Iggy Pop is probably the most legendary performer in the history of punk music. From his humble beginnings in the late ’60s playing drums in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he has been known for his crazy, excessive stage persona. From self-mutilation to exposing himself to the crowd, Iggy has done it all and more.
Dubbed the Godfather of Punk, Iggy was no less of a real wild child in his private life than in public. He’s survived relationships with groupies and severe substance abuse, only to emerge stronger on the other side. This is the story of his legendary life.
Born James Newell Osterberg Jr. on April 21st, 1947, Iggy was raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in a trailer park. His parents were Louella and James, an English teacher and a baseball coach of limited means. Despite their financial hardships, Iggy’s parents made sure he never lacked in anything.
Iggy shared how much Louella and James did for him, saying, “I got a lot of care. They helped me explore anything I was interested in. This culminated in their evacuation from the master bedroom in the trailer because that was the only room big enough for my drum kit.”
In 1966, when Ron and Scott Asheton first met Iggy Pop, he was still going by the name James. Iggy worked at a record store called Discount Records that the Ashetons would hang out around. They remembered Iggy being a preppy “straight kid” who “hung out with the popular kids.”
Back then, Iggy “didn’t smoke cigarettes, didn’t get high, [and] didn’t drink.” But Iggy wanted to be a musician. So, he went to Chicago to gain some experience and, when he got back, said to the Ashetons and Dave Alexander, “Hey, why don’t we start a band?”
Iggy already had experience; he’d played for the Prime Movers, a blues-style band, and the garage group, The Iguanas. But Iggy wanted to do something different. He was inspired by Chicago blues and thought, “What you gotta do is play your own simple blues. I could describe my own experience.”
He was also influenced by The Doors and The Sonics. Iggy thought The Doors were “really interesting,” and watching them live made him realize, “Hey, I can do that.” To practice with the Ashetons in Ann Arbor, he’d walk half a mile and take a forty-minute bus.
Before Iggy and the Ashetons started their band, the Psychedelic Stooges, he was an anthropology student at the University of Michigan. But after forming the band, Iggy dropped out to become a full-time musician. On Halloween, 1967, they played their first live show at the Grande Ballroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Iggy wore a secondhand nightgown and a robotic headdress made from a shower cap and tin foil. Iggy sat on the floor playing a lap steel guitar with all its strings tuned to the same note. One witness recalled, “It didn’t rock, it didn’t roll, but it was powerful.”
The show got even weirder when Iggy turned on a vacuum cleaner, playing it into the mic. He then put the mic in a whirring blender full of water while the band played on behind him. In attendance were the band MC5 and their manager, John Sinclair.
John remembered, “It wasn’t like anything else I had ever been to.” Iggy shaved off his eyebrows for the show, which got him the nickname Pop, after their friend “Jim Pop, who had a nervous condition and had lost all his hair.”
Iggy and his band became best friends with another Michigan-based proto-punk group called MC5, who were a little more well known. In 1968, Wayne Kramer of MC5 told Elektra Records executive Danny Fields to go see Iggy and the Psychedelic Stooges.
Danny was astounded; he later said, “I can’t minimize what I saw on stage… I’d never seen such high atomic energy coming from one person. It was the music I had been waiting to hear my whole life.” The following day Fields signed MC5 and Iggy’s band to Elektra.
After signing a record deal, the band called Moe Howard to ask if it was okay to call themselves The Stooges. Moe famously answered, “I don’t care what they call themselves, as long as they’re not The Three Stooges!” So, they simplified their name to The Stooges.
Around the same time that they started recording their first album, The Stooges, Iggy Pop got married to Wendy Weissberg. But their union wasn’t meant to last, because the up-and-coming punk star had an eye for the ladies.
The same night he got married to Wendy, Iggy started a relationship with Kathy Asheton, his bandmates’ sister. However, that wasn’t what caused his marriage to be annulled after one month. Iggy just felt, “It had to be one or the other: her or a career.”
Wendy “liked to sleep at night,” and Iggy liked to party. At the time, he was living with his bandmates, and she moved into their loud and messy house. Wendy constantly got angry when Iggy played too loud, and eventually, he kicked her out.
After Wendy left, Iggy slept with a different girl every night. Most of them were local groupies from the Ann Arbor area. He also continued his relationship with Kathy and had a long-lasting fling with a girl named Betsy, who was far too young for him.
Iggy revealed that the song Candy from his solo album Brick by Brick was written about Betsy. Around that same time, Iggy and the Stooges started experimenting heavily with drugs and soon went to New York City to record their debut album.
