It seems quite a few actors picked up the microphone (some of which maybe shouldn’t have) back in the 80’s and vice-versa, with many music artists plunging into the world of lights, camera and action! There were some huge names as you may recall such as Madonna, Cher and Prince, however, there may be a few you didn’t know about or possibly forgotten. This is by no means an entire list of ALL famous actors turned singers and singers turned actors in the 80’s, but does feature most of the more famous entertainers.
We’ll begin with the artists I mentioned above; Madonna, who had a couple of hit albums (her debut album Madonna & her sophomore album, Like a Virgin) under her belt before she jumped onto the big screen. She had a brief appearance as a club singer in Vision Quest and also appeared in the comedy Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). She later went on to act in movies such as Who’s That Girl, Dick Tracy, Madonna: Truth or Dare, A League of Their Own and Evita among other appearances in film and television.
Cher began her career back in the early 60’s as a session and backup singer as well as performing on television shows including the Sonny & Cher Show but didn’t break out into the movies until the 1980’s when she was next cast alongside Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell in the drama Silkwood which she received her first Academy Award nomination. Cher’s next film was a starring role in Mask in 1985. In 1987 Cher starred in three films; The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect and the romantic comedy Moonstruck. Cher returned to her musical success in 1987 with her album Cher and in 1989 with her album Heart of Stone proving she could cross-over from television to film to music with equal success.
Prince had his beginnings in the late 70’s early 80’s in music. Prince was pretty much in the only hit movie for him (and soundtrack) Purple Rain where Prince played a young man with a talent for music and has begun a career with much promise. Purple Rain won an Academy Award and grossed more than $80 million in the U.S. In 1986 Prince starred in Under the Cherry Moon where plays a self-styled gigolo and musician in the south of France. Although Prince did not star in many movies, being an actor only enhanced his musical career.
Midler released her debut album The Divine Miss M in December 1972. In 1979, Bette made her first motion picture, starring in the 1960s-era rock and roll tragedy The Rose, and in 1980, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). The film’s acclaimed soundtrack album sold over two million copies in the United States alone, earning a Double Platinum certification. It earned Midler her first Gold single and won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
In 1985, Bette was a performer on USA for Africa’s fund-raising single We Are the World, and participated at the ‘Live Aid‘ event at JFK stadium. Also in 1985, she signed a multi-picture deal with Touchstone Pictures. She was subsequently cast by director Paul Mazursky in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, beginning a successful comedic acting career. She followed that with Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), and Big Business (1988). She scored a hit with the 1988 tearjerker Beaches, co-starring Barbara Hershey. The accompanying soundtrack remains Bette’s all-time biggest selling disc, reaching #2 on Billboard’s album chart and with US sales of four million copies. It featured her biggest hit, Wind Beneath My Wings, which went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, achieved Platinum status, and won her third Grammy Award – for Record of the Year – award at the 1990 Grammy Awards.
From 1990 – 2000 Midler enjoyed continued success in which she played a snobbish poodle in the animated Disney movie Oliver & Company, she co-starred with Woody Allen in Scenes from a Mall, and she earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for 1991’s For the Boys. Other Bette Midler movies include: Stella, Hocus Pocus, The First Wives Club and The Stepford Wives. Bette won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her memorable performance on the second-to-last episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
In 1986 Whitney was nominated for three awards including Album of the Year. She won her first Grammy award for ‘Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female’ for Saving All My Love for You. At the same award show, she performed that Grammy-winning hit, the performance later winning her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. Houston won seven American Music Awards in total in 1986 and 1987, and an MTV Video Music Award.
Although Houston enjoyed singing success in the 1980’s and early 90’s, she didn’t get into acting in movies until the 1990’s. Whitney starred in The Bodyguard (1992), Waiting to Exhale (1995), The Preacher’s Wife (1996) and a cameo appearance in Nora’s Hair Salon (2004) which she played herself.
To boost your 1980’s Whitney Houston TV trivia knowledge, here are a few other roles she played on television; In 1983 Whitney appeared in a Canada Dry commercial and in 1986 & 1988 she sang a version of the Diet Coke theme song — one song being “Just for the Taste of It.” In 1984 Whitney played Rita on Gimme a Break! (“Katie’s College” – Season 3, Episode 20) and in 1985, she played herself on an episode of Silver Spoons (“Head Over Heels” – Season 4, Epsidode 1).
Believe it or not, Rick Springfield started his musical career in the late 1960’s after dropping out of high school. When Springfield came to California from Australia in 1972 he produced an album called Beginnings, although it didn’t get much air play at the radio stations. Rick then turned his attention to his family and his acting career in the early 80’s starring on General Hospital.
At the same time, he had signed a contract with RCA Records and already recorded the album Working Class Dog, which neither he nor his agent had expected would do very well, which is why Springfield took the soap role. But the song Jessie’s Girl went to #1, and Springfield ended up both playing the role of Dr. Noah Drake from 1981 through 1983, while simultaneously going on tour with his band.
