Meat Loaf, otherwise known as Marvin Lee Aday (and legally known as Michael in 1984), has died at the age of 74. Working with partner Jim Steinman (who died of kidney failure last year at 73) he the voice of one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling somewhere beyond 43 million copies since its release in October 1977. He died Thursday with his wife, Canadian Deborah Gillespie, by his side. They married in 2007. He’s also survived by two daughters, Pearl (a singer) and Amanda (an actress who had a part in HBO’s Carnivale.)
We think he was 74, although he’s was pretty cagey about that. No cause of death has been given and his family says that they won’t be divulging that information. There are some stories that suggest he may have had COVID. There are further stories that he made statements siding against vaccine mandates in Australia. We have no idea if he was vaccinated. He’d suffered from plenty of health scares over the decades, too. We’ll get to that.
Bat Out of Hell remains a monster, with five of the album’s seven songs(!!!) being released as singles, including the eight-minute-and-twenty-eight second three-part teenage symphony, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” I could be wrong, but I think that was the longest song ever pressed onto a 7-inch single. My copy run 7:55 (b/w “Bat Out of Hell”) and sounded awful because the grooves were so close together.
When I was growing up, everyone had a copy of Bat, just like they had copies of The Eagles Greatest Hits Volume 1, Dark Side of the Moon, and Rumours. Every single girl in my school sang “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” for months.
And there was something really, really different about Meat’s voice. He was able to hit some interesting high notes. He had a voice known as a Heldentenor (translated as “heroic tenor”), which is quite rare, a singing voice that usually doesn’t develop until the late 20s or early 30s. Heldentenor voices are very, very powerful–operatic, really–with a big top end but are also hard to control. Lots of practice and training are normally required.
Meat claimed that he found his singing voice when he was in high school. A 12-pound shotput hit him in the back of the head during a track-and-field competition, something that he credits with changing everything about his voice into something that spanned three-and-a-half octaves.
Meat had an excellent natural voice, which is what attracted Steinman, someone who had a thing about writing Wagnerian-style rock. Finding someone who could sing such songs was almost impossible.
Unfortunately, Meat’s voice started to suffer shortly after Bat Out of Hell. The strain was just too much on his vocal cords and he was no longer able to hit all the high notes. Never really having had proper training–gawd, how many times could you hit those high notes without shredding everything?–he relied on his naturally big voice. That could only take him so far. He suffered greatly from vocal scarring, something that’s very tough (and often impossible) to correct.
During those scary voiceless times, he tried everything. Radical acupuncture. Injecting himself with his own urine. He even had people give him naked rubdowns with Black&Decker power tools like sanders (no sandpaper, obviously) before shows in hopes of moving things around in his body so his voice would work with the gig.
There was a nervous breakdown after Bat, brought on by exhaustion from touring and drugs–not a surprise since he admitted to having social anxiety. He lost his voice and couldn’t sing on an album called Bad for Good, so Steinman handled vocals.
Meat and Steinman fell out in the 80s with a series of lawsuits going back and forth. Steinman became a songwriter and producer, working with everyone from Bonnie Tyler (“Total Eclipse of the Heart”) to Sisters of Mercy (the Floodland album). Meat pivoted into acting and comedy, working with Hugh Laurie while simultaneously fighting his record company. But his music career suffered from some albums that flopped. He lost his house and was broke.
Things sorted themselves out with Steinman, leading to Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell in 1993, which resulted in Grammy and Brit Awards. Meat Loaf was back.
But then he was hit with more health problems. Knee issues (he had one replaced in 2012). Balance problems. He claimed to have fallen three storeys out of a building. A car crash left him unable to ride in the back seat of any car ever again. There were reportedly at least eight other car crashes. In total, he claimed to have suffered 18 concussions.
On November 17, 2003, he collapsed during a gig at Wembley Arena in London. Diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition that messes with the electric pathways in the heart causing ultra-rapid heartbeats. Surgery fixed that and he continued to tour.
Then there was a close call in 2006 when the landing gear of his private plane collapsed upon landing at London’s Stansted Airport.
He was asthmatic. In 2011, he collapsed onstage in Pittsburgh but was able to finish the show. He required emergency surgery for a bad back caused by a cyst in 2016. About a month later, there was another onstage collapse in Edmonton on June 16, 2016. He recovered, although the New York Post initially reported that he had died.
After the Edmonton incident, he made a renewed vow to take better care of his health. He was a vegan at the end (ironic, no?)
I met Meat once in a box at a Blue Jays game. He was shorter and smaller than I expected (he’s nowhere near as tall as we were lead to believe when he played Bob with the Man Boobs aka “Bitch Tits” in Fight Club; remember when he hugged Edward Norton?) but he was wonderfully engaging. He signed a VHS copy of Fight Club–that ended up as a Christmas present for my brother-in-law–and was super charming with everyone.
A couple of things you may not know about Meat Loaf:
- There are many stories about how “Marvin” became “Meat.” One story is that his father named him that when he was just four days old. Or it might have been his high school football coach.
- He went to the University of North Texas for accounting and business.
- His father, Orvis, a Dallas cop, was a violent alcoholic. He once tried to stab Meat with a butcher knife when he was 18, but Meat was able to dodge the knife at the last second. In the ensuing fight, he broke three of his father’s ribs and his nose. He ran out of the house barefoot wearing nothing but gym shorts and a t-shirt.
- Moving from Texas to LA, he formed a group called Meat Loaf Soul. One of their gigs was opening for Janis Joplin. That was followed by a turn in a boy-girl band called Stoney & Meatloaf [sic] in 1972. They released one album.
- Meat’s first bit of success was in a Broadway production of Hair in 1973.
- Bat was originally envisioned as a “post-apocalyptic musical” based on Peter Pan. But when Steinman couldn’t get the rights to that story, he moved to the Bat concept.
- Originally, Meat and Steinman couldn’t find anyone interested in releasing Bat Out of Hell.
- The piano and the drums on Bat Out of Hell are from Roy Bittan and Max Weindberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band.
- Bat never made it higher than #14 on the American Billboard charts.
- Bat Out of Hell still sells 200,000 physical copies a year.
- Meat Loaf was a huge star in the UK until the end. Bat was on the British charts for over 500 weeks.
- Meat fell off a stage in Toronto in 1978 and broke his leg. He finished the tour in a wheelchair.
- Remember the turn on Celebrity Apprentice?
- Next to Bat Out of Hell, his most famous performance might has been Eddie, the biker from the freezer, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- If you looked at his passport, it read “Meat Loaf.” He eventually changed that to something less showbizzy when he was grilled by German customs authorities for six hours.
- In 1987, Meat got into a physical altercation with Prince Andrew when there was some kind of dispute involving Sarah Ferguson.
- He appeared in more than 65 movies including Wayne’s World (1992) and Fight Club (1999). And remember him in Spiceworld?
- The Bat Out of Hell musical was a major hit in theatres in New York, London, Toronto, and elsewhere.
- When he died, he was supposed to go to a meeting regarding a reality TV series called I’d Do Anything for Love…But I Won’t Do That.
- “How Meat Loaf Became Music’s Most Unlikely Megaseller“
- “12 Meat Loaf Stories That Proved He Lived One Hell of a Life“
- “Ellen Foley Recalls Epic Duet with Meat Loaf” (The story of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”)
- More here.