The Tragic 1998 Death Of Falco Explained

You may be familiar with the term "one-hit wonder" to describe a band or artist who had exactly one Top 40 hit and then disappeared into obscurity (or stuck around as an artist, but only had that one hit). According to Rolling Stone, examples are legion: there's A-ha's "Take on Me," or Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," and those two are just high points on a lengthy list.

Calling an artist a "one-hit wonder" may not always tell the whole story, however. Several artists with immense popularity may simply not be about writing radio-friendly hits; the Grateful Dead are one of the biggest bands in U.S. history but only had one commercial hit ("Touch of Grey"). Other artists may be hugely popular in one part of the world but only have one big hit in the U.S. Still others may have only recorded one big song but may have written others that were recorded by other artists.

Johann Hölzel, who recorded under the name "Falco," checks off a couple of those boxes. His "Rock Me Amadeus" was his only hit stateside, but he was huge in his native Europe while he lived, according to The New European. He wrote another song, "Der Kommissar," that became a hit for another band, After The Fire (posted on YouTube). Falco died in 1998, according to History, 12 years after his greatest commercial success in the U.S.

Falco's unusual career

Before his breakthrough success in the U.S. with 1986's "Rock Me Amadeus" (depicted above), Johann "Hans" Hölzel, performing as Falco, had made it big in Austria. Specifically, according to Red Bull Music Academy, he'd made a name for himself in the Vienna music scene, performing with various underground bands and the like before hitting it big as a solo artist.

"Rock Me Amadeus" was intended as a tribute to another Viennese artist, according to History: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The lyrics to the song imagine the composer as a modern-day rock star. Against all odds, the song reached No. 1 in the U.S., according to MPR News, an impressive accomplishment for a song with only a handful of English words, the rest in German.

Falco followed up "Rock Me Amadeus" with other songs that were big in Europe, in his native Austria in particular, but never reached the same success in the States. Following some disappointing output, by the 1990s he'd moved to the Dominican Republic, where he battled substance-abuse issues and personal demons in the remaining years of his life, per The New European.

Falco's Death

Having fought and lost lifelong battles with substance abuse and personal issues, it seems that, near the end, he may have been on the road to getting the upper hand. Unfortunately, his life was cut short before he was able to make his comeback.

On February 6, 1998, as History reports, Falco was in a fatal car accident in the Dominican Republic. Specifically, according to Rolling Stone, he was driving a sport utility vehicle near the resort city of Puerto Plaza when he struck a tour bus. He suffered a fatal head injury.

The news of his death was met with little notice in the U.S., but in his native Europe, and particularly in Austria, his death was considered a tragedy on par with "the day the music died" in the U.S., according to The New European: "Today the grass is worn smooth on the way to Falco's grave in Vienna's famous cemetery, just as it is to those of Beethoven and Schubert."

Falco's legacy

"Rock Me Amadeus" was unique in music history in the U.S. for several reasons, not the first of which is that it's the only song in German to reach No. 1 in the U.S., according to Cassava Films. Further, "Rock Me Amadeus" joins "Sukiyaki" (Japanese), "Dominique" (French), and "La Bamba" (Spanish), among a small handful of others, on the very short list of foreign-language songs to become a pop hit in the U.S. Falco also recorded an English-language version of "Rock Me Amadeus."

Falco also broke musical ground in another, niche way. In 1990, Vanilla Ice would make history when "Ice Ice Baby" became the first rap single to reach No. 1 in the U.S., according to Complex. But a decade earlier, Falco wrote and recorded "Der Kommissar," which is, for all intents and purposes, a rap song. Specifically, it's about street youths trying to score drugs and stay ahead of the cops, according to SongFacts – subject matter explored in multiple rap songs before and after. In the song, Falco raps in a mix of English, German, and Viennese street dialect, according to The New European, and although Falco version of the song went nowhere in the States, it was huge in Europe, making it one of the first commercially-popular rap songs.