The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf flew onto the music scene like a bat out of hell during the 1970s. Equal parts beast and beauty, he performed with a feral elegance and passionate theatricality that came to define his decades-long career. Whether entering paradise by the dashboard light or declaring he'd do anything for love (but he won't do "that"), Meat Loaf  showed that music isn't just something that you hear; it's something you feel. And he certainly struck an emotional chord with listeners. 1977's Bat Out of Hell, the first installment in the "Bat Out of Hell" trilogy, became the fifth best-selling album of all time, according to Billboard.

Also passionate about acting, Meat has appeared in dozens of films since the 1970s. But behind the scenes his life sounds like a screenwriter's fever dream. The cast of characters includes the queen of England, and salmon, and Charles Manson. At times the details are more grim than fairy tale, and some details contain more tale than truth. Here are the ups, downs, and all-around madness of Meat Loaf's life story. 

Meat Loaf's father allegedly tried to murder him

Born Marvin Lee Aday, Meat Loaf learned just how painful growing pains could get as a child. Targeted by bullies because of his weight, he tipped the scales at 185 pounds in fifth grade and weighed 240 pounds by seventh grade, per Rolling Stone. Meat recalled, "Oh, man, I was tormented." At home, his father, Orvis, tormented him. A policeman by profession, according to Biography, Orvis behaved like a violent criminal. He was a belligerent alcoholic who would "slap [Meat Loaf] around or throw him through a screen door" and then disappear for days on end.

The singer's mother, Wilma, worked as a schoolteacher but also had the unenviable job of driving "from bar to bar" with Meat Loaf in tow to search for the chronically absent Orvis. Sadly, she died of cancer in 1966. Meat Loaf, still a teenager at the time, was so gripped by grief that, according to Classic Rock Magazine, during his mother's funeral "he grabbed her body and screamed at the undertakers, 'You can't have her!'"

Soon after the funeral Orvis burst into Meat's bedroom brandishing a butcher knife. According to the singer, he narrowly avoided being stabbed and "fought for his life," breaking his father's nose and ribs. After that, Meat left his native Texas and made a name for himself in L.A. doing musical theater.

Meat Loaf the great pretender

The world has plenty of method actors, but Meat Loaf might be a method singer. In 2004, he insisted, "I can't sing at all! It sounds terrible until I put the scene together." In 2016, Meat said, "On any record I've ever done, you've never heard Meat Loaf sing a song. They've all been characters." From the sound of things, the singer has spent most of his life pretending to be someone else. According to him, even as a high school shot put thrower he competed "in character," which he said helped him throw farther. 

Meat does a lot of pretending in interviews, too. As journalist Lynn Barber observed, the singer has claimed to be born in 1947 and 1951. When pressed about the discrepancy, Meat explained, "I just wanted to maintain a constant lie." He later elaborated, "Names and ages piss me off. So I just continually lie." Meat once got caught spewing obvious bull to ESPN about golfing with people who all had meat-themed names. The made-up lineup consisted of "Meat, Chili, Stew, Chuck and Frank." Meat initially swore the story was true but confessed to lying after failing to dupe the interviewer. Elsewhere he's made outlandish brags about his fantasy sports prowess, prompting the Washington Post to write that "Meat Loaf is either the world's greatest fantasy football player or a lying liar."

A shot put to the head and other injury stories

In a 2016 Telegraph interview, Meat Loaf likened himself to a "cat with 48 lives." The singer explained, "I've fallen three stories" and had so many "near misses" and collisions that "I should have died." In 2013, he told Ultimate Classic Rock he suffered 18 concussions, survived eight car crashes, and had close calls on planes. 

Meat's wildest anecdote alleges that in high school, a shot put champion launched a 12-pound shot 62 feet and hit him in the head, denting his skull. Meat seemingly bragged to the Telegraph: "Didn't even knock me out. Weird." Even weirder, instead of turning Meat Loaf into ground beef, the accident supposedly improved his voice. At least that's what he told Rolling Stone in 2018. Before getting part of his cranium caved in he apparently couldn't "carry a tune in a bucket." Then, boom! He instantly had a "three-and-a-half-octave vocal range." 

These accounts might read more like tall tales (three stories tall, at least), and Meat has admitted to lying habitually during interviews. But he does have a documented history of onstage accidents and health troubles. Per Rolling Stone, in 2003, he underwent heart surgery after collapsing mid-concert. He was reportedly diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which creates "an extra electrical pathway in the heart." In 2016, he collapsed on stage in Canada, and in 2019, he broke his collarbone after tripping and falling during a Q&A. 

To Helter Skelter and back

According to Meat Loaf, he had a special front-row seat to one of history's most infamous killings, and in a separate incident one of history's most infamous killers had a seat in the singer's car. As recounted by HowardStern.com, on a 2006 episode of the Howard Stern Show, Meat Loaf the showman claimed that after the JFK assassination he and his friends got pulled over by Secret Service agents who commandeered Meat's car "to drive to the hospital." He said he and his friends remained in the vehicle until President Kennedy's body arrived two hours later.

