Obituary: Meat Loaf

Published
Image source, Getty Images

Meat Loaf's bombastic rock operas catapulted him to the status of musical icon.

His breakthrough album, Bat Out Of Hell, is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

But beneath the public face of the hard-rocking extrovert was a man who professed to be a shy and retiring individual.

Off stage, he was actually a non-smoking family man, who'd never owned a motorbike and was "constantly on a diet".

He was born Marvin Lee Aday on 27 September 1947 in Dallas, Texas - the son of an alcoholic police officer.

His mother was a school teacher who sang in a girls' gospel quartet; she instilled a love of performing in her only child.

The singer told Oprah Winfrey in 2016 where the name Meat Loaf came from. "I got it when I was four days old," he said. "Not the Loaf part, just the Meat, because I was born bright red.

"The doctor suggested they should keep me in the hospital for a few days and my dad said, 'He looks like nine-and-a-half pounds of ground chuck [meat]. I want you to put a name tag on the front of that plastic crib with Meat on it.'"

The second part of his name arrived when he was in school, in eighth grade. "I stepped on a [football] coach's foot, and he screamed, 'Get off my foot you hunk of meat loaf!'"

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Fronting his band in LA in 1970

Although he played football, he was more at home with the dramatic society. When his mother died prematurely, he left Dallas, and his combative father, to forge a career in music.

In his new base in Los Angeles he formed a band, Meat Loaf Soul, and his distinctive voice, which ranged over three octaves, brought a number of offers of recording contracts.

The band, which underwent a series of name changes, was good enough to open for a number of top acts including the Who, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.

Meat Loaf quit the band to join the cast of a touring production of the musical, Hair, a role that led to an offer to record with Motown Records.

Trash

The 1971 album, Stoney & Meatloaf (sic), on which he collaborated with a fellow member of the Hair cast, Shaun "Stoney" Murphy failed to trouble the charts.

He was then offered a part in a musical called More Than You Deserve, which had been written by a classically trained pianist named Jim Steinman.

In 1973 Meat Loaf was asked to play the parts of Eddie and Dr Everett Scott in the stage production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Image source, 20th Century Fox
Image caption,
He reprised the role of Eddie in the film version of Rocky Horror

Richard O'Brien's tribute to trash Hollywood horror movies became a film in 1975, with Meat Loaf reprising his role as Eddie.

Jim Steinman meanwhile, had begun writing a musical based on the story of Peter Pan and Meat Loaf decided to quit theatre and turn his attention to music full-time.

The project morphed into Bat Out Of Hell, but the duo faced problems persuading record companies to accept something that fitted none of the accepted rock genres of the time.

Eventually noted musician Todd Rundgren offered to produce it and the album was finally released in 1977 to a huge reception.

Rows

Hits such as the title track and Two Out of Three Ain't Bad made it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

However, Meat Loaf was ill-prepared for the demands of overnight celebrity and continuