Billy Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad on 30 November 1955 at Stanmore, Middlesex, in England but spent his early years in New York, where his father had taken a job as sales manager of Bluepoint laundry on Long Island.
Returning to England, Billy ended up reading English Literature at Sussex University, where he became involved with the “Bromley contingent” – including Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin and Simon Barker – followers of The Sex Pistols.
Inspired by the energy of punk, he formed his own group, Chelsea, in 1976. The original outfit was short-lived, and Billy Idol, as he was now known, next founded Generation X (named after Charles Hamblett’s book on 1960s youth culture).
This band lasted from 1976-81, after which Idol launched his solo career in New York and recorded Don’t Stop, which featured a revival of Tommy James & The Shondells‘ UK #1 Mony Mony.
Throughout the early 80s, Idol’s career blossomed. His acerbic vocal style and lively stage act brought a string of hits, including Hot In The City (US #23), Eyes Without A Face (US #4/UK #18), White Wedding (UK #6), Rebel Yell (UK #6 when reissued), and To Be A Lover (US #6).
With his album sales increasing yearly, Idol turned an old hit to advantage by taking a live version of Mony Mony to #1 in the USA in 1987.
Despite his legendary excessive lifestyle, Idol appeared in several charity shows. In 1988, he participated in Neil Young‘s Bridge School Benefit concert and the following year guested in the charity performance of The Who‘s Tommy in London.
After being auditioned for a part in Oliver Stone’s The Doors movie (1991), Idol almost emulated its central character by suffering an early death.
A motorcycle crash in February 1990 seriously damaged his leg, but he recovered remarkably quickly, and the same May hit the #2 slot in America with Cradle Of Love (taken from the Andrew Dice Clay movie The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane).
He soon found himself back in trouble though – this time with the Los Angeles courts when, in 1992, he was put on probation for two years and fined $2,700 for an assault on a “fan”.
This all added fuel to the rebel image, but by now, Idol had become far more successful than most of the punk founders with whom he rubbed shoulders back in 1977.
His attempt to re-brand his image on 1993’s Cyberpunk was a notable commercial and critical failure, and the following year Idol narrowly escaped death a second time when he overdosed.
He laid low until the end of the decade when he made a cameo appearance in the Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer (1998).