William Michael Albert Broad (better known as punk rocker Billy Idol) was born in Stanmore, Middlesex England, exactly 8 days after RCA Records bought Elvis Presleys contract from Sun Records.
At the age of two, Idols parents moved to Patchogue, on Long Island, New York, only to return four years later carrying the newly born younger sister to Billy, Jane. They settled in Dorkling, Surrey.
When he was almost 7, Idol and his family returned to England, moving to Bromley in the Southeastern part of London. Although he was born in England, once enrolled at Ravensbourne School for Boys, his fellow students called him “Yank” and teased him about his Yankee accent.
He later attended Worthing High School for Boys located in West Sussex.
In 1975 Idol went on to pursue a degree in English at Sussex University, living on campus, but did a runner after the first year.
He then went on to join the Bromley Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, a gang who would follow their idols from town to town attending as many of their concerts as justifiably affordable.
It was during this time the England it was emerging as the global epi-center for Music and Outrageous Fashion and Idol now a teenager embraced all its eccentricity. He taught himself to play guitar and began singing with local bands. After a short time, it began to dawn on Idol, that singing isn’t just a passion, but it could in fact be a pathway to a musical/entertainment career.
In the Summer months, Idol would work closely with his father delivering tools when not attending University, and at night he would let loose at rehearsal with a band he was part of who mainly performed in the school cafeteria.
One day, completely out of the blue, Idol encountered some interesting looking people on a train platform near his parents house. He and his new friends became the earliest fans of a new band playing the pub scene called “The Sex Pistols”. They would follow the Pistols from gig to gig as they became the focal point of a worldwide scene change in music.
Idol first joined a punk rock band called ‘Souxsie and the Banshees in 1976, but later quit to join another called ‘Chelsea as a guitarist in 1977.
Idol was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the way Chelsea’s vocalist was singing the songs he and good mate and fellow band member Tony James were writing.
So the two decided to leave the band and start their own called ‘Generation X’.
By late 1976, William Broad was reborn as Billy Idol a nick name given to him by one of his teachers, but spelt Billy Idle. With his head full of peroxide spikes and leather outfits, Idol became an instant rock star.
As Generation X, they were to make history when the were signed as one of the first punk bands to appear on the BBC Television music show ‘Top Of The Pops’. The band would be signed to Chrystalis Records and go one to record and release three albums before disbanding in 1981.
From their, Idol decided to try his luck in the USA.
Billy Idol – “I definitely took punk with me wherever I’ve gone,” IDOL says. “That was the whole idea really. I wanted to transform my music, but I didn’t want to ever lose sight of that punk rock attitude. Whether we turned to hard rock or disco or whatever the hell else we did over the years, that helped give the music a spirit it would not have had if I hadn’t come out of the punk movement.”
At this point in time, Idol hooked up with guitar genius Steve Stevens, and a crucial musical partnership was forged.
Idol’s first solo album was released by Chrysalis in 1982, but it didn’t hit its chart peak in the UK until 1985, when the self-titled album’s “White Wedding” was a major club hit and hit No.6 in the UK, fuelled by heavy video play on MTV. “White Wedding” also crossed over to the Top 5 of the Mainstream US Rock chart, while “Hot In the City” made the Top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100, and Billy Idol was certified gold with U.S. sales totalling more than 500,000 units.
On the back of the success of his first album, he released ‘Rebel Yell” in 1984, reaching double platinum. He would go on to record a total of 7 studio albums including
- Billy Idol (1982)
- Rebel Yell (1983)
- Whiplash Smile (1986)
- Charmed Life (1990)
- Cyberpunk (1993)
- Devil’s Playground (2005)
- Happy Holidays (2006)
Towards the end of the 80’s Idol was ready to try new things. He appeared in the all star stage version of The Who’s “Tommy”.
Idol was involved in a serious motorcycle accident when he ran a stop sign on his Harley. He almost lost a leg and was confined to bed for 6 months. He battled back bravely – the video for the first single ‘Cradle of Love’ could only be filmed from the waist up as at the time he had paralysis of the lower body and was being supported in a standing position.
In 1991, Idol decided to take a much needed break from music and try his hand at acting, making his screen debut in Oliver Stones ‘The Doors”.
The next time we would see Idol before a camera was less auspicious after pleading guilty to punching his companion Amber Nevel outside a West Hollywood restaurant in 1992. He paid $2,700 in fines.
In 1993, Idol changed his famous peroxide spikes to dreadlocks and his sound to synthesised techno beats. The album was a huge flop and Idol sank into deep depression and drug abuse.
His second brush with death would come in 1994 when he overdosed and had to be rushed to hospital. Idol collapsed outside a Los Angeles nightclub due to an overdose of the drug GHB. After being discharged he began to focus on his two children. Even though never married, he has two children to two separate mothers.
The next few years were quiet until he had a cameo appearance in the hit movie “The Wedding Singer”.
Idol has been nominated for a Grammy three times, a MTV Music Video Award ten times, winning the category for ‘Best Video From A Film’ for ‘Cradle of Love’ and nominated for a Brit Award, winning ‘Best British Video.
Idol has teamed up with Stevens once more writing new material, finding that old black magic was still there.
In 2014, Idol decided to pen and release his memoir “Dancing with myself”. From the basements where punk rock was born, to the Hollywood Hills where stars are made, Dancing with Myself is a full and honest picture of a life lived and a life that nearly died for Rock and Roll. It became a New York Times best seller.
Also in 2014, Idol released his 8th studio album ‘Kings & Queens of the Underground’.
More recently, Idol starred in a public service announcement titled “Billy Never Idles, a campaign to reduce air pollution.
Also in 2020, Idol featured as a guest vocalist in the song “Night Crawling” alongside Miley Cyrus for her album “Plastic Hearts”.
The niche that Billy Idol has created over these past few decades is impressive. Idol is respected as the original punk rocker who long ago found a way to take that sneering punk attitude into the pop and rock mainstream, carving out songs that have lasted a lifetime.