In 1984, Springfield made one full length feature film, Hard to Hold, and in 1998 he played in the film Legion. In 1992, he played the title role in the short-lived ABC series Human Target, based on the DC Comics character of the same name.
Eddie Murphy is probably most well-known for his stand-up comedy, his work on Saturday Night Live and the huge 80’s movie hit Beverly Hills Cop. But what many people don’t know, Eddie is also a singer, musician and has recorded five studio albums, is on two compilation albums and has been on two soundtracks.
Murphy has provided background vocals to songs released by the The Bus Boys. As a solo artist, Murphy had two hit singles, Party All the Time from his album How Could It Be (which was produced by Rick James) and Put Your Mouth on Me from So Happy in the mid-1980s.
Best known for being the front-man to the Police back in the 80’s, then later as a solo artist, Sting has also has an extensive list of movies he has starred and appeared in.
In 1982 Sting played a drifter in Brimstone and Treacle, in 1984 he was Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in the cult classic Dune. In 1985 Sting played Mick in the movie Plenty and Baron Frankenstein in The Bride. In 1988 Sting played three roles, one in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a nightclub owner in Stormy Monday and a British gentleman in Julia and Julia and just recently played himself in the Bee Movie.
As many people know, in September 1984, Don Johnson landed a starring role as Sonny Crockett in the very popular cop series, Miami Vice. Later Johnson starred in the 1996-2001 drama Nash Bridges with Cheech Martin.
Similar to Eddie Murphy, Johnson was not very well known for his musical abilities. In 1986 he released his first album named Heartbeat with the hit single of the same name. In 1988 he did a duet with Barbara Steisand and title track from her Till I Loved You album. In 1989 he released his second album Let It Roll, that same year he did a duet with Latin singer Yun. Finally, Johnson released The Essential album which is a French compilation which includes his one-hit-wonder Heartbeat.
David Bowie had quite the musical career even before entering the 80’s — going from superstar to megastar in the decade of the eighties. Recording Under Pressure with Queen and his biggest commercial success album Let’s Dance in the early 80’s catapulted him into mega-stardom.
Bowie began his movie career in the late 60’s appearing in a short film as a boy in the movie The Image, the most known movie he appeared in the 1980’s was Labrynth in which he played Jareth the Goblin King. Bowie also appeared in the controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. Another notable film in which he had a cameo appearance in was Zoolander in 2001.
After Phil Collins’ 1970’s career as drummer and eventually Genesis‘ lead singer/writer when Peter Gabriel left the band, Phil began a successful solo career in the early 80’s. In 1981 he recorded his first solo album Face Value, In 1982 he produced Something’s Going On, a solo album by Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida), of ABBA fame. His second album, Hello, I Must Be Going!, released in 1982, included songs such as I Don’t Care Anymore.
From 1985 until 2010, Collins had recorded 6 solo albums including No Jacket Required, But Seriously, Both Sides, Dance Into the Light among others. Collins had 9 number one singles in the UK & US; all of which were released in the 1980’s — although Another Day in Paradise charted in 1990.
Phil’s first film role since becoming a musician came in 1988 with Buster about the Great Train Robbery which took place in England in the 1960s. The movie received good reviews and Collins contributed four songs to the films soundtrack. Collins had cameo appearances in Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) and the AIDS docudrama And the Band Played On (1993). He starred in 1993’s Frauds, he was considered for the role of the villain in the movie Speed that was later played by Dennis Hopper. He supplied voices to two animated features: Balto (1995) and Disney’s The Jungle Book 2 (2003). On television, he twice hosted the Billboard Music Awards. He also appeared in an episode of the series Miami Vice, entitled “Phil the Shill”, in which he plays a cheating con-man. He also guest starred in several sketches with The Two Ronnies. Most recently, he had a cameo appearance on the television series Whoopi.
Other notable famous 80’s singers turned actors & actors turned singers
Meatloaf (Marvin Lee Aday) actually sought an acting career before he became a singer. Meatloaf had tremendous fame with his 1972 Bat Out Of Hell album. After Bat Out Of Hell, Meat lost much of his fame and fortune throughout the 1980’s, although he did have some success touring and managed to record four albums from 1981 – 1986. Meatloaf returned to popularity with his Bat Out Of Hell II: Back into Hell album and has appeared in over 30 movies including The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Iconic musician/performer Neil Diamond (we won’t go into his entire musical career) starred in a remake of the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer in 1980, opposite Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. Though the movie was not a blockbuster hit at the box office, the soundtrack was a hugely successful album, spawning the 3 Top 10 singles Love on the Rocks, Hello Again, and America. For his role in the film itself, Diamond became the first ever Winner of a Worst Actor Razzie Award, yet he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the same role.
Finally, David Hasselhoff, yes, Mr. Hasselhoff himself recorded quite the collection of albums. Best known for his TV hits Knight Rider and Baywatch, Hasselhoff performed on stage as well as full-featured movies. He recorded over 15 albums and some of which even made the charts.