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Famous People You Probably Didn't Know Had Music Careers or Hit Songs

I have worked in education and entertainment and am also an historian and businessman and currently studying at the Open University.

This article explores the lives of the famous and infamous people you probably didn't know had music careers. Some of the unlikeliest people have been on the charts. Here's just a handful.

7 Famous People You Probably Didn't Know Had Music Careers

  1. Actor Sissy Spacek
  2. Freddie Lennon (John's father)
  3. Actor/comedian Eddie Murphy
  4. Actor Richard Harris (aka Dumbledore)
  5. Comedian Tommy Cooper
  6. Actor Bernard Cribbins
  7. Cult leader and convicted murderer, Charles Manson

1. Sissy Spacek

Texan Sissy Spacek is well known for her impressive vocal abilities in her Oscar winning role as country and western singer Loretta Lynn in the 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter. She was also nominated for best actress for the eponymous character of Carrie in the film of Stephen King's debut novel, which also stars a very young John Travolta.

Spacek was a model and bit part player at Andy Warhol's Factory in the late '60s and early '70s. Today, she is Hollywood royalty. What is less well known about her is that before she turned to acting, she attempted to make it as a singer. In 1969, under the name Rainbo, she had a minor hit with "John, You Went Too Far This Time," allegedly about John Lennon and the cover of the Two Virgins album featuring full frontal nudes of himself and Yoko Ono. Not the greatest song in the world perhaps, but there were worse ones about at the time.

Fred Lennon and son

Fred Lennon and son

2. Freddie Lennon, John Lennon's Father

John Lennon's father Fred, who had been absent most of Lennon's childhood in the Merchant Navy, reappeared, much to Lennon junior's annoyance, at the height of Beatlemania.

Fred (Alf to his family) grew up in an orphanage and married Julia Stanley in 1938. John was born two years later. After planning to take John to New Zealand, the widely accepted story is that Fred forced 5-year-old John to choose between his parents. After choosing his father, Julia ran from the room followed by a tearful John. However, this story has been disputed by a witness who was there at the time, claiming they amicably agreed John should stay with his mother.

Fred disappeared, resurfacing in 1965 and released a record, "That's My Life," which featured Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, who later became the other two-thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. John attempted, so the story goes, to have it blocked, resenting his father trying to cash in on his success. The song never made the charts but is still around and, due to its rarity, is worth more than many of his son's records. Alf later married a 19-year-old and had two more sons, but his relationship with John was always rocky. However, John phoned his father on his deathbed in 1976 and the two Lennons made their peace.

Put the boogie in your butt

Put the boogie in your butt

3. Eddie Murphy

Now Hollywood royalty, Eddie Murphy grew up in Brooklyn and began his stand-up comedy career while still in school. He became a regular on America's Saturday Night Live and made his film debut with Nick Nolte in 48 Hours.

After appearing in several films, such as Trading Places opposite Dan Aykroyd, Murphy became an international household name as the lead character, Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop and has had career ups and downs ever since.

Though not his first foray into music, in 1985, at the height of his Beverly Hills Cop success, Murphy released the hugely forgettable "Boogie in Your Butt," his only hit in the U.K.

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Dumbledore left his cake out in the rain.

Dumbledore left his cake out in the rain.

4. Richard Harris (aka Dumbledore)

Richard Harris was born in Ireland and became a star after his role in This Sporting Life won him an Oscar nomination. Thought of as an ac-toor rather than film star, Harris starred in numerous highbrow roles. A legendary drink and drug abuser, many actors of his era have stories about his legendary drunken antics. Harris quit drugs after a cocaine overdose in 1978. During the '70s, Harris controversially supported the IRA (though he renounced this in 1984).

Originally performed by Jimmy Webb, Harris released "MacArthur Park" in 1974 and reached number two in the U.S. and number four in Britain. Four years later, Donna Summer released probably the most famous version of the song, a disco version which won her a grammy nomination.

...Jus' like that...

...Jus' like that...

5. Tommy Cooper

The British national treasure and Jaws lookalike (from the Bond films), Tommy Cooper was a comedian who appealed to audiences of all ages. He was born in Wales to a Welsh father and English mother, but moved to England as a child. Both countries claim him as their own.

Famous for dying from a heart attack live on stage in front of millions of viewers during the TV show Live From Her Majestys in 1984, Cooper was a skilled magician, whose tricks deliberately went wrong, but he would often misdirect his audience by getting one right, occasionally.

In 1961, Cooper had a hit in the U.K. with "Don't Jump Off The Roof Dad" which reached number 40 on the U.K. charts.

Right said Fred...

Right said Fred...

6. Bernard Cribbins

Known as sailor "Old Jack" to a new generation of children's TV viewers, Bernard Cribbins has been working consistently since the 1950s, when he appeared in several Ealing comedies with Peter Sellers.

During the 1970s, Cribbins narrated the classic children's programme The Wombles and performed several other voiceover roles. He also played Mr. Hutchison in "The Hotel Inspectors" episode of Fawlty Towers and Perks the stationmaster in The Railway Children. He is the only person who has played two of Doctor Who's companions and also the only person to have faced the Daleks in both TV and film versions of Doctor Who.

Cribbins had several novelty hits during the 1960s, including "The Hole in the Ground" and, probably his most famous, "Right Said Fred," from 1962.

Recorded with the Beach Boys

Recorded with the Beach Boys

7. Charles Manson

It's a little-known fact that the terrifying cult leader who ordered his "family" to murder Sharon Tate and numerous others once made a record with the Beach Boys.

The story goes that Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys' drummer, picked up two of the Manson family members who were hitchhiking one evening in 1968. The following day, Manson himself turned up at Wilson's house and the two hit it off. Manson, an aspiring guitarist and singer, played Wilson some of his songs and, convinced of his talent, Wilson booked him a session at his brother Brian's home studio. They recorded several songs, including "Cease to Exist." The family stayed at Wilson's for several months.

Wilson bought the rights to "Cease to Exist" and the Beach Boys recorded it but changed the line to "Cease to Resist." They also changed the name of the song to "Never Learn Not to Love." Manson was outraged that the lyrics had been changed and left a bullet on Wilson's pillow. Wilson confronted him and threw the family out.

About a year later, the infamous murders took place. In 1970, during the trial, Manson released the album "Lie, the Love and Terror Cult," featuring Manson's original arrangement of the song. Surprisingly, it is not the insane ravings of a maniac, but actually a beautiful, well-sung folk tune and to many, far superior to the Beach Boys' version.


Liz Westwood from UK on December 14, 2018:

The Bernard Cribbins song rings a bell, but the others are new to me.

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