The Stooges recorded their first album for Elektra Records in 1969. John Cale of the Velvet Underground produced it and introduced them to Nico. Nico and Iggy quickly began a love affair. Ron Asheton remembered the week they met, “they were holding hands, real lovey-dovey.”
Iggy was exactly Nico’s type, “wounded, brilliant, fragile… insane [and] a junkie,” and she soon moved into their apartment in Ann Arbor. Nico taught Iggy how to “speak to record company executives” and got him into alcohol because she loved French red wines.
Iggy’s first foray into film was through Nico. She got François de Menil to come to Ann Arbor and make a film with her, Iggy, and some other friends. In the movie, they were directed to plow a potato field and frolic with mannequins while dressed like mimes.
Nico left after a few months, and Iggy was back to his old tricks. Iggy became notorious for his wild stage antics and first exposed himself on stage in mid-1968. The first time he publicly self-mutilated on stage was in 1969.
Famous now for his self-mutilation, when Iggy first bled on stage, it was groundbreaking. In May 1969, at a college gig in Ohio, the punk singer cut open his chest with the shard of a broken drumstick and trickled blood onto the audience.
At The Stooges’ first show in New York, Iggy stood on stage and picked his nose. Soon the audience started throwing beer bottles at him, and Iggy threw them back. When one bottle broke on the floor, he rolled around in the broken glass.
Iggy’s performance style was really wild. He would do the craziest things, like dive off the stage onto concrete, cut himself with pieces of broken guitars and drumsticks, and curse at the audience. At one show in 1970 in Cincinnati, he slathered himself with peanut butter.
But that wasn’t it; he also threw pieces of raw hamburger meat and dollops of peanut butter at the crowd. Pop invented what would later be called stage diving or crowd surfing when he threw himself at the audience during his shows.
The Stooges called their shared home “The Fun House.” They named their second album, released in 1970, Fun House, after it. In 1970, after recording their second album, Iggy fired Dave Alexander, the Stooges’ bassist, for getting too high and drunk to play and forgetting all their songs.
Fun House failed to wow audiences and critics as the band’s first album had, and around the same time, Iggy became addicted to heroin. Iggy’s on-stage behavior became even more wild and unpredictable as he got more and more into hard drugs.
After doing cocaine with Miles Davis backstage, Iggy started a gig by puking all over the stage. Later in the set, he pulled out his private parts, exposing them to the audience, and put them on a speaker. Leee Childers described Iggy’s performances as going “beyond being sexual.”
Iggy later admitted that he had been out of his mind on drugs while doing all those things. Soon, Elektra Records got fed up with Iggy Pop’s drug use, and after the release of Fun House, they dropped the Stooges.
After being fired by Elektra, Iggy Pop sunk deeper into his heroin addiction. Back in Michigan, he, his bandmates, and his friends from MC5 started using drugs all the time. Iggy even moved apartments to live closer to his dealer before beginning a drug-selling business of his own.
The heroin impacted his playing and personality and made Iggy hard to be around and harder to work with. The Stooges’ lineup changed a lot around then. Ron Asheton moved to bass, and James Williamson joined the group on guitar.
The Stooges played small shows for a while, without a label, until one night David Bowie was at Max’s Kansas City, the famous restaurant and club in NYC, and asked to meet Iggy Pop. After meeting Bowie, Pop moved to New York and signed a record deal with CBS.
Iggy decided to break up the Stooges and went to England with only guitarist James Williamson to search for new bandmates instead of the Ashetons. They couldn’t find anyone they liked, and eventually, Scott and Ron joined them in England.
Produced by Columbia Records and mixed by David Bowie, the reunited Iggy and the Stooges recorded their third album, Raw Power, released in 1973. The original version of the album, mixed by Iggy rather than Bowie, was released in 1993 and called Rough Power.
A “garage-punk-metal” fusion, Raw Power was a critical success, and with Bowie’s help, Iggy was back and stronger than ever. The Stooges’ shows in England inspired the British punk scene, with future members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols in attendance.
Back in the U.S., Iggy and the Stooges were still getting into trouble. They were back on heroin and out of control. Iggy even gave an audience member a concussion in the summer of 1973 by throwing watermelon rinds and ice at the audience.
While walking through the audience during a show at Max’s Kansas City, Iggy fell off a chair and broke a glass table, which sliced him up. He went on with the show anyway and was later taken to the E.R. by Alice Cooper.