In the book Like a Bat Out of Hell, author Mick Wall recalled Meat singing a different tune about the assassination. Per that version of events, he and his friends drove to the hospital on their own, and someone with a badge halted them as they neared the emergency room. There they supposedly saw Jackie Kennedy, still dressed in her "blood-spattered pink suit," emerge from a limo.

In another dark anecdote, the singer allegedly picked up a hitchhiking Charles Manson without realizing it. Per an excerpt from his autobiography To Hell and Back, Meat spotted him on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Manson mentioned the Beach Boys and asked if Meat wanted to meet them. They supposedly rode to Dennis Wilson's house, where they were greeted by zero Beach Boys and Manson declared the world would soon end. 

Meat Loaf put the hell in the "Bat Out of Hell" tour

Jim Steinman, the songwriter for the first two Bat Out of Hell albums, didn't need to sleep on it when deciding whether to make sweet music with Meat Loaf. In 2000, Steinman said, "Meat was the most mesmerizing thing I'd ever seen. He was much bigger than he is now ... and since I grew up with [German composer Richard] Wagner, all my heroes were larger than life." Perhaps Steinman, who's been described as "Little Richard Wagner," saw in Meat Loaf what Nietzsche saw in big Richard Wagner's operas: "a Dionysian instinct" defined by "rampant voluptuousness" and "violent anger." The singer certainly displayed voluptuousness and violence during the 1977-78 Bat Out of Hell tour.

Meat reached his Dionysian climax while performing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," during which he would make out with singing partner Karla Devito on stage. Devito told Louder Sound that the kissing was totally unscripted, calling it "improvisational theatre." Jim Steinman recalled her remarking, "I can't believe how far down my throat [Meat] gets his tongue ... It's like he's doing a stomach X-ray with his tongue!" Drummer Joe Stefko said Devito "went through hell." Meat threw "a giant heavy steel mic stand bottom" at her during performances and nearly struck her head. According to Stefko, Meat once got so carried away that he threw Devito off the stage.

Paradise dashed by the limelight

Meat Loaf's backing singer, Karla Devito described him as "a tortured guy." And during the Bat Out of Hell tour, he tortured himself constantly. "Meat pushed himself so hard physically every night that he required oxygen to revive him," according to Louder Sound. His temper was almost as short as his breathing. When he insisted on starting a show by giving speeches instead of singing, the band got booed and Meat flipped out about it backstage. The singer "destroyed the dressing room," chucking chairs and other objects "all over the place." Such outbursts were a common occurrence.

"I was a perfect monster," Meat recalled. He threw mic stands at his band and at fans. He wrecked dressing rooms and eventually wrecked his own body. Quoting Sally Fields [sic], Meat Loaf wrote, "When you give everything you have to give in a performance, it is like cutting yourself with razor-blades." Those metaphorical cuts became a literal broken bone when he fell off the stage while performing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Meat fractured his leg, effectively ending the tour. Out of control and hooked on cocaine, Meat suffered a nervous breakdown and threatened to leap from the ledge of a high-rise building. Fortunately, road manager Sam Ellis talked him down from the ledge.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Meat Loaf's fishy marriage proposal

1978 marked a pivotal and perilous year for Meat Loaf. By May he had become one of the most high-profile performers on Earth, according to Louder Sound. His band grappled with infighting, insurrection, and drug abuse, and Meat Loaf teetered on the edge of self-destruction. But as Meat Loaf sang in his haunting cover of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," "There were moments of gold." Bat Out of Hell producer Todd Rundgren shared the most golden moment with Billboard.

In Bearsville, New York, Meat met his first wife, Leslie, then a secretary for Bearsville Records. According to Everything Louder than Everything Else: Meat Loaf Guide, the pair married after knowing each other for about a month. Rundgren recalled that Meat popped the question in a comically creative way. At the Bear Cafe he presented Leslie with "a giant whole salmon. And it was as if a bear had proposed to his mate. Instead of a ring, a salmon." The wedding was also a hoot, said Rundgren, who claimed the priest "was so old that he couldn't tell the difference between" Meat and Leslie and referred to one as the other during the ceremony.

When Meat Loaf lost his voice

It really seems to burn Meat Loaf's gravy when people say his voice worsened with age. For example, after getting panned for his performance at the 2011 Australian Football League grand final, he feuded with the AFL for years, per the Guardian. Still fuming in 2015, Meat called the league "the cheapest people I've ever seen in my life." (He later apologized.) He also blamed bleeding vocal cords for his less than stellar showing, telling Billboard, "It was like you're slicing a vegetable and you cut your finger really bad and it's bleeding everywhere, that's how blood was coming out of my throat." 

