What Happened To Vanilla Ice?

If ever a star has risen to the top and fallen to the bottom more completely than Vanilla Ice, it's hard to think of who — and it's especially hard to think of any celebrity who rose to fame then fell from it more rapidly than this early '90s super star. Perhaps most surprising, though, is that a good 30 years after his career high water mark, Vanilla Ice is still relevant. He is still a draw for many people, as evidenced by his touring schedule, his TV work, his 480,000-plus Instagram followers, and — let's be honest — the fact that you are reading about him right now.

Anyone born in America before 1982 or so could not have helped but be aware of Vanilla Ice. He lit up stages (and rocked mics like a vandal and waxed chumps like a candle and all — and yes, those are paraphrases of lyrics from his biggest hit "Ice Ice Baby," courtesy of Genius) and was all over the radio and even made silver screen appearances alongside other heavy hitters of 1980s and '90s popular culture, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — more to come on that. For those born after Ice's heyday, it may be hard to appreciate just how large a star he was. But what anyone can appreciate, even those just learning abut the man, is the fact that today, well into his 50s, he is still going strong, albeit at a reduced level of fame and acclaim.

Vanilla Ice was born Robert Van Winkle

The man who would become known to the world as rap star Vanilla Ice was born in Miami, Florida, on Halloween, October 31, 1967, according to Biography. (As it happens, that was the same birth year of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, whose fame would largely coincide with that of Vanilla Ice, then outshine it — but then of course this other musical pillar of the early '90s would die in 1994, as reported by History.) Van Winkle's father played no role in his upbringing, having left before his child was even born. His mother, Beth Mino, was a classically trained musician — a pianist — and taught music to students at multiple skill levels, including the collegiate.

In trying to maintain sufficient income and create the most stable environment possible in which to raise Van Winkle and his half siblings, Mino mother moved the family from southern Florida to Texas when he was around kindergarten age. They were accompanied by Mino's ex-husband (not Van Winkle's father), with whom an on-and-off relationship had been renewed. A mediocre student who frequently skipped class even in his grade school years, as relayed in Encyclopedia, Van Winkle developed a love for and talent at two things: motocross racing and break dancing, both hobbies that he pursued with a vigor never dedicated to studies. He would pursue dancing with a special passion that soon led him to rap, but before that, the company through whom he would be exposed to dance and music would lead to trouble.

Ice was something of a street kid

To hear Vanilla Ice tell tales of his youth makes him sound as though he was something of a hardened young criminal. According to reporting from the Washington Post, in one interview in particular, Ice claimed to have been stabbed and nearly killed in a gang-related altercation, saying: "I got stabbed four years ago and almost died. I was left to die. And I didn't die and I came back." He would also make claims like: "I am from the streets, that's where I learned to rap, that's where I learned to dance," and the like.

But when, on different occasions, Ice was pressed for details regarding the stabbing, he placed the incident in various locations (including cities in both Florida and Texas) and times. And when describing himself as from "the streets," he glossed over the fact that he had a safe home to which he could return every night and a present mother to whom he could turn as needed (via Encyclopedia).

All that said, Ice did indeed live a rather rough and ready youth, compared to that of most people. According to a lengthy profile in SPIN, Ice was indeed arrested for selling drugs, he ran with known gang members, he frequented night clubs when he was well underage to do so, and he generally lived a life near the wild side. But again, it was all by choice, not because he had no other options in life — something that set him apart from many of his more authentically "street" associates in the 1980s.

Ice Ice Baby tops Billboard Hot 100

Vanilla Ice shot from total obscurity to superstar fame so fast that it's hard to fully appreciate. And in fact, he became the first rapper ever to reach one cultural milestone of success: Ice's hit single "Ice Ice Baby" was the first rap song ever to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as noted by Billboard. Being as Ice was white and was performing music that had originated within the Black community, his sudden success drew ire even as he won millions of fans among the public at large. But what led to the sudden success? Decent talent, lots of charisma, and some plain old luck, as it happens.