Soon after Bowie came back to the States, Iggy moved out to California to live near him. Back then, “he was at the height of his junkiedom” and signed by the label MainMan. While in Cali, Iggy met some of rock and roll’s most famous groupies.
After a gig at the infamous Whiskey a Go-Go venue, the Stooges first met Sable Starr. At first, Iggy fell in love with Sable Starr, saying, “I love her” and then “I hate her,” but soon, he turned to her sister Coral.
There was a whole group of Los Angeles groupies in the ’70s who hung around the musicians of the time. Coral wasn’t exactly one of them; she was a “good girl” compared to Sable and always cared for her sister, causing Iggy to fall head over heels for her.
Soon, the Starr sisters basically moved in with Iggy and the band at their Hollywood Hills house before the label kicked them out. Later, Pop also had relationships with other famous groupies, including Bebe Buell, Queenie, and Lori Maddox.
During one session, playing on the radio, Iggy Pop got naked in the station and said on air, “I’ve got all my clothes off now, I’m playing with [myself].” His antics nearly caused the station to lose its FCC license. Soon, MainMan fired Iggy and the Stooges.
Iggy ended up on the street after that, living between hotel rooms of his band members and sometimes sleeping in the gutter after taking too much heroin. But not for long. In 1973, he got a regular gig performing back in New York.
After getting injured during a notorious show at Max’s Kansas City, Iggy got stitches and was quite a mess. Luckily, Bebe Buell offered to help, and soon he charmed her. Bebe became “nuts about Iggy,” and the two began an affair.
But Iggy was still doing drugs constantly, and on one occasion, he took it too far. Iggy swallowed some Valium and fell asleep in Buell’s bathtub. Unfortunately, her dogs ate the rest of the Valium and fell asleep too. Thankfully, the dogs woke up unscathed, but Bebe was fed up.
Before a show, an acquaintance of Buell’s gave Iggy what he thought was cocaine but turned out to be PCP. He quickly lost the ability to walk or talk proficiently, but Iggy tried to go on with the show despite his immobility.
As the Stooges played Raw Power, Iggy came out on stage mumbling nonsense. After walking through the audience, he tried and failed to climb back on stage, as everyone, including his band, laughed at him. That wasn’t the only time drugs impacted Iggy’s performance; things had spiraled again.
Before a show in Atlanta, Iggy was so high that he passed out in a bush. He then shot some speed on stage in front of his audience in order to succeed in performing with the band. Then, disaster struck when Elton John showed up in the crowd dressed as a gorilla.
Iggy was terrified and sure he was hallucinating, he recalled, “I was like, ‘Oh my god! What can I do?’ I couldn’t fight him. I could barely stand.” Soon concerning rumors about Iggy started cropping up.
The punk musician’s life was in complete disarray, and he’d become totally out of control regarding his substance abuse, so much so that he was acting erratically and irrationally. So, when people started claiming that Iggy planned to commit suicide live on stage, it sounded plausible.
One rumor was that “Iggy was asking a New York promoter for a one-million-dollar fee to commit suicide live on stage at Madison Square Garden.” Others insisted that he planned to off himself on New Year’s Eve. Thankfully, none of the rumors were true.
Iggy wasn’t captivating fans the way he had at first, and his careless attitude became disappointing. So much so that twice during a show in Toledo, Iggy dove into the crowd, and they let him fall on his face instead of catching him.
While wearing a leotard on stage, Iggy Pop (and the Stooges) got in big trouble with a Detroit biker gang called the Scorpions. At first, the bikers just threw eggs at Pop, but the rivalry quickly escalated and became violent when he dove into the crowd.
When Iggy landed in the audience after his stage dive, the bikers started beating him up. So, he and the band quickly ran away. Later, Iggy and the Stooges challenged the Scorpions to come to their following show, which was also their last.
The Stooges’ last show, called Metallic K.O., was recorded live. That night Iggy cursed at the crowd, and they retaliated. A critic once said, ” Metallic K.O. is the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings.”
After the Stooges broke up, Iggy was fed up and ready to get ahold of himself. He checked himself into UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute to try and get it together and get clean. Most of his friends didn’t come to visit, but David Bowie did.
However, Bowie must have misinterpreted the idea of getting clean because he came bearing gifts: “We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for him,” Bowie later shared. Luckily, the hospital wouldn’t let them in with the drugs, and Iggy got better.
