to think about the most unlikely candidates to release a Christmas album, Billy Idol would probably be somewhere near the top of that list.
Nevertheless, Idol shocked the world in December of 2006, when he released his punk Christmas album Happy Holidays.
Most of the album is comprised of covers, but there are also two original songs, Happy Holiday and Christmas Love.
So if you’ve ever wanted to hear a rendition of Frosty the Snowman by the lead singer of Generation X, you now have the ability to do so.
The album also includes covers of Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bell Rock, and Silent Night.
The album received pretty mixed reviews, with the Guardian writing “there’s an undeniably surreal appeal to Idol’s Silent Night” but slamming his rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as “ludicrous.”
11. He was completely broke when he made White Wedding
- Credit: Mandy Coombes via Wikimedia Commons
If one track is responsible for launching Billy Idol into worldwide fame, then it has to be White Wedding.
But you might not know how desperately Idol needed the gamble of White Wedding to pay off.
When the time came to film the music video, Idol was so broke that David Mallet, who had previously worked with David Bowie and Queen, agreed to direct for a massively reduced fee as a favour.
The video was met with some controversy, with one scene featuring Idol pushing a ring made of barbed wire onto his wife’s finger.
His wife in the video was played by his then-girlfriend Perri Lister, who insisted that Idol use a ring made of real barbed wire for authenticity. MTV initially censored this scene, where Lister’s finger can be seen bleeding.
In spite of the controversy surrounding the video, the song remains to this day one of Idol’s best-loved tracks.
10. He almost lost his leg in a serious motorcycle accident
One fateful morning back in February 1990, Idol took his Harley Davidson motorcycle out for a spin.
At around 8:30am, he sped past a stop sign at an intersection and collided with a car.
- Credit: EJ Hersom via Wikimedia Commons
Idol was not wearing a helmet and was immediately taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre where doctors endeavoured to save his life.
When there, he underwent seven hours of surgery to fix his broken arm and right leg, which was badly fractured between his knee and ankle.
- Credit: Angel Ramos G via Wikimedia Commons
Idol’s life – and leg – were saved, but to this day he confesses just how lucky he was to survive the accident and avoid an amputation.
“Ten years ago I would have had my leg amputated, but thank God the orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons have developed such a system of magic,” he said during a 1990 interview.
9. Generation X’s name came from a book Idol’s mother found at a garage sale
The band Generation X didn’t get their name directly from the generation following baby boomers and preceding Millennials.
Instead, they pinched their name from a book about 60s culture bought by Idol’s mum at a garage sale.
“My mom had been to garage sale, in England we call it a rumble sale. She found this sociology book and she knew I loved ’60s culture and youth culture,” Idol explained to New Sounds in 2014.
“Years later when me and Tony James came to think up a name I showed him this book, Generation X.”
Idol continued: “He said, “Well that would be a great name for our group.” I asked all my friends, and nobody liked it, they all told me it was c***.”
But Idol was undeterred. “The fact they all thought it was c*** must mean it’s good. That shows you how crazy my mind works.”
8. His father didn’t approve of his career choice
Speaking to the Guardian back in 2013, Idol revealed that his father was not happy when Idol dropped out of uni to pursue a rock career.
“He gave me hell when I wanted to be in a rock’n’roll band […] He chose not to talk to me for two years because I had long hair,” he said.
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“My choice is that I can give him my American platinum album as his 60th birthday present. BAM!”
Idol continued: “There you are, Dad. A million Americans have bought my record. Five hundred thousand Canadians have bought my record. So many hundreds of people in Australia have bought my records.”
- Credit: Steve Hall via Flickr
“And you told me I was a fool. My dad, he might be 60 years old, but my choice in life is to tell him: I was right.”
“I’ve done something more than you can ever do. Which is that I did what I wanted. And I did it with the weapons of rock’n’roll.”
7. He initially called himself Billy ‘Idle’
- Credit: Jim Geuther via Flickr
Back when Idol was a part of the Bromley Contingent, he was interviewed by journalist Caroline Coon who was running a story about Sex Pistols fans.
“I was going by the name Billy Idle, when everyone was having fun and changing their name,” Idol recalled, speaking to New Sounds in 2014.
“But when she came to write this article, she asked me, “Okay, what are you going to be called?””
“And I said, “Well I was calling myself Billy I-d-l-e.” Because a chemistry teacher wrote in capital letters, “WILLIAM IS IDLE” on a third-form report which I’ll always remember because my dad went crazy.”