According to Biography, Ice had taken to break dancing and rapping seriously enough by the late 1980s that he was appearing regularly at Dallas area nightclubs, had gained a manager, Tommy Quon, and became frontman of a group calling itself the Vanilla Ice Posse, or VIP. While considered a better dancer than rapper, Ice nonetheless rapped on a number of songs, including those added to an album the group released in 1989 called "Hooked." One fateful day, a record DJ at an Atlanta radio station meant to play the song "Play that Funky Music" from the A-side of the album, but inadvertently played a B-side song called "Ice Ice Baby," says the Dallas Observer

The song was an overnight sensation in the Atlanta area. Soon, "Ice Ice Baby" spread beyond Atlanta, then beyond the South, soon gaining notoriety nationwide. Along with topping charts, the song drove sales. The album "Hooked" was re-released as "To the Extreme" with "Ice Ice Baby" as its A-side anchor song, and soon, "To the Extreme" went platinum. Then double platinum. Then triple and beyond.

Ice on top, briefly

Vanilla Ice had about a two-year success streak, almost of all of his time as a celebrated icon thanks to the runaway success of "Ice Ice Baby." The good days for Ice included a few other songs that did well enough on the radio, like "Satisfaction" and "Rollin' In My 5.0" which both hit the charts, though they came nowhere near the No. 1 spot "Ice Ice Baby" had reached, according to Official Charts. Ice dated Madonna, who was older than him by nearly a decade and already a music superstar, and even appeared in her scandalous and hugely successful book "Sex," according to InStyle, though it was later asserted that Ice had been included for his "kitsch" value. Ice appeared in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's movie "The Secret of the Ooze" and even performed a song created for the film, "Ninja Rap" — aka "Go Ninja, Go" — according to Collider, which described the performer as "one of the most famous rappers in the world at this point."

Ice appeared on programs like "The Arsenio Hall Show" and "Saturday Night Live," he did radio interviews that were heard by millions, he toured the nation and the world, as noted by Concert Archives, and he was generally everywhere and anywhere, at peak popularity and in huge demand and with a seemingly insatiable appetite for the public affection and the energy to keep feeding the demand. But things can change quickly for a celebrity, and sometimes even without any major scandal or flop or foible. This was largely to be the case for Ice: his popularity burned hot and fast, then cooled nearly as quickly. Which is not to say he didn't help knock himself down a peg or two, because he did.

Controversy strikes

With a No. 1 hit song, an appearance in a major motion picture, demand for him on shows and radio programs far and wide, a relationship with global superstar Madonna, and money rolling in (a noted car enthusiast, as reported by Motor Trend, Ice spent loads of cash on cars in particular), in the early years of the 1990s, it might have seemed like Vanilla Ice was set for good times ahead. But the good times were to be very short lived.

The first problem to note, as relayed in a Los Angeles Times article, was that Ice was hit with accusations of lip synching his music with someone else actually providing the vocals — recall that the group Milli Vanilli (the name similarity is totally coincidental) had recently been exposed and excoriated for false singing performances, even being stripped of a Grammy, according to Variety. Ice denied the lip synching rumors but they still hurt his reputation. 

Next, it came out that Ice had fudged some details and in other cases outright lied about his experiences as a motocross rider in his teen years. Among the falsehoods exposed were the fact that he had not, in fact, been a winning rider on the championship winning Team Honda. In fact, it's unclear if he ever rode in professional competition, rather than simply as a hobby. It also came out that Ice had lied about attending high school with hip hop star Luke Campbell of the group 2 Live Crew. And then some of the story of his dark, hard-knock street life also began to fall apart as well as reporters looked into the timeline and geography of his life, determining he was hardly as much of a ruffian as he claimed.

