William Michael Albert Broad on November 30, 1955 in Middlesex, England
The young William Broad started life quite normally, showing some aptitude for academics while struggling with parental expectations for him in that area. But by 1975 the explosion of the punk rock scene in England spelled the end for Broad's schooling, as he and a group of other Sex Pistols fanatics formed the Bromley Contingent and followed the Pistols around religiously during the early days of the scene. Pretty soon rabid fandom turned into musical ambition, and Broad joined Tony James and some fellow like-minded punk fans to form Chelsea, whose core personnel would eventually become Generation X.
Billy Idol - Building a Punk Rock Persona:
Taking his cue from punk icons Johnny Rotten and Iggy Pop, Broad adopted the moniker Billy Idol not so much because of the flashy play on words but more as a nod to a teacher's comment ("William is idle") that he had never forgotten. By 1977 Generation X began to attract major attention around London and secured a record deal with Chrysalis that year on the strength of the band's accessible punk sound and flashy image. Despite the buzz, the group never really got its career to a desirable place, struggling with the changing music landscape as well as business headaches and constantly shifting personnel.
Idol Goes Solo & Sheds His Punk Rock Skin:
It was really just a matter of time before Generation X ceased to exist, given Idol's rising status as pop star and the chaos preventing the group from securing consistency and growth. Even so, the scarcely punky "Dancing with Myself" was originally released as a Generation X tune, as the band pressed into 1981 before impresarios got a hold of Idol as a cash-cow solo artist. Pushing his music as danceable new wave with strong pop appeal, those in charge of Idol's foray into the States de-emphasized the singer's link to the punk movement. Still, with the advent of MTV, Idol's still-striking image struck a chord.
A Rebel Yell & Resulting Superstardom:
Idol and his handlers were wise to retain some of his loud rock edge by hooking him up with guitarist Steve Stevens, whose instrumental work became as much a staple of Idol's biggest hits as the latter's sneer and spiked, bleach-blond hair. The collaboration helped propel "White Wedding" - from Idol's eponymous debut - and his huge follow-up, Rebel Yell, to the top of the pop charts. By this time, Idol had become a pop music and MTV staple, rendering complete his transformation from punker to mainstream rock star. Success continued with 1986's Whiplash Smile, after which Stevens went his own way.
Decline, Dalliances, Controversy, Chemicals & Near-Death:
Almost immediately after the split with Stevens, Idol became known far more for extracurricular activities than his sporadic musical efforts. Heroin and cocaine addiction had already threatened Idol's long-term relationship with Perri Lister, and eventually his indiscretions and continuing drug use convinced her to exit the picture. 1989 was a tough year for Idol, as much-publicized drug arrests (especially a blowout in Thailand) and a motorcycle crash that almost cost the singer his leg kept the spotlight on Idol's rough-and-tumble image if not his artistic growth.
Billy Idol's Resilience & Moderation of Vices:
Despite his scrapes, Idol emerged in 1990 with a new album and a hit single in "Cradle of Love," which was accompanied by a popular music video featuring a seductive young woman on all fours. Regardless of one's opinion on Idol's status as a genuine punker, he probably deserves credit for never really changing his tune. Defying the typical absolute sobriety sought by most rock stars with substance abuse problems in their past, Idol has never really changed his tune when it comes to outrageous behavior and the rock star lifestyle. He may have moderated a bit, but his rebel pose has been nothing if not consistent.