Entertainers always seem to be looking to expand their repertoires: actors want to sing, singers want to act, TV stars long to make it on the big screen, and, of course, what everyone really wants to do is direct. Here are a handful of musical hitmakers of the 1980s who took a shot at the small screen (with varying degrees of success).
1. BOY GEORGE // THE A-TEAM
In an episode of The A-Team that originally aired in February 1986, Face decided there were big bucks to be made as a concert promoter, so he hired country singer Cowboy George to play at a seedy Arizona watering hole called The Floor ‘Em. Imagine his surprise when some wires got crossed along the way and Boy George arrived instead! Boy has been promised $1.2 million to play at the Arizona Forum, and he’s none too thrilled to find out that instead he’s contractually obligated to perform for an audience of rowdy pipeline workers at a redneck bar. Before he can flounce out in a huff, however, he pitches in to help Murdock and the rest of the Team halt an armored car robbery. Once the bullets finally stop flying, George hurls a satisfied “So there!” over his shoulder at the foiled thieves before taking the stage and performing a trio of hits for the surprisingly receptive audience.
2. PHIL COLLINS // MIAMI VICE
Miami Vice is the mother lode when it comes to trendy and/or quirky guest star appearances on a TV series. It was the place to be seen (and perhaps reignite a sagging career) thanks to both its Nielsen ratings and its ultra-hip demographic. After lending his “In the Air Tonight” to the show’s pilot, Phil Collins guest starred as Phil Mayhew (a.k.a. “Phil the Shill”), a crooked TV game show host who got cocky after bilking money out of the Miami party scene’s nouveau riche and tangled with some much-more-serious-minded cocaine dealers. Genesis fans will notice that the surnames of the supporting characters in this episode (Stewart, Bruford, Banks, and Hackett) were the names of past members of the band.
3. ANDY GIBB // PUNKY BREWSTER
Andy Gibb (the younger brother of Bee Gees Barry, Robin, and Maurice) was just 19 years old when he had his first number one single (“I Just Want to Be Your Everything”) in 1977; by the time he was 21, he had sold 15 million records worldwide. But four years after he first topped the charts, Gibb was dropped from his record label due to his worsening cocaine habit. He turned to acting instead, first on Broadway (he starred in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and then television (he co-hosted Solid Gold for two seasons); ultimately, he was fired from both gigs due to excessive absences. His last hurrah before checking into the Betty Ford Clinic was a guest appearance as a piano teacher on a 1985 episode of Punky Brewster.
4. FRANK ZAPPA // MIAMI VICE
Avant-garde artist Frank Zappa was known more as the frontman for The Mothers of Invention than he was as an actor, although he did make a cameo appearance in the 1968 Monkees film Head, in which he commented on Davy Jones’s “Daddy’s Song” dance number. He stepped in front of the camera again in 1986 in the Miami Vice episode entitled “Payback,” in which he portrayed Mario Fuente, a high-volume drug dealer who only conducted business on a yacht anchored in international waters.
5. ADAM ANT // THE EQUALIZER
Even though Johnny Depp has gone on record as saying that Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richard was the inspiration for his Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack character, fans of the short-lived New Romantic movement can’t help but note a more than passing resemblance to Adam Ant, formerly of Adam and the Ants. After his fortunes on the record charts started fading, Ant made a move toward acting and first dipped his toe in the water on a 1985 episode of The Equalizer entitled “The Lockbox.” He played a high-end pimp who was involved in what is now commonly referred to as “human trafficking”—his base of operations was a “lockbox,” an invitation-only brothel catering to very wealthy clients.
6. TED NUGENT // MIAMI VICE
Ted Nugent made his acting debut in “Definitely Miami,” a 1986 episode of Miami Vice. As con man Charlie Basset, he used his beautiful wife to lure folks looking to make a drug buy into a secluded quarry. Charlie would then kill the prospective customer, steal his buy money, and bury him and his car with a pile of sand (and presumably a steam shovel) conveniently left nearby.
7. MOON UNIT ZAPPA // CHIPS
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In 1982, Frank Zappa set the local San Fernando Valley teen jargon to music and had his then 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit contribute her best “Valspeak” to the verses. “Valley Girl” was Zappa’s only single ever to hit the Top 40 in the U.S. The song was meant to be a parody, but instead it launched a nationwide Valley Girl fad, with adolescent girls in suburban malls everywhere gagging themselves with a spoon. Moon Unit capitalized on her sudden fame by appearing on an episode of CHiPs as a hitchhiker who confounded middle-aged male drivers with her bizarre vernacular before stealing their wallets. Two years later she guested on “The Last Drive-In” episode of The Facts of Life as Mean Girl Sondra, who is itching to clean up the concession stand with Blair’s perm.
8. SHEENA EASTON // MIAMI VICE
Yet another Miami Vice entry, only this time the singer hung around for a whopping five episodes. Scottish songbird Sheena Easton guest starred in season four’s “Like a Hurricane” as Caitlin Davies, a singer who requires Sonny’s protection while she testifies against her manager in a payola trial. The two detested one another at first, but faster than you could say “whirlwind romance” they ended up getting married by the end of the episode. Easton was actually a last-minute substitute; Lorraine Bracco was originally cast as Caitlin, but was forced to withdraw from the role due to the flu.
9. THE B-52S // GUIDING LIGHT
New Wave music and daytime soap operas would seem to go together as well as meatloaf and maple syrup. Nevertheless, none other than the quirky combo from Athens, Georgia made a memorable guest appearance on Guiding Light in 1982. During the early 1980s, the venerable daytime drama had a story arc that featured scenes at Wired for Sound, the happening disco in Springfield. So the show recruited a series of musical guests, including Neil Sedaka, Ashford & Simpson, Bertie “Key Largo” Higgins, and The B-52s. The producers requested that the band play “Private Idaho” and the previously unreleased “Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can” and also gave the members a few lines of dialogue to exchange with the regular cast.
10. LAURA BRANIGAN // CHIPS
Laura Branigan released her signature single “Gloria” in 1982 and it remained on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for an amazing (and record-breaking) 36 weeks. In early 1983 she appeared on an episode of CHiPs as the lead singer of a girl band called the Cadillac Foxes, who are being swindled by an unscrupulous concert promoter. (Their big hit? “Gloria,” of course.) Why Ponch and Bobby are called upon to protect them is a bit of a mystery, since their job is mainly writing traffic tickets, but who’s to say they can’t do a little detective work on the side?