The set trashing event

In 1999, when about at his nadir in terms of stardom and popularity, Vanilla Ice was invited onto a show MTV was producing called "The MTV 25 Lame," as recounted by Uproxx. Ice was there to take part in the mockery of his own greatest achievement, based on your perspective, "Ice Ice Baby," the song and music video that had made his name less than a decade before. Now in his early 30s, Ice was a very different man: on the show, he sported shorts and a T-shirt and wore a hat, his once famed pompadour and shaved sidewalls and oversized outfits of the early '90s gone. As was his love for "Ice Ice Baby."

Stepping onto the set and speaking of his song, Ice said to the show's hosts, Jon Stewart, Denis Leary, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Kattan — who were gathered to make a mockery of music videos rated as "lame," including MC Hammer's "Too Legit to Quit," Chumbawumba's "Tubthumpin'," and Los Del Rio's "Macarena — "The first hundred times I heard it, it was alright. But after nine billion, and I've seen it so many times, and performed it, I'm so ready to get rid of this!"

Which he proceeded to do, figuratively, anyway, smashing a VHS copy of the "Ice Ice Baby" music video with a bat, which he then turned on much of the larger set itself. In the video of the incident, Ice smashes a mannequin, a table, a bowl of popcorn, a phone, and he generally freaks out for a moment, apparently actually unnerving the others on the show, who cower during his violent eruption. It's hard to tell if Ice was actually venting anger or largely acting, but a cultural moment was created either way.

The reality TV years

Prior to the MTV set incident, Vanilla had Ice managed to remain vaguely relevant for a few years, but his time at the top was over. He released an album called "Mind Blowin" in 1994 but, according to Biography, it was a flop, with critical reception icy and sales nearly flat. In the mid '90s, Ice began to abuse drugs and apparently even had a near-death experience as a result of an overdose. He left music behind for a bit, returning to the world of extreme sports he had loved (though apparently not excelled at) as a young man, opening a Miami area store called "2 the Xtreme" that sold sporting goods and apparel.

Ice tried to get back into the music scene in the early 2000s, releasing albums calls "Bipolar" and "Hot Sex," but neither made much of a splash. Ice did finally return to a level of modest public awareness in 2004 when he joined the cast of the hit reality TV show "The Surreal Life." As reported by Entertainment Weekly, Vanilla Ice joined other "Surreal Life" cast members such as (now disgraced) adult film icon Ron Jeremy, actors Eric Estrada and Traci Bingham, and televangelist Tammy Faye. 

On the show, which aired on The WB (and later on VH1) Vanilla Ice developed a persona as a loudmouthed hothead who frequently shouted at other members of the "Surreal Life" cast, per Tucson, and he later admitted much of his apparent aggression on the show was simply him acting for the benefit of the program. "They ask you to spice it up," Ice said at one point, adding: "They encourage you. If you can go over the top a little bit, do it. You stir up a little excitement. But it's like a little adventure."

Ice turns to home improvement

A few years after the reality TV stint and his days of set destruction and outrageous outbursts, Vanilla Ice would begin to rebuild his life and his image, and you can take that almost literally, with the word "rebuild" being the operative. Ice began to renovate residences in Florida, sometimes as investment properties, sometimes hired by well-to-do clients wishing to have their own homes improved. And he did so on TV, creating and starring in the DIY Network's (now called Magnolia Network and connected to channels such as HGTV and Discovery channels) rather successful program "The Vanilla Ice Project." 

"The Vanilla Ice Project" showed a new side and new dimension to Rob Van Winkle: he had business acumen, a designer's eye, a willingness to work with a team, a sense of humor, and he came across not as a prima donna or loudmouth, but rather as a genial, often self-effacing and calm fellow. The show ran for an impressive nine seasons, commencing in 2010 and running until 2019. The real estate and renovation show proved a success with audiences both in and of itself and in that it largely rehabbed Robert Van Winkle's public image. He emerged from a status that can candidly be called burnout or laughing stock (not his fault, really — he was a young man without proper guidance when he hit it big) as a mature adult who had plenty to offer others beyond the spectacle of song and dance.

