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 ten facts you might not have known about Billy Idol.
10. 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 and Billy Idol writing a song together would probably be at the very bottom of the list. Despite this, Idol and Cyrus have actually worked together on a number of occasions.
After performing together at the Live iHeartRadio Music Festival in 2016, 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.
9. He almost played the T-1000 in Terminator 2
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, believing 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, which meant he couldn’t do all the physical work that the role demanded. This led to Patrick getting the part.
8. He’s kind of a health buff
When you think of rock and roll stars from the 80s and 90s, the overriding stereotype is that they’re all badly behaved, throwing televisions out of hotel windows and spending their time doing a whole cocktail of substances. While that might have been true of Billy Idol in the 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.
7. Dancing With Myself was directed by The Texan 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 music video was directed by Tobe Hooper, of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame, and ultimately played in regular rotation on MTV for six months straight.
6. The White Wedding music video is referenced everywhere
Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 zombie movie directed by George A Romero, is often seen playing on the TV in other movies. This is because the wrong paperwork was filed during post-production, technically making the movie freely available to use by other filmmakers.
No such mishap happened with the music video for Billy Idol’s White Wedding, but the song has still cropped up in a number of unusual places. 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, as well as being used as a motif in a plotline in Hollyoaks.
5. He appears in The Wedding Singer as himself
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.
4. 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. As if that wasn’t 90s enough, special editions of the album came with a floppy disk which contained a Billy Idol screensaver. Wow!
3. 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, a group of music fans who would travel together to see punk bands like the Sex Pistols. 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 Idol 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.
2. 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.
1. He was completely broke when he made White Wedding
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.