10 Surprising Facts About Blondie's Debbie Harry
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of iconic New Wave and punk rock band Blondie. And on October 1, singer Debbie Harry will release Face It: A Memoir, a collection of Harry-penned essays alongside interviews with the journalist Sylvie Simmons. In anticipation of many more juicy tidbits to come, here are a few facts you might not know about the blonde bombshell and her band.
1. Debbie Harry is a natural redhead.
In a 2017 essay for InStyle, Debbie Harry revealed that her natural color pulls red. “My own hair was strawberry blonde with a lot of red in it,” she wrote. “In the summer my highlights would really come out. I hung out with older girls at the municipal pool in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where I grew up. There was one girl in particular whose blonde hair I really liked. Her mother was a beautician, so I asked her about accelerating the highlight process.” The girl told her to mix two-thirds peroxide with one-third ammonia and comb it through her hair—basically, a homemade Sun-In. “It worked,” Harry said. As an adult, she’d go increasingly platinum, favoring at-home box dyes and becoming ever more adept at achieving ultra-pale shades.
Even to this day, Harry mostly continues to bleach her hair at home. “I’ve always liked doing my color at home myself because I can walk around and do things,” she said. “I used to take a bath while I had the bleach on my head, and at the end I’d just submerge. It may not have been the best method, but it was expedient. I get very antsy in a salon chair."
2. As a child, Harry used to daydream that her real mother was Marilyn Monroe.
Born Angela Tremble in Miami, Florida, Deborah Ann Harry was adopted at 3 months old by New Jersey gift shop owners Richard and Catherine Harry. She learned that she was adopted at age 4, and said it gave her a sense of freedom. "They explained it to me in a really nice way," Harry told the Independent. "It made me feel quite special somehow. I sometimes attribute my, uh, adventurous nature to that ... I have an open mind about things. It didn't present me with any borders.”
3. “Blondie” was the nickname truck drivers gave Debbie Harry when they saw her sashaying along the sidewalk.
“It was just from what people yelled at Debbie,” Blondie guitarist Chris Stein told Boston radio station WBUR of the band name's origins in 2017. “Debbie came home one day with her hair dyed blonde and then told me within a week or so truck drivers were yelling, 'Hey, Blondie!' at her all the time.”
There’s apparently been a persistent rumor that the band was named after Adolf Hitler’s dog, but Stein debunked that myth. “The Hitler’s dog thing? I don’t know if I knew about that [then],” Stein said. “There’s no 'e' on Hitler’s dog’s name; it was B-l-o-n-d-i.”
The band’s original name was Angel and the Snake. They changed the name to Blondie in late 1975. In the early days, casual fans and the press seemed to believe that “Blondie” and Debbie Harry were interchangeable. So the band had buttons made that read “BLONDIE IS A GROUP.”
4. Another one of Debbie Harry's childhood nicknames wasn’t as flattering.
When she was a kid, Harry was nicknamed 'Moon.' "An oval face was considered beautiful, not a broad round blob like mine, which earned me the nickname Moon,” Harry revealed in the book Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie. She’s since obviously grown into her face, with Vogue even including her in their list of the ‘Best Cheekbones of All Time.’
5. Debbie Harry once worked as a Playboy bunny.
Harry worked at New York City’s Playboy Club from 1968 to 1973, according to TIME, and her hair was long and (reddish) brown. Then in 1973, she met guitarist (and future boyfriend) Chris Stein, and the rest is history.
6. “Rapture” was the first Number 1 song in the United States to feature rap vocals.
Harry is realistic, however, and realizes that this does not make her a rapper. “Creatively it did one thing in particular: It was the first rap song to have its own original music. Commercially it made rap viable for the mainstream charts,” Harry told Rolling Stone in 2004. “I don’t think it was a tremendous influence. I am nowhere close to being a rapper. I’m completely in awe of great rappers.” A few of the rappers she admires? Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim, Ludacris, and 50 Cent.
7. Debbie Harry likes a good bottle of Chardonnay.
In fact, it’s the one thing Harry has to have backstage when she’s touring. In 2017, Harry told Bon Appétit that she usually prefers Cakebread Cellars. However, there’s a nameless one that still sticks in her mind. “Once I was at a festival in Europe—I can’t remember where—and the promoter was really into wine," she said. "He brought out a bottle of Chardonnay that I probably would have slept with if it had been a person. So delicious.”
8. For decades, Harry believed she might have had a near-disastrous brush with serial killer Ted Bundy.
In 1972, when hitchhiking didn’t have the bad rap it does today, Harry climbed into a stranger’s car on Avenue C in New York’s East Village after she couldn't find a taxi. The driver was a good-looking, well-dressed young man with dark curly hair. According to Interview magazine, Harry’s original account of the event was detailed in an unnamed newspaper in 1989. “I got in the car, and it was summertime and the windows were all rolled up except about an inch and a half at the top,” Harry said. “So I was sitting there and he wasn’t really talking to me. Automatically, I sort of reached to roll down the window and I realized there was no door handle, no window crank, no nothing. The inside of the car was totally stripped out.”
To escape, Harry squeezed her arm out the window and opened the door from the outside. “As soon as he saw that, he tried to turn the corner really fast, and I spun out of the car and landed in the middle of the street,” Harry said. When she read about Ted Bundy’s execution years later, she thought back to that incident: “The whole description of how he operated and what he looked like and the kind of car he drove and the time frame he was doing that in that area of the country fit exactly," she said. "I said, ‘My God, it was him.'"
Her suspicion has since been debunked, since Bundy wasn’t known to have been in New York City, and wasn't known to abduct any women until at least 1974. Harry herself admits that the car didn’t match Bundy’s Volkswagen. She told RuPaul on an episode of his podcast, “I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t [Bundy’s Volkswagen]. It didn’t have the same dashboard. It was squarer.” Still, scary!
9. “Call Me” was originally earmarked for Stevie Nicks.
Written by songwriter Giorgio Moroder, “Call Me” spent six weeks at number one, becoming the biggest-selling song of 1980, according to NME. But the song almost never came Harry's way; Moroder had originally tried to give the song to Stevie Nicks. She reportedly loved the demo, but couldn’t use it due to inter-label politics (she had just signed with a new label, which somehow would have made working with Moroder difficult).
10. Debbie Harry is widely considered a style icon.
From very early on in Blondie’s evolution, Debbie Harry began collaborating with fashion designer and artist Stephen Sprouse on her outfits. Sprouse was working with Halston at the time, so Harry would often wear slip dresses and fabulous berets and trench coats and boots. But, as she told W magazine, they would also make use of found objects. “There was a real sense of play,” she explained. “New York City was bankrupt and garbage was all over the place, so you could always find fabulous things that people were throwing away. Or people were being evicted and the landlord would just heave-ho their stuff onto the street.”
Dazed & Confused magazine catalogued some of the singer’s looks, and one of the favorites was a dress fashioned from what was originally a zebra-print pillowcase, which Harry wore during an iconic 1978 photo shoot for ZigZag magazine. Other favorite looks include an “Andy Warhol’s BAD” T-shirt (Harry was immortalized in several works by the late artist); a child-sized leather motorcycle jacket (“I was very small then,” Harry said); and a screen-printed homemade T-shirt paired with a black beret and “really hot, good-looking pants.” The latter outfit, she says, was inspired by both Patty Hearst and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.