Billy Idol's Sad And Often Troubling Life

Billy Idol's bleach-blond hair was one of the defining looks of the 1980s music scene. In 2014, CBS News asked him to define his music, and his reply was — perhaps unsurprisingly — not terribly modest: "It's taking the best of punk rock, the best of rock 'n' roll — you're taking the best of everything and somehow cross-pollinating it. So you have a bastard child, really, and the bastard child is my music!"

While it might seem like Idol was born to be on stage, that wasn't always the case. Born in Middlesex, England, to parents who held perfectly normal, respectable jobs as a salesman and a nurse, Idol described his parents as devout churchgoers (via Louder). In fact, the first time he got up in front of an audience, it was in church — and he was reading from the Bible.

By the time he was a teenager, though, he knew that music was his life. It wasn't an easy road to choose, either: "... It gave you a sense of freedom; it was just so alive. ... We looked askance at our parents' world, not realizing what they'd gone through. We were able to dream a lot more." Idol didn't just dream, he took life head-on and made those dreams happen. Along the way, however, his hedonistic lifestyle almost brought his world crashing down more than once: So, let's look at his troubled, behind-the-scenes life.

The following article includes instances of addiction issues and violence against women.

He had a difficult relationship with his father

Billy Idol was born in England, spent some time living in America, and ultimately ended up moving back to Blighty with his mother, father, and sister. The transition was difficult, he recalled to Louder, saying that he was often targeted as the "American kid." It's perhaps unsurprising that Idol says he pushed back against not only his parents' devout faith, but the idea of school and the kinds of qualifications that would set him on a respectable career path. By the time he was a teenager, it caused some serious friction.

"I wasn't trying hard at school, and eventually, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, my dad didn't talk to me for a couple of years. I had really long hair, and he couldn't stand it. That was when I got really interested in the rock scene," Idol recalled, going on to acknowledge that, in hindsight, he realized that he hadn't given his parents credit for spending their youth growing up during World War II.

Idol has since lost both his parents. According to what he told BBC Breakfast (via Express), he was able to mend fences with his father before his death in 2014. "There were some lovely moments we had as he was starting to fade from the cancer he had," Idol recalled. His mother passed away several years later, and he told Metal Express Radio that he hadn't been able to go to her funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He's been candid about his struggles with addiction

Louder described a typical, early-80s day for a Billy Idol who — alongside putting out music — was taking an exorbitant amount of drugs. A liter of tequila would take the worst off his symptoms of coming down from heroin, and in hindsight, an older and wiser Idol says that he knows just how many times he could have died.

Things really came to a head around the release of 1986's "Whiplash Smile," and he's said that he had been trying to get clean from heroin ... in a way. "I ended up taking tons of blow," he recalled. "I ended up smoking it. But I did get off heroin for a while by doing that. There was a no-holds-barred feeling about the Eighties. We were partying as if it was the end of the world. ... We were all living in a fool's paradise."

Idol spoke with The Daily Mail around the release of his autobiography, "Dancing with Myself." He admitted that writing it had been a hard thing to do, as he'd had a lot to confront — particularly his addiction, the damage it had done, and then things he'd hoped everyone had forgotten about. That included multiple overdoses, but Idol says that even that hadn't been enough to make him rethink his lifestyle. "If the paramedics carted you off, you'd discharge yourself and be back on it the next evening, because that was all that mattered to you." Today, he describes himself as "clean and sober-ish, for now."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Billy Idol's night at Chateau Marmont

Billy Idol has been frank about the consequences and extent of his drug and alcohol addiction, and recalled to Louder that there was one particular night that he destroyed a room at Sunset Boulevard's notorious Chateau Marmont. Unable to buy his standard liter of tequila to help take the edge off his withdrawal from heroin — because of restrictions on the sale of alcohol at 3 a.m. — Idol destroyed the bungalow he'd rented. Idol wrote in his memoir (via The Telegraph), "I took out the bungalow windows with my elbows, screaming. I destroyed the TV and whatever else was in my immediate vicinity that sounded good crashing to the floor. I was nude and covered in blood and sweat, going nuts."

Idol eventually woke up in the middle of the debris and heard sirens: Stumbling out of his room, he was fully prepared to come face-to-face with law enforcement summoned to the scene of his destructive spree. That wasn't the case, though, and he very quickly realized they were there for someone else.

At about noon that day — March 5, 1982 — Bill Wallace found the lifeless body of John Belushi just a stone's throw from Idol's destroyed bungalow. Law enforcement and paramedics were there in response to an emergency phone call, and by the time they got there, Belushi was already dead (via Biography).