In 2013, the singer complained that concertgoers thought he "lost his voice" because it fell short of how he sounded on Bat Out of Hell. He insisted, "I've never sounded like that," and that the album was sped up. Moreover, he cited sinus and vocal cord surgeries and compared himself to Elton John and Rod Stewart. However, shortly after Bat Out of Hell's 1977 release, he allegedly didn't sound himself for psychological reasons. Longtime collaborator Jim Steinman said Meat "sounded literally like the little girl in The Exorcist ... like a dragon trying to sing. It was a horrifying sound." His raging case of Linda Blair voice lasted for years. It took six months of psychological therapy to restore the singer's voice.

When Meat Loaf lost his money

Bat Out of Hell propelled Meat Loaf to the top of Rock Mountain. You might expect that as one of the world's biggest rock stars, he also had one of the world's biggest bank accounts. But the cookie didn't crumble that way. Instead, his bank account crumbled, forcing him to declare bankruptcy in 1983. As described by Biography, the road to financial hell was paved with poor money management and expensive lawsuits. Meat had buckled under the crushing weight of fame. In the singer's words, "I was nuts. I mostly turned it inward. And it was all over being famous. I didn't want people to call me a star." Meat self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and his fruitful partnership with songwriter Jim Steinman was on life support. The men parted ways but reunited in the 1990s to make Bat Out of Hell II

In the meantime, Meat dropped five albums that mostly fell on deaf ears. He also appeared in films like Wayne's World. In Australia and Europe he remained immensely popular and toured there to butter his bread, but thanks to court battles with Steinman and others, Meat ran out of bread. The singer accused his courtroom foes of "playing games," telling the Guardian, "I had 45 lawsuits totaling $80 million thrown at me." Filing for bankruptcy put an end to the lawsuits. The singer claimed he coped by coaching Little League baseball.

Coach Meat

Sports have played an enormous role in Meat Loaf's life. According to Sports Illustrated, "he has an extensive memorabilia collection." A devoted New York Yankees fan, he (along with songwriter Jim Steinman) recruited baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto to give the iconic play-by-play in "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." A few years after knocking it out of the park as a musician, Meat would play a whole different ball game as a girls' softball coach. A Connecticut resident at the time, Meat — or Coach Meat as players called him — got involved with softball in 1981, per Sports Illustrated. He also sponsored a Little League team called Meat Loaf and "made history by drafting the first girl to a Stamford Little League team." He coached more teams in the 1990s.

Jen Carlson played for Coach Meat and wrote in a Deadspin article that he volunteered to coach her JV team when no one else would. He instilled a killer instinct, teaching the girls this chant: "What do we wanna do? Kill! What do we need to do? Kill! What are we gonna do? Kill! What do big dogs do? KILL!" Meat took his coaching role seriously and "only broke character once." After the team's first win, he agreed to sing for the team. He performed "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)," which wasn't released for another couple of years.

The queen's beef with Meat Loaf

In 1987, Meat Loaf participated in the UK's Royal Knockout tournament. The event involved celebrities and members of the royal family dressed as damsels, squires, and minstrels at an amusement park. (Though, Meat Loaf should have dressed as Beef Wellington). The Independent described the tournament as "a huge success" from a statistical standpoint. The contest generated 1.5 million pounds for charity. Eighteen million people watched the broadcast and 400 million more watched later. But the queen saw it all as a royal pain. The costumes made real royal garb look silly, Jane Seymour poked Tom Jones in the bum, someone threw a javelin at John Travolta, and rumor has it that Meat Loaf angered the royal family.

That rumor came straight from the horse loaf's mouth. In 2003, Meat said the queen "hates" him for putting his hands on Prince Andrew, who was supposedly upset that his wife, Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson, seemed to want a piece of Meat. "Fergie wasn't exactly flirting with me," the singer said, "but she was paying attention to me." Andrew allegedly tried to shove Meat into a moat, but the singer grabbed Andrew instead. "You can't touch me. I'm royal," the prince supposedly said, to which Meat replied, "Well you try to push me in the moat, Jack, I don't give a sh*t who you are, you're goin' in the moat." Perhaps that happened, or maybe Meat told a whopper fit for a Burger King.

The Rocky Horror Fight Club show

With his big frame and eve bigger stage presence, Meat Loaf seems to be built for the big screen. According to Rolling Stone, he's had more than 50 movie roles. Plus, he blew up at Gary Busey in an Oscar-worthy meltdown on Celebrity Apprentice. His breakout role was Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but if given the chance to do the Time Warp again, Meat would have played Dr. Scott, too. As the FW detailed, the singer played both Scott and Eddie in the stage version of the musical. So when he only got cast as Eddie in the movie, he objected. Meat echoed that sentiment in an interview: "I said you're making a huge mistake and I still think they did." Meat told the AV Club that of all the parts he landed, his favorite was Bob Paulson in Fight Club. What he liked most is that the director allegedly let him help choose which scene takes to use. 

But Meat's biggest and best acting gig might just be playing himself. He prefers to see himself as "an actor who thinks he can sing." He adopts different characters for his songs and has claimed it's the only way he can find the right notes. He has reinvented facets of his life during interviews, prompting the Telegraph to ask if Meat Loaf  is "just a great big ham." However you slice it, Meat Loaf's had the role of a lifetime.