Even after getting out of rehab, Iggy wasn’t entirely there. One night while wandering around Hollywood in a dress and drinking wine, he was arrested for public intoxication. After Ray Manzarek bailed him out of jail, they started playing music together.
Soon their makeshift band fell apart when Iggy would show up late to shows and practices wholly naked and confused. He took to wearing dresses and was often beat up by people on the street. Thankfully, Bowie and Iggy soon renewed their relationship, and Iggy slowly found himself again.
In 1976, Iggy went with Bowie on his Station-to-Station tour in Europe. Iggy learned a lot from Bowie about being a professional musician and touring internationally during Station to Station. But after returning to New York, they were both arrested for possession of marijuana.
Around that time, Iggy first went to the CBGB, a venue in New York that had become the hub for punk 1970s culture, greatly inspired by Pop himself. The New York scene was in awe; everyone at CBGB wanted to sleep with Iggy, the original punk.
In 1977, Pop and Bowie went to Berlin after Iggy was signed with RCA Records. Meanwhile, they tried to kick their drug habits again and moved into an apartment where they got clean together.
In Europe, Iggy kicked off his solo career, and with Bowie’s help, he recorded The Idiot and Lust for Life. Bowie’s influence was more prominent in The Idiot, in which he composed all the songs. Iggy wrote the lyrics for The Idiot. During the tour, Bowie played the keyboard in Pop’s band.
While The Idiot was defined by an art-rock sound caused by Bowie’s influence, the album Lust for Life was closer to Pop’s own proto-punk sound. Although Bowie did compose some of the songs, Iggy was the one who took charge of the album, and you can tell.
Written, recorded, and mixed in only eight days, Lust for Life became Iggy’s highest-charting album until 2016! Pop truly gained more acclaim in 1977 for his two solo albums than he ever had with the Stooges, and he had Bowie to thank.
In 1979, Iggy’s newfound fame had him on the cover of Little Caesar magazine. Not only that, but in black and white and full frontal nude on the front cover. After Lust for Life, Iggy quit RCA records and moved back to the States.
He soon signed a record deal with Arista and started producing an album with his former guitarist, James Williamson. Called New Values, the album sounded a lot like the Stooges’ old work and, at the time, was unsuccessful. In 1980, Bowie and Iggy reunited.
Iggy and Bowie started working together again, recording Soldier and Party, this time in New York. They went out a lot together and mingled with the other famous musicians of their day, both still nursing drug addictions that they just couldn’t kick.
Debbie Harry of the band Blondie shared that back in the day, David Bowie and Iggy Pop both tried to date her, but she turned them down, saying her boyfriend wouldn’t like it. Both early ’80s albums flopped, and Arista Records dropped Iggy.
Iggy wrote his first memoir in 1980, called I Need More. The book is built like a collection of short stories detailing Pop’s childhood and years with the Stooges. Soon, he would get more money, when Bowie recorded a cover of Iggy’s song China Girl.
Iggy got a lot of money in royalties from China Girl and a few other songs of his that Bowie covered. So, he decided to take a much-needed hiatus from music and take acting classes. In the early ’80s, Pop finally overcame his heroin addiction.
In 1984, Iggy got married for the second time. This relationship stuck for far longer than his month-long marriage to Wendy. His new wife was a Japanese woman named Suchi Asano, and they stayed together till 1998, in a very private and unpublicized relationship.
When asked about Suchi, Iggy said, “she could charm me and [make love to] me, but she could also respect my privacy and keep her mouth shut about our lives.” A year after getting married, Iggy began recording with Steve Jones, formerly of the Sex Pistols.
Bowie liked Jones and Pop’s demos and decided to produce their record, called Blah-Blah-Blah, which had a new wave vibe to it. The album featured the hit single Real Wild Child, which was a cover of The Wild One by Johnny O’Keefe.
In the mid-eighties, Iggy also recorded a song for the film Repo Man and played a voice role alongside Lou Reed in the movie Rock and Rule. In 1988, Iggy returned to his signature proto-punk sound on the album Instinct, causing his label to drop him.
By 1990, Iggy Pop was already the stuff of legends. He’d left behind his heroin addiction and was making music again. But Iggy wanted more, and he decided to start acting. After cameoing in Sid and Nancy and The Color of Money, Iggy got a fundamental role in Cry-Baby, directed by the iconic John Waters.
Iggy appeared as Johnny Depp’s uncle. After that, he was cast in the show Tales From the Crypt and in Shannon’s Deal. In 1993, Iggy acted opposite Tom Waits in Coffee and Cigarettes III.