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He's been pretty open about his inability to stay faithful

It was MTV that catapulted Billy Idol to a whole new level of fame, and with that fame, he told Louder, came his choice of women. During the time he was appearing regularly on MTV and struggling with a heroin addiction, he was also in a long-term relationship with girlfriend Perri Lister (pictured). Their son was born in 1988, and in 1989, another woman gave birth to Idol's daughter.

Lister — who plays the bride in Idol's "White Wedding" video — had previously been so sick of rumors of Idol's affairs that in 1987, she held a press conference to clear things up: She was Idol's one-and-only (via Rocks Off). Idol, however, once justified his affairs like this: "Well, we were out on the road for a long time. ... You're out in the middle of nowhere, and in those days there were no computers or cable television, particularly, so one had to entertain oneself."

Lister called it quits with Idol in 1989, and since then, Closer says more and more has come out about just how unfaithful he was. Sonja Morgan of "The Real Housewives of New York City" revealed that she dated him while he was with Lister, even though she was terrified of what Lister might do. He also hooked up with "Little House on the Prairie" star Melissa Gilbert at that time, and more recently, Idol says that while he has no intentions of getting married, he's settled down quite a bit.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

That time the military was called in to subdue him

Billy Idol's memoir is about as candid as they come, and one of the episodes he recounted (via The Sun) was a three-week trip to Thailand that perhaps didn't end quite as planned.

The entire thing kicked off when he was in a bad place: Longtime girlfriend Perri Lister left him after overhearing him — through their baby monitor — talking to another woman who was clearly more than a friend. Reeling from the breakup, he headed to Thailand. Louder asked him about the real story, and although he said he and his buddy had the best of intentions to only stick to drinking, that went right out the window when their cab driver gave them "the strongest heroin going." He threw in Valium and tranquilizers to come down off the heroin, and said that's when he started getting violent.

Idol, says Far Out, kicked off a massively destructive rampage and caused an estimated $250,000 worth of damages to the hotel he was staying in. When staff tried to kick him out and he simply said he wasn't going to leave, that's when they called in the local branch of the Thai army, who ended up strapping him to a stretcher and forcefully removing him. Idol, in hindsight, considered himself fortunate that he didn't end up in jail.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He nearly permanently damaged his eyesight for a song

"Eyes Without A Face" is one of Billy Idol's biggest hits, and there's a terrifying story about the song and the video: He very nearly became a face without eyes. The song was inspired by a French horror movie, "Les Yeux Sans Visage," and it's the story of a surgeon trying to rebuild his daughter's face after she was in a severe car accident (per IMDB). It's pretty dark stuff that involves kidnapped women and unsuccessful face transplants, but what happened to Idol is no less terrifying.

He wrote in his memoir (via Ultimate Classic Rock) that he had shot the video for the song, then hopped on a plane and headed to the concert that was scheduled for immediately afterwards. He decided to get some shut-eye and sleep for a bit on a nearby patch of grass, but when he woke up, he was in agonizing pain. "Something was wrong!" he wrote. "The pain was so intense, and my eyes were gushing."

Idol wore contacts at the time, and he'd been wearing them for more than 36 hours. A combination of the time, fog machines, fires, and lights from the video shoot — followed by dry, recycled plane air — had fused the lenses to his eyes. It took a few days for his corneas to heal, but the video became award-winning and iconic.

He was charged with assault

There are some headlines that you never want to see anyone make, and in 1991, Billy Idol was in the news for something extreme, even for his famously hedonistic lifestyle: assault.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Idol and a friend were at a West Hollywood restaurant when two women offered to give them a ride. During the drive, Amber Nevel alleged that he had become hostile, hitting her in the face and head and leaving her with cuts, bruises, and a concussion.

Idol initially gave a conflicting account of events, but ultimately entered a guilty plea with the courts. In April of the following year, The Buffalo News reported that he had been handed a $2,000 fine, was ordered to undergo counseling, and told to record a series of public service announcements about the dangers of substance abuse. Idol had admitted he had been drinking the night of the altercation, and had been facing a six-month jail sentence.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

In hindsight, he's spoken about his self-sabotaging nature

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, and in 2021, Billy Idol spoke with Forbes about his past, present, and future. He was surprisingly honest about how he hadn't been prepared for fame — certainly, he recalled, not in the way MTV brought it.

