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Billy Idol: Pop's Rebel With a Cause : The feisty rock star fidgets after a motorcycle mishap puts his crucial music and movie plans on hold

April 29, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

Billy Idol can still hear the bang of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle colliding with a car the morning of Feb. 6 near the intersection of Fountain and Gordon in Hollywood. The impact hurled him to the pavement, crushed his right leg and left him momentarily unconscious.

"It felt like (I hit) a brick wall," Idol said in a recent interview. "I suppose I sort of blacked out from hitting the street, but I came to very quickly.

"The first thing that came to mind was trying to figure out just how badly hurt I was. . . . I was lying on my side and I looked at my arm and it was all withered up. But the most pain was from my leg. When I lifted it, I could see stub (bone) sticking out. . . . I knew then that I wasn't going to be able to move. . . . I just laid back and waited for the ambulance."

At the time of the accident, Idol--whose spiky, platinum-blond hair and pouty good looks are among rock's most identifiable trademarks--was on his way back to the Hollywood recording studio where, just hours before, he had put the final touches on his first album in nearly four years.

Idol, 34, had gone home around 2 that morning to sleep before getting his Hollywood Hills house ready for his parents, who were going to spend a few days with him. But he found he was so keyed up from finishing the album that he couldn't sleep.

He felt the album, "Charmed Life," would be an important step in his evolution as an artist--an album that could move him beyond the cartoon-like, punk-rebel image conveyed by his string of early hits, including "White Wedding" and "Rebel Yell."

Knowing that tapes of the new album were being run off at the studio, Idol decided around 8 a.m. to go back and pick up a couple of them to play at his house for his parents and friends.

The rock singer usually rode his Harley either along La Brea or the Hollywood Freeway because he normally went to the studio late at night when there was little traffic. But to avoid the morning rush-hour congestion, Idol took a different route on Feb. 6, traveling along some unfamiliar side streets.

"It was a beautiful morning and I was thinking about the tour and how much fun it would be to play the new songs," he said.

Then . . . bang!

When the near-fatal crash was reported on the news that day, it was easy for many to assume it was yet another story of a wild rock 'n' roller self-destructing. (According to police, Idol was at fault for running a stop sign, but no charges are being filed.)

And certainly, for most of the '80s, Idol was one of the most colorful symbols of rock rebellion.

Like so many other rock stars, Idol was hugely influenced by Elvis Presley. But where Bruce Springsteen blended Presley dynamics with Dylan imagination to represent the thoughtful, idealistic side of the rock tradition, Idol combined the Presley dynamics with the darker and more unruly attitudes of Jim Morrison and the Sex Pistols.

And Idol, who lived in New York City for most of the '80s, did become caught up in rock's fast-lane syndrome after he became one of the first MTV-generation rock heroes. In fact, he suggested, there was a time when he could have pictured himself ending up a rock casualty.

But those days are past, he said. His move to Los Angeles in 1987 was partly to provide a better atmosphere to raise the son he and his girlfriend, actress Perri Lister, were expecting, and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"There was a time when my whole life was in chaos, really, and I didn't help myself sort it out," he said, sitting in a chair on the back porch of his house. "But one day I came to my senses, and I think I was lucky because a lot of people don't."

Part of the motivation came when Lister gave birth to their son, Willem Wolfe Broad (Broad is Idol's real last name), now 2.

"I didn't really fancy myself being a burned-out father who didn't have the energy for raising his son," he said, his right foot in a tight wrapping and propped up on a pillow.

"So when Perri was pregnant, I knew it was a time for me to start getting really healthy. I also knew that I'd be nearly 35 by the time we hit the road again with the band and I didn't fancy getting out there being Belly Idol and having no energy and being wasted."

Idol stared at the injured leg, then gazed at the idyllic grounds of the residence. A child's basketball hoop was set up on the driveway and a toy football lay nearby. (Idol and Lister no longer live together, but share custody of the boy.)

"The accident was really just bad luck, though I suppose that anybody who rides a motorcycle all day long for three years is looking for trouble," Idol said. "At least that's what most people think. They see a motorcycle as something wild and crazy . . . that you've got to be out of your mind to ride one. I'm sure that's what my dad thinks."

Idol then looked across the lawn to a building that houses a gym where he kept in shape during the long months of recording the album. He shrugged.

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