Inside Pat Benatar's Love Story With Neil Giraldo

If you happened to be around in the '80s, there is likely one name synonymous with female rock 'n roll badassery: Pat Benatar. Sure, multitudes remember her signature tune, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," but it may have slipped your mind — since the '80s were a very long time ago, we're sorry to remind you — that her list of smash hits is as long as her voice was searingly powerful. A partial list of her Top 40 entries (via Billboard) includes "Heartbreaker," "Fire and Ice," "Treat Me Right," "Promises in the Dark," and "Love is a Battlefield," all of which you might want to blast at full volume right now. Go ahead, treat yourself.

What some casual fans may not know, however, is that Benatar has been supported throughout her entire career by her extremely talented lead guitarist — Neil Giraldo, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, songwriter, and producer who also happens to be her husband. Their personal and professional relationship has been ridiculously enduring, not to mention fruitful; talented as they may be individually, their creative chemistry is key to the fact that Benatar has sold north of 15 million albums worldwide (via Best Selling Albums). Their rock 'n roll love story is one for the ages, so let's take it from the top.

Pat almost had a very different career

Pat Benatar was born in Brooklyn, and given the decidedly un-rocking name Patricia Mae Andrzejewski. According to a CBS Sunday Morning profile on Benatar and Neil Giraldo, her future as a music superstar was almost derailed early when she married her high school sweetheart Dennis, after he was drafted into the army to go to Vietnam. Benatar was afraid, she explained, that he wouldn't make it home — so, "like an idiot," she married him at age 19, basically as a show of support. But, "He didn't die," she said, "and I became a bank teller."

Fate intervened, though, when Benatar's friends dragged her to a Liza Minnelli concert, exposing her to a bombastic, showy style of performing that she, having been dabbling in singing all of her young life, felt suited her. She began picking up gigs in clubs, and one Halloween night in 1977, she blew the crowd away while dressed in a Spandex catsuit inspired by the B-movie "Cat Women of the Moon." In the audience that night (via Benatar and Neil Giraldo's official website) was her future manager Rick Newman, and within a couple of years, Benatar was signed to Chrysalis Records. 

In 1979, just as her star was beginning to rise, she and Dennis divorced, but she took with her one important souvenir from the marriage: His much-more-rocking surname, Benatar.

A songwriter in search of a singer

While Pat Benatar was making a name for herself on the New York club scene, Neil Giraldo likewise was doing pretty well for himself. After paying his dues rocking out in bar bands in the Cleveland, Ohio area, he landed a tryout to join legendary rocker and "Weird Al" Yankovic producer Rick Derringer's band, and won the spot. However, according to AllMusic, Derringer reportedly was intimidated enough by Giraldo's prodigious talent that he relegated him to piano duties on the 1979 LP "Guitars and Women," their sole recording together.

Fed up, Giraldo moved to the Big Apple and began looking for a partner who would be more appreciative of his potential, not only as a guitarist, but as a songwriter and arranger, which he had a natural gift for. He found that partner when, at the suggestion of Rick Newman and producer Mike Chapman, he hooked up with Chrysalis' newest signee. 

According to Benatar and Giraldo's website, Chapman — who had recently produced smash hit songs for Blondie and The Knack, and would go on to co-produce Benatar's debut LP, per AllMusic — felt that Benatar would benefit from having a creative partner who could showcase her soaring voice in the service of a more aggressive sound, and that Giraldo fit the bill. As it turned out, it was nothing short of an inspired choice.

Pat and Neil made an instant musical match

According to CBS Sunday Morning, the chemistry between Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo was instantaneous and electric, with Giraldo snapping into arranger mode pretty much immediately. "As soon as I got there, I go, 'We gotta sing in a different key. This has gotta go up. There's another part of your voice we're not getting,'" he recalled. Benatar would later comment on Giraldo's approach to arranging her vocals in her 2010 memoir "Between a Heart and a Rock Place" (via Ultimate Classic Rock), explaining that he "pushed me every step of the way, keeping my voice high and powerful," acting as "the consummate coach tasked with convincing me that I had it in me all along."

For their first collaboration, the pair took on a cover of a relatively obscure — to U.S. audiences, anyway — British-written tune sung by Jenny Darren: A chugging, glam rock-inspired number which had earlier been suggested to Benatar by her label. 