Slowly but surely, Iggy had become regarded as The Godfather of Punk and was finally considered a serious musician. In the ’90s, he recorded Brick by Brick with Guns N’ Roses and the B-52’s. He also played with Debbie Harry and formed a group with Whitey Kirst.
Throughout the ’90s, Iggy wrote songs for several films, including Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Arizona Dream. In 1996, Iggy’s song Lust for Life appeared in the movie Trainspotting and pushed the musician into the spotlight again.
Aside from his 1993 album American Caesar, Iggy appeared on many other artists’ albums. Everyone wanted to collaborate with him. He was on Giant Robot’s Buckethead and on Les Rita Mitsouko’s Système D.
In 1996, Iggy came out with the album Naughty Little Doggie and in 1999, he co-produced his own album, called Avenue B, for the first time with Don Was. By 2003, to his fans’ delight, Iggy was ready to reunite with the Stooges for the first time since 1974, on his new album Skull Ring.
Skull Ring featured Ron and Scott Asheton of the Stooges, as well as Peaches, The Trolls, Green Day, and Sum 41. After Skull Ring, the Stooges got back together officially, with Mike Matt instead of James Williamson. In 2007, the band released a new album called The Weirdness.
However, in 2009, tragedy struck, and Ron Asheton died of a heart attack at age 60. After Ron’s death, James Williamson rejoined the Stooges in his place. That same year, the Stooges were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During the last two decades, two biographies of Iggy Pop have been released. The punk star has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. And in 2008, Iggy married the love of his life, Nina Alu.
The two met in 1999, a year after Iggy and Asano divorced when Alu was working as a flight attendant. A year later, they moved in together. Iggy shared, “Happiness with a woman doesn’t need to be complicated. When you find the right one, it’s easy.”
Iggy Pop never had children with any of his wives. However, in 1970, Paulette Benson, a local girl from Ann Arbor, gave birth to Eric Benson, Iggy’s only son. Paulette raised Eric on her own, probably the right choice, considering Iggy’s drug problem back then.
Iggy would visit the boy occasionally during Eric’s childhood, but he wasn’t easy to be around back then. Nowadays, the two have a good father-son relationship and spend time together. Eric has a daughter with his wife Sandrina, making Iggy Pop a grandpop.
Despite being in his seventies, Iggy has still got it. He has threatened to quit performing a few times over the past few years but somehow bounces back every time, still running around the stage, full of energy. However, since 2010, Iggy hasn’t stage-dived.
Iggy also hosts a weekly radio show on BBC Radio 6 Music. On the show, Iggy plays all kinds of music and emphasizes new bands that he likes. His endorsement has helped bands like Fat White Family, Shame, and Sleaford Mods gain recognition.
The Stooges officially stopped playing in 2016, after the death of Scott Asheton. But Iggy soldiered on, even releasing the single Dirty Little Virus, in 2020, about the worldwide pandemic. It seems that nothing can stop Iggy Pop.
In his later years, the man has become a living legend, and despite his antics back in the days, Iggy has outlived most of his contemporaries. In 2020, Pop received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. So far in 2021, he has collaborated with Clio and Lonnie Smith.
Iggy Pop is still leading a life full of lust and excitement and still influencing musicians from the late 1960s until today. The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the songs Search and Destroy, and I Wanna Be Your Dog. The Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, covered the same songs, as well as No Fun.
Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a cover of The Passenger, and Uncle Tupelo also covered I Wanna Be Your Dog. Kurt Cobain called Raw Power his number one favorite album of all time.
The Godfather of Punk is a serious cultural icon in contemporary culture. Iggy recently appeared in a Gucci campaign called Life of a Rock Star, alongside A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator. The three stars lounge around a California mansion, eating spaghetti and hanging out with Iggy’s pet parrot, Biggy Pop.
It seems that no matter what he does, whether cutting himself with glass and diving into the crowd naked or posing for fashion campaigns in a tailored suit, Iggy Pop is, and forever will be, the definition of punk.
Nowadays, Iggy is an early riser and only drinks wine with dinner but still needs coffee to wake up. Iggy practices wu chi breathing and Qigong; he may be a changed man but recently confessed that he’s scared to stop making music.
In an interview with The New Yorker, he contemplated, “if I stopped… would I really start drinking tea instead of coffee…? Or would I become, like, an alcoholic depressive? … Don’t tell me that I can’t strip off my shirt and go make a big, primitive noise.”