But Idol decided to change the way he spelt his surname after he realised the similarity between his own name and that of Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
“I had 24 hours to make up my name and in that 24 hours I went, “I can’t use Idle… oh my God. Idol.””
6. He got kicked out of the Scouts for kissing a girl
A rumour resurfaces every now and then which claims that Idol got kicked out of the Boy Scouts as a young boy.
According to the rumour, Idol was barred from the youth group after kissing a girl at their summer fair.
Amazingly, Idol has confirmed this rumour as being 100% true. “It broke my mother’s heart,” he told Louder Sound in 2016.
“Because the Scouts were connected to the school, which was C of E. My mother was very religious, so she was very involved in it all.”
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“Yeah, it was the Scout summer fair or something and I was snogging this girl on the grass in front of everybody.”
“They threw me out for that,” the Gen X frontman revealed. “Crikey, I should have got a badge!”
5. He was temporarily blinded after filming the video for Eyes Without a Face
Eyes Without a Face was the second single from Idol’s second album Rebel Yell, which was released in 1983.
The music video for the track was released in June 1984 and was a huge success.
It even went on to be nominated for the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Editing and Cinematography.
A lot of effort went into shooting the video – with Idol even going temporarily blind in the process.
It was shot over a three-day period on a set complete with fog machines and smoke. Idol flew to Arizona for a concert immediately after the shoot, where he realised his contact lenses had fused onto his eyeballs as a result of the shoot’s gruelling conditions combined with the plane’s dry air.
He was taken to hospital where the lenses were surgically removed. Idol had to have his eyes bandaged for three days after the ordeal, but thankfully his sight returned.
4. A power outage cut his headline NRL performance short
Idol was scheduled to perform as the half-time entertainment at the 2002 NRL Grand Final in Sydney.
He began the performance by appearing on the field on a hovercraft as the intro to White Wedding played.
He had only managed to sing two words – “little sister” – before a spectacular power failure cut the performance short.
Idol, ever the professional, tried his best to continue entertaining the crowd, and succeeded in keeping their attention while organisers attempted to fix the electrical issue.
However, despite Idol being raring to go and ready to perform for the 80,000 people present, his performance had to be axed.
Organisers were unable to fix the electrical issue and Idol had to leave the stage, much to his disappointment.
3. He studied English Literature at Sussex University for a year
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Despite having the appearance and demeanour of a high school drop-out, Idol actually attended university for a year.
He studied English Literature at Sussex University in the South of England for one year before dropping out.
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He discussed his experience in an in a 2016 interview with Louder Sound: “The poetry was Alexander Pope, so I was a bit bored with that – I preferred the Romantic poets – but you did Greek theatre and everything.”
“You would do American literature as well. It was really interesting,” he explained, recalling his time in higher education.
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“The thing about Sussex was that they actually liked it if you went there for a year, and then went out into the world and worked.”
“After that, if you wanted to come back you could. I joined a punk rock group so I didn’t need to do that,” he said.
2. His hair was never meant to be white-blond
In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Idol revealed that his trademark white-blond locks were something of an accident.
The singer confessed that he’d originally planned to have blue highlights in his natural hair.
But a friend who was helping him with the dying process forgot to buy the blue dye necessary for the highlights.
“She bleached my hair, because you bleach your hair first to put these blue highlights, and then you dye it black again,” Idol said.
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“Then she reached into a bag and went, ‘Oh, I haven’t got the highlights, so I can’t really do what we were going to do. I’ll get them and we’ll do it next week.’”
“So I kind of looked in the mirror and went, ‘Well, this isn’t that bad, actually. This is kind of a bit of a laugh.’ It was a bit orange-y, but it was cool, especially for punk.”
1. His family moved around a lot due to his father’s job as a salesman
Idol has flitted between countries and states for years now, having toured extensively in his successful music career.
But this isn’t anything new for the singer, as he grew up frequently upping sticks due to his father’s job as a salesman.
Idol recalled what his childhood was like back in 2016 in an interview with Louder Sound.
“Yeah. You’d be getting settled and felt like you belonged somewhere, and then we would move, so you’d have to uproot and get to know a whole new set of friends.”
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“When I was three we went to America [to Long Island, New York] for four years. Then we lived in Dorking for a little while before moving to Goring-by-Sea, outside Worthing, for about eight years. Then we moved up to Bromley.”