He reflected on his mid-80s move from New York to Los Angeles, saying that in New York, the recognition he found after being played on a near-constant rotation on MTV had forced him into "a bit of a vampire existence." He explained, "As a musician, it was like a little under the radar. Being a television star was nutty, it was crazy. It was difficult going out, because it wasn't just music people who knew about you. As MTV got bigger and bigger, it was like the whole world could recognize you."

While he says that he did find a bit of reprieve out in LA — where he had friends, and where he could spend entire days on his motorcycle, getting away from it all — he was also candid about his self-sabotaging behavior, which included getting high and getting on the road. "So really, I was sabotaging my own recovery in some way, and that ... really made me go, 'Why did you come out here in the first place?'"

He nearly lost his leg in a motorcycle accident

Many people have those moments in life that change everything forever, and for Billy Idol, that happened in 1990. That, reported the Los Angeles Times, is when he was in a motorcycle accident that ended with him in the hospital, undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair the damage done to his right leg and left arm.

Fast forward to 2021, and a year of isolation, lockdowns, and a pandemic. Idol was releasing a new album, and explained to Q104.3 (via iHeart) that the album — called "Bitter Taste" — harkened back to the days of the accident. He said that it was an eye-opening wake-up call, "a bit of a watershed moment where I did sort of re-evaluate and pull back from the edge, so to speak, in terms of substances and stuff like that."

Idol said that they had barely been able to save his leg, and they'd told him that if the accident had happened just a few years earlier, they wouldn't have been able to. He told The Daily Mail that it had very nearly been worse: He spent weeks in the hospital, went through a series of other surgeries, and was told by doctors how close he'd come to dying. While he said the accident made him rethink some life choices, that didn't extend to them all: He was soon back on a new motorcycle.

The motorcycle accident ruined a possible movie career

After Billy Idol kicked off the 1990s by getting into a severe motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his life, he had a long recovery ahead of him. While he told The Daily Mail that he was back on stage about eight months after the crash, he still wasn't 100% — and that may have cost him a movie career.

An interview with Yahoo! Music points out that at the same time as Idol's accident, he was also on the verge of breaking into movies in a big way. He had landed a part in Oliver Stone's movie on The Doors, but his long recovery meant that his previously decent-sized part got severely chopped. David Fincher was behind the video for his "Cradle of Love," but once again, there was the fallout from the accident. Idol couldn't walk at the time, which is why he ended up being depicted as a painting instead. He also lost out on the chance to work with yet another Hollywood heavyweight: James Cameron. 

Cameron, says The Hollywood Reporter, had actually cast Idol as the T-1000 in "Terminator 2," a role that would ultimately go to relative newcomer Robert Patrick. Patrick recalled getting the part: "Billy Idol was set to do the role of the T-1000, ... Unfortunately, he got into a motorcycle accident and busted up his leg, so he wasn't able to physically do what the role demanded."

The paparazzi made him step back from fame

When Billy Idol spoke to Forbes in 2021, he spoke at length on the aftermath of his motorcycle accident and the state of his career in the early 1990s. Might the world have gotten more of Billy Idol? Probably — if it hadn't been for the emergence of the paparazzi.

MTV, Idol said, was a blessing and a curse. Because his videos were popular, he was getting more and more radio play, but he was also getting recognized all the time. "That drives you a little mad and it makes you crazy, and I think it makes you have psychological problems, probably some kind of PTSD and stuff like that, because it's weird," he explained.

He recalled reading a Rolling Stone article about the paparazzi's harassment of Britney Spears, and he knew that was the way the entertainment industry was heading. "I didn't want that for myself, so it was like, 'Yeah, I'd rather pull back and not be successful, if that's what it meant for a while.'" So, that's what he did — for five years, he simply went on the down-low and disappeared from touring and making new music. When he did reappear, it was more about the music and less about the videos — and he's said that he had no regrets.

He contracted an antibiotic resistant superbug

Billy Idol was getting back on tour after COVID when, in 2022, he announced on Twitter (via Ultimate Classic Rock) that he had been sidelined by something called the MRSA superbug. What, exactly, is that?

Everyday Health says that the MRSA superbug likely developed in response to the over-prescription of antibiotics, and as such, it was highly resistant to those antibiotics. That said, it's pretty terrifying stuff, and has the potential to cause things like pneumonia and severe, life-threatening infections in the bloodstream. In February, Idol tweeted that he had been diagnosed with the condition during his second sinus surgery, after writing that he had been struggling with a sinus infection for a long time.

Later in the year, he appeared on BBC Breakfast (via Mark 1333) and was asked about his illness. He said that he had been fighting the infection for four months, but was back on his feet and back on stage.