In her memoir, she remembered being unable to connect with the song — until Giraldo walked in the door and immediately played the arrangement she had been hearing in her head (via Ultimate Classic Rock). That song, "Heartbreaker," became Benatar's breakout hit, and her career was off to the races.

In the Heat of the Night was a smash

"Heartbreaker" helped to propel Pat Benatar's debut album, 1979's "In the Heat of the Night," to strong sales. As solid an effort as it was, it didn't exactly serve as the world's formal introduction to the incredible artistic synergy between the artist and her naturally kickass guitarist, however. According to AllMusic, it was an LP rife with covers and tracks contributed by outside songwriters, including the legendary multi-hyphenate Alan Parsons, and a then-unknown John "Cougar" Mellencamp; Benatar herself only co-wrote two of the album's original tunes.

As for Giraldo, his contribution to "Heat" was a single song: The disco-flavored "We Live for Love," which he penned on his own, and which became a hit single (via Benatar and Giraldo's official website). Despite being virtually unheard of for a female rock artist at the time, the album was certified Platinum by the RIAA.

This success, and the singular-but-significant example of Giraldo's songwriting chops, offered a glimpse of a bright future filled with truckloads of cash and screaming fans, one which would arrive in the very near future.

Crimes of Passion catapulted the pair into the spotlight

The awaited bright future for Pat Benatar came in 1980, with the release of Benatar's sophomore LP "Crimes of Passion." Propelled by the Top 20 (via Billboard) lead single "Treat Me Right" and its smash hit, Top 10 follow-up "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," the album raced up the charts, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually going quadruple Platinum (via RIAA). The album also netted Benatar her first Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

The monster success of "Crimes of Passion" is likely due in no small part to Giraldo's expanded role. The LP's liner notes revealed that he wrote or co-wrote four of its tunes (via, and in them, Benatar thanked him "for all the heart and hard work on the production of this record." Notably, among his contributions was a writing credit on the controversial anti-child abuse anthem "Hell is for Children" (per Nights with Alice Cooper), which foreshadowed the couple's burgeoning interest in the issue. As noted by the Rapid City Journal, they have spent their entire careers advocating for abused, homeless, and LGBTQ+ children. 

Also of note: The video for the single "You Better Run," a gritty performance spot shot in a warehouse, became the second-ever video to be played on MTV. Since the first, famously, was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by synth-based band The Buggles, this effectively made Giraldo the first guitarist to ever be featured on the network, per Benatar and Giraldo's website.

The couple got married in the middle of an astounding run of success

From the beginning of the professional relationship between Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, a personal one seemed to be in the cards. But, as noted by The Newport Daily News, both parties' relationship status complicated matters during their first couple of years working together. 

Benatar was separated from — and in the process of divorcing — her husband Dennis; Giraldo was dating actress Linda Blair, of "The Exorcist" fame. To complicate things further, the other band members insisted that embarking on a romantic relationship would be a bad idea, as that's the kind of thing that can sink an up-and-coming outfit — but fortunately, Benatar and Giraldo didn't listen to them.

According to CBS Sunday Morning, the pair married in 1982, right in the middle of a run of smash hit records that cemented their place among the most popular recording and touring acts of the '80s, all of which were co-produced by Giraldo. According to the RIAA, these were 1981's "Precious Time," which went double platinum; 1982's "Get Nervous," a platinum seller; 1983's "Live from Earth," which went platinum on the strength of the hit studio single "Love is a Battlefield"; 1984's "Tropico," another platinum seller; and 1985's "Seven the Hard Way," which went gold. On top of that, Benatar followed up her first Grammy win in 1981 with three more consecutive wins in the following three years.

Neil Giraldo found time to lend his talents to other artists

Even during that jaw-dropping run of selling boatloads of records and rocking every stadium they could find, Neil Giraldo was carving out career detours for himself outside of his work with his wife, Pat Benatar. According to AllMusic, Giraldo produced the first solo LP for former Babys lead singer John Waite, "Ignition" (which spawned the hit single "Change"), and also helmed albums for the Del-Lords and fellow Cleveland native Kevin Raleigh. He also penned tunes for The Real McCoy and the Corrs, and just for grins, he sat in on guitar for Rick Springfield's 1981 single "Jessie's Girl," a Top 10 hit (via Billboard).