That all said, it was a bit odd when Ice made a detour into Amish Country for taping of some episodes of his renovation show — "Let's turn around and see that barn!" for example.

Occasional TV and movie work

Starting before and continuing even as his image and career writ large were being rehabbed by his show "The Vanilla Ice Project," so too was Ice doing some non-reality TV and movie work during the 2000s and 2010s. He appeared in several music videos, including one for Eminem's song "We Made You." He made cameos in several movies, often in unnamed roles, though he did appear in several more notable roles, such as when he appeared as himself in 2012's "That's My Boy." 

This also included the decidedly unusual time Ice played Mark Twain in the movie "The Ridiculous 6," though truth be told, he essentially just played himself while wearing a wig, fake mustache, and a period-appropriate suit. He was a scene stealer in that lackluster movie, which overall garners poor ratings and reviews. Ice has been in several other movies in recent years, and he has also taken some work doing voice overs, such as he is doing at the time of this writing in the forthcoming animated project "Seaper Powers: Mystery of the Blue Pearls." And of course Ice is still regularly watched online, with the official Vevo "Ice Ice Baby" video in particular having been viewed on YouTube more than 420 million times and counting.

Vanilla Ice plays Mar-a-Lago

On New Year's Eve, 2020, Vanilla Ice was among the guests and performers at a party at Mar-a-Lago, the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective and your politics) Florida beach resort and residence of ex-president Donald Trump. According to WPTV, the president was not present at the event taking place at his property that night, but among the other notable guests were the former POTUS' son, Donald Trump Jr. The younger Don Trump recorded a video of part of Ice's set and later posted the recording to a Facebook page, in fact, along with the gushing caption: "Ok this is amazing. Vanilla Ice is playing the Mar-a-Lago New Years Eve party. As a child of the 90s you can't fathom how awesome that is. Beyond that I got the birthday shoutout so that's pretty amazing."

For his part, Ice received lots of harsh criticism for appearing at the event, which, even aside from the politics, was an almost entirely mask-free affair even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. Ice claimed he had no interest in the politics at play and was simply there to perform and enjoy himself, which he seems to have done, saying later: "I think everyone just wants to get out and dance and have fun. We've all been marinating, trapped in our houses. It's not about politics at all. This is about dancing and enjoying New Year's." (Also, attendees were supposed to have been COVID tested, for the record.)

The event came a mere six days before the harrowing riots and attempted Capitol insurrection led by Trump supporters, and one has to wonder if Ice would still have agreed to appear at Mar-a-Lago had those events of January 6, 2021, already unfolded, but no one will ever know.

Where is Vanilla Ice today?

It has been a long road for Vanilla Ice, from a complex — though perhaps not all that rough — and troubled youth to a meteoric rise to fame, a rapid descent into butt-of-the-joke status, to a slow but profound return to the public's good graces. Now age 54, he is doing quite well, all things considered. He has three children, two by his first wife with whom he split officially in 2016 after 19 years of marriage and several of estrangement, per Daily Mail, and a third by someone with whom he was only briefly involved. Ice is back to regular performances, with dozens of appearances scheduled for this year alone, according to the singer's own website, VanillaIce.com – and yes, many of them are '90s nostalgia types of shows at which Ice performs with other icons of the era like Coolio, Color Me Badd, Sir Mix A Lot, and Naughty by Nature.

Ice will also be returning to the small screen soon, what with a new home makeover show in the works. He is set to host "The Vanilla Ice Home Show" as reported in News 10. The program, which is still seeking a distribution network at the time of this writing, will have 13 episodes per season and will apparently be focused on renovations and upgrades for upscale homes with many of the clients to be notable celebrities. The show, like much of Vanilla Ice's life, will be primarily set in Florida.