Starring in the soap opera General Hospital and singing the chart-topping hit “Jessie’s Girl” made Rick Springfield one of the biggest stars of the early 1980s. Springfield was a ubiquitous presence who seemed to explode out of nowhere.
But for those who were somewhat older, it was a comeback, harkening back to his stint as a pop star and teen idol in the early 1970s when magazines like 16 and Tiger Beat made singers and actors like Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy household names.
But as his hit “Speak to the Sky” made waves in his native Australia and gained traction in the United States, Springfield found his new status as teen dream somewhat surprising.
Marketing a teen idol
“It was confusing to me because we didn’t have magazines dedicated to 12-year-old girls in Australia,” he said in an interview with Whatzup. “I thought it was all just ‘music press.’ I was disappointed in the direction and eventually left those managers that were pushing me that way. It was great to have a hit so fast in the U.S., but it was dissed as a teenybopper song as I was dissed as a teenybopper artist.”
Part of the marketing of teen idols in the ’70s was to translate that success to Saturday morning cartoons. The Osmond Brothers and the Jackson 5 had hit animated counterparts, and, somewhat to his chagrin, Springfield was to experience the same unusual crossover in Mission: Magic!
“Surreal,” Springfield admitted. “Again not what I expected. The initial discussions were with Disney artists who worked on Fantasia and others who were involved with Yellow Submarine, but by the time the network got through with it, it was just another Xeroxed piece of Saturday morning crap. Writing and recording the songs was fun though.”
For a time in the 1970s, Springfield seemed to disappear, though in fairness it always seems that way for those pinned with the “teen idol” label when they age out of that market.
In truth, Springfield continued to work on his music and act, appearing in The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, The Rockford Files, and Battlestar Galactica. He always tried to find a way to continue in both arenas, and it was in both that he eventually found fame again in the 1980s when his return was seen as a comeback.
“It has been one long journey,” Springfield said. “As far as I was concerned I never left, but I understand I left in other peoples’ minds. Those who weren’t watching anyway.”
Through the early ’80s, Springfield had hit records with songs like “I’ve Done Everything For You,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “I Get Excited,” “Affair of the Heart,” and “Love Somebody” joining the ranks of his Grammy-winning performance of “Jessie’s Girl.”
But more recently, he has worked on television shows like American Horror Story, The Goldbergs, Supernatural, and True Detective, and played himself on Californication. In 2008 and 2013 he revisited his role as the dashing Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital, and he has even made a few films in recent years like Ricki and the Flash where he co-starred with Meryl Streep.
Springfield said he never really prioritizes one career over the other.
“Music was always first, but as I’ve gotten older, acting is becoming a bigger part,” he said. “There’s room for both. [I’m] looking all the time. It’s a weird thing, acting. You wait for the right script, character, and then everyone else has to agree you’re the right actor.”
And what about Meryl? What can he tell us about Meryl?
“Meryl is amazing. A goddess and a good person.”
With that much life and professional experience, it’s no surprise that Springfield decided to write a memoir. With the release of his 2010 autobiography, Late, Late at Night, Springfield found a new voice, one he continued with a 2014 novel, Magnificent Vibration.
But it was his own story that many found so engaging and on my levels surprising.
“I just decided to do it,” he said. “I got up at 3 a.m. one night and just started to write. And I never stopped. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done to start writing prose again. Sharing all the ups and downs is what a biography should do, I thought, so I just wrote the truth.”
The part of his story which many readers found compelling and relatable was the frank way in which he dealt with his lifelong struggle with depression. He has shared in recent interviews that he continues to deal with suicidal tendencies and can relate to fellow actors and musicians who have taken their own lives in recent years.
While it can be incredibly difficult for many to discuss, Springfield continues to be candid on the subject.
“I feel OK talking about it,” he said. “It’s part of me, and I talk about it a lot more now, too. Seems that people get comfort from knowing and sharing that they aren’t the only ones who suffer. We all suffer from something.”
When asked why he still enjoys performing his music live for thousands of fans, Springfield said he likes “sharing an emotional experience. It’s very powerful when we all connect. There’s nothing like it.”
And when he visits The Clyde this month, he does so just days before his 70th birthday. Having started his career in Australia when he was not yet 20, he now finds himself a 50-year veteran of the business. Still, he doesn’t shy away from such milestone birthdays.
“I’m cool with whatever age I am,” Springfield said. “We are pushing the boundaries of still being vital at older ages.”
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October 19 • The Clyde Theatre