Even as their pop stardom began to wind down, Giraldo kept finding new avenues for his talent. As noted by the Pocono Record, he dabbled in composing for the big screen in the early '00s, scoring a pair of feature films: 2001's "Nailed" (which starred the great Harvey Keitel, per IMDB) and 2004's "Smile" (which featured "Lord of the Rings" series star Sean Astin). 

No matter the direction in which he pointed his blowtorch of talent, though, he never stepped away from recording and performing with Benatar — and even taking on the titles of mommy and daddy couldn't stop the duo from continuing to rock.

Pat and Neil started a family at the height of their success

At the peak of their commercial powers, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo found themselves expecting their first child — a daughter, Haley, who came into the world in 1985. After a sufficient period of doting on their child in between bouts of rocking, the pair welcomed her sister Hana in 1994. According to Hollywood Life, both sisters are active on social media, and Haley had two children of her own, making grandparents out of her hard-rocking mom and dad.

Hana, meanwhile, is an aspiring actress and fashion maven with a robust Instagram presence, per About Insider. She has fond memories of her childhood as the progeny of world-famous rock stars, telling the outlet, "How many kids can say that they could just run on stage, in front of thousands of people, grab bubble gum from their dad's music stand, and run off while their parents were playing 'Heartbreaker?'"

Benatar has a slightly different take on her kids' childhood experience, telling Parade that her daughters consider her an "antique" and noting that they have had a hard time wrapping their heads around the struggles she faced, as a woman forging a path in rock music during her heyday. "They don't understand where we all came from and how hard it was," she said. "The country was changing, and we were just part of that whole movement, and it was great."

Pat and Neil have never stopped the music

The smash hits may have dried up for Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo as the '80s came to a close, but that has never stopped them from occasionally popping into the studio to do what they do best. While 1988's "Wide Awake in Dreamland" topped out at a respectable No. 28 on the Billboard charts, Benatar's recorded output since then has been sparse, and drawn little attention from the public at large. Also, per Billboard, during the last three decades, the pair have released four albums, with diminishing returns in terms of chart position: 1991's "True Love" (No. 37), 1993's "Gravity's Rainbow" (No. 85), 1997's "Innamorata" (No. 171), and 2003's "Go" (No. 187).

In the following years, Benatar and Giraldo have released only a few standalone singles, including the 2015 Christmas song "One December Night" (via Discogs). But apparently, their skills have stuck with them. Per Concert Archives, the pair have simply never stopped performing, embarking on tours and booking festivals at a rate that would make younger, less experienced bands hang their heads in shame.

A partnership of over four decades

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo's professional association has lasted longer than most in popular music, but the longevity of their romance is pretty much unheard of among rockers; if you do the math, you can parse out that they've now been married for over 40 years. If you're looking for the secret to a successful multi-decade partnership in music and life in general, look no further — and Benatar and Giraldo will tell you that it's really not much of a secret at all.

Speaking with Parade in 2012, Benatar pointed out that when every aspect of a couple's lives is completely intertwined, there's simply no way to avoid learning effective conflict resolution. For his part, Giraldo noted that the pair have enjoyed a relationship based on personal and professional respect for one another, and that their immediate and obvious creative chemistry certainly didn't hurt. 

At the end of the day, though, the longevity of Benatar and Giraldo's partnership has a simple explanation, according to them. "I feel about him now the way I felt about him the very first moment I saw him," Benatar explained. "We're nuts about each other." Giraldo, of course, agreed, saying, "We were just two missing pieces that found each other."

A long overdue honor

For all of their millions of records sold, groundbreaking MTV success, ker-billions of radio plays, Grammy wins, and respectable impact on '80s music, one honor has stubbornly eluded Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo: A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination. That is, until 2020, when they were finally nominated ... but not chosen for induction. 

In their CBS Sunday Morning profile, which took place after the snub in 2021, Benatar was asked if this bothered her, and she waxed philosophical about the situation. "[Would] this validate, [or] not validate what we've done? No," she said. "It would be nice to have it for our children, for the fans ... Do I need someone to acknowledge? No."

Perhaps not, but the following year, the Rock Hall finally did: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, as a partnership – along with fellow rulers of the '80s Duran Duran, Eurythmics, and Lionel Richie — were selected for induction into the hallowed institution for its class of 2022. The lovebirds and rock legends reacted to the announcement with a Twitter post saying they were "thrilled and humbled," and thanked those who voted them in, "especially the fans."