Most of us can barely imagine the life of a rockstar, zipping across the planet on a private jet, drinking champagne out of a flight attendant’s stiletto. Even less can we imagine what life a celebrity might make for themselves when they’re not famous anymore, when they have to settle down and scrape by (something) like a regular joe.
So let’s check in on 7 of the former hit-makers from days of yore. What are they doing now?
The Surprising Fates of 7 Famous Singers:
1. Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin rode the reggae wave in 1988 with his smash hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Nowadays, most people incorrectly assume Bob Marley recorded that tune and anything else that sounds vaguely Jamaican, but back in his day McFerrin was a big deal. Due to the simplicity of the song, you would never guess McFerrin was actually a classically trained singer, the son of operatic baritone Robert McFerrin and singer Sara Copper. Bobby McFerrin was known for his ability to create polyphonic effects with his voice (rapidly switching between modal and falsetto registers to perform both the main melody and harmony of his songs).
McFerrin never embraced the popularity of his biggest hit, becoming particularly annoyed when George Bush Sr. co-opted the song for his presidential campaign. McFerrin was also annoyed by a widespread and long-standing rumor that he had committed suicide.
The “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” singer is still very much alive, conducting orchestras and touring as a music educator/guest lecturer. Dude has talent to burn.
2. William Hung
In Season 3 of American Idol, William Hung became the most famous failed audition of all time with his butchery of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”, typifying the tone-deaf obliviousness of every would-be singer who really doesn’t stand a chance. Even though Hung appeared on dozens of talk shows and actually released 3 albums through his label Koch Entertainment, some might argue he was more a mascot or cult obsession vs. an actual musician. Controversy surrounded his rise to fame as critics attacked his singing and accused his fans of endorsing racial stereotypes.
But I always liked Hung, so I’m happy to report that he has silenced every nay-sayer by taking a job as the technical crime analyst for the LA County Sherrif’s Department. Hung tracks criminal movements and formulates strategies for taking down bad guys. So he’s obviously an intelligent guy, and a public servant to boot. Take that haters.
3. Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice, aka Robert Matthew Van Winkle, shot to fame in 1990 with his hit “Ice Ice Baby” (which he wrote at the ultra-hardcore age of 16). To The Extreme became the fastest-selling hip-hop album of all time, and Ice toured screaming crowds until he starred in the box-office bomb Cool As Ice and released a much less popular second record. The next decade saw Ice launch multiple comeback attempts in a variety genres including grunge, as well as engaging in drug and rage-fueled reality TV appearances.
Astonishingly, Ice’s most successful venture has been the real-estate business he’s run on the side since 1996. Ice buys old mansions in Florida, renovates them with the help of his team of buddies and his tatted-up biceps, then flips the properties for a profit. So skilled is the man at sizing up real-estate and wielding a hammer that the DIY Network has aired 3 seasons of The Vanilla Ice Project, and it’s a dang good show! I DVR it every week, along with House Hunters International.
4. Toni Basil
As a singer, Toni Basil was a one-hit wonder, and that hit was the cheerleader-themed “Mickey” from 1981. The music video for “Mickey” is actually considered the first choreographed dance video.
That makes sense, because before Basil was a singer, she was a dancer and choreographer. Hence she has returned to supplement the royalties from her single hit. Basil has choreographed tours for artists like Bette Midler, and dance sequences for films like Peggy Sue Got Married, That Thing You Do, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The House Bunny. She has also appeared as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance.
Our good friend Sisqo, also known as Mark Althavean Andrews, unleashed his platinum afro and a whole lot of women’s underwear in 2000 with his single “Thong Song”. Sisqo paid attention to his music career for about 5 minutes before pursuing acting with roles in films like Get Over It and Snow Dogs (the Titanic made of Kryptonite for many a black actor’s career – I’m looking at you, Cuba.)
Sisqo’s second album performed poorly, and his third – recorded in 2008 – wasn’t even released. Sisqo jumped on the salvation train for washed-up stars, paying his bills with appearances on any and every reality show that would take him. This is where Sisqo remains, in the clutches of Celebrity Big Brother. But he did have a son in 2012, so at least he’s working for a good cause. And at least he named that son after the all-time most kick-ass Street Fighter character! (Ryu of course).
6. Meredith Brooks
Meredith Brooks rocketed into the feminist angst-driven music scene of 1997 with the Grammy-nominated “Bitch”. This was an innocent time where some radio stations preferred to call the single “a song by Meredith Brooks” rather than say the name aloud. (HBO wasn’t a thing yet. We were a long way from the Acca-Bitches of family favorite film Pitch Perfect).
Brooks continued to record music, releasing albums in 1999, 2002, 2004, and 2007. One of her singles, “Shine”, was apparently chosen as the theme for the Dr. Phil show. (I watch Dr. Phil every day and I have literally NEVER heard this song, but so sayeth Wikipedia.)
More recently Brooks has remarried, adopted a little boy named Troy, and turned her focus to producing. Her main protegee is Sony Music Entertainment artist Becca.
7. Rick Astley
You may have forgotten Rick Astley since his 1980 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”, but chances are a dozen of your friends forcibly reminded you of his existence through the popular internet meme of “RickRolling”. Sadly, the re-explosion of Astley’s biggest hit didn’t bring him much in the way of cash – The Register reported his earnings from 39 million hits on YouTube as a pathetic $12 total. (Apparently worldwide memedom is not as profitable as, say, working at McDonald’s for 2 hours.)
But here are some updates on Astley of which you were probably not aware: he was a backup singer on The Lion King soundtrack! And since 2010 he’s worked as a radio DJ and co-host in Britain. Yeah, he’s British – I didn’t know that either.