Billy Idol

Billy Idol has an indelible image in the eyes of his many fans. He'll forever be the snarling, platinum-haired, angry rocker in black leather shouting out his hits with guitarist Steve Stevens at his side.

But Idol's last couple of albums have sold less than spectacularly and he has spent the past few years out of the public eye.

Idol was born William Broad 43 years ago today in Stanmore, Middlesex, England. He studied English Literature at Sussex University, where he became a Sex Pistols fan. Idol then realized he wanted to be a punk rocker and joined the group Chelsea in 1976.

Adopting the name Billy Idol, he then began the band Generation X with Tony James. Generation X, featuring Idol's unique lead singing, was fairly successful, but they split in 1981.

Idol soon began working with manager Bill Aucoin in New York City. Idol's new sound melded more mainstream metal-rock with his punk roots. His eponymous 1982 debut LP was a sleeper hit, spending more than two years on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The album featured such huge video hits as "Hot In the City" and especially, Idol's signature tune, "White Wedding" (RealAudio excerpt).

But that was just the beginning. Idol's follow-up, Rebel Yell, was perfectly timed to coincide with the height of new wave in the U.S. and gave him much wider appeal. That 1983 LP provided big hits with the rocking title-track and the ballad "Eyes Without a Face." Whiplash Smile (1986) was not as big a smash, but it did spawn the U.S. top-10 hit "To Be a Lover," which broadened Idol's sound to incorporate a soul/rockabilly influence.

Idol and talented guitarist/co-songwriter Steve Stevens still attracted legions of fans to their wild, flashy and often lewd stage act. One tour featured a giant pair of shapely female legs as the visual backdrop from which the band emerged.

Idol had a #1 U.S. hit with a cover of Tommy James' smash "Mony Mony," from the 1987 Vital Idol remix album. Charmed Life (1990) was more of the same and featured another big hit for Idol, "Cradle of Love." Idol's 1993 experiment with techno, Cyberpunk, was a critical and commercial dud. It featured the single "Shock to the System."

Idol's career has been sidelined several times by his reckless lifestyle, including drug busts. His most serious setback came in 1990, when he suffered leg injuries from a motorcycle accident which forced him to curtail his part in Oliver Stone's "The Doors" film. In 1992, Idol was put on probation and fined for assaulting a fan.

Joni Mitchell, with whom Idol worked on her 1988 Chalkmark In a Rainstorm, said of his participation as a rowdy character in the song "Dancin' Clown": "It was for the contrast he provided. It's a great little cameo for him, and he brings real life to the part."

Idol is reportedly recording again with Stevens and at work on a new LP to be produced by Glen Ballard, Alanis Morissette's co-writer and producer. Tracks scheduled for the disc include "Fear" and "Bitter Pill."

Other birthdays: Paul Stookey (Peter, Paul & Mary), 61; Robert Grill (Grass Roots), 54; Leo Lyons (Ten Years After), 55; Roger Glover (Deep Purple/Rainbow), 53; John Ashton (Psychedelic Furs), 41; Richard Barbieri (Japan), 40; and Des'ree, 30.