Pugnacious piano man Billy Joel was one of the most successful record-makers of the 1970s and ’80s, forging a slick, distinctive style that embraced classical, Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and rock.
Joel’s personal life has often been as eventful as his musical side, marked by depression and a suicide attempt as a young man, a few marriages (one to model Christie Brinkley), lawsuits with managers and other business associates, and a stay at the Betty Ford Center.
Joel played in bands and at recording sessions (including “Leader of the Pack”) as a Long Island teenager. He was also an amateur boxer for a time, but music won out, and after a couple of failed group endeavors, he released his solo debut, “Cold Spring Harbor,” in 1971. He lived in Los Angeles for a time, working as a piano-bar singer at the Executive Room on Wilshire near Western.
He distilled that experience in “Piano Man,” his first top 40 hit. It was “The Stranger” in 1977 that made Joel a star, containing the first batch of hits that would eventually include “Just the Way You Are,” “My Life,” “It’s Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me,” “Uptown Girl,” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
In 2001 he released “Fantasies and Delusions,” a collection of his classical compositions, and choreographer Twyla Tharp created “Movin’ Out,” a Broadway show based on his music. Later in his career he found an ideal touring partner in fellow singer-songwriter Elton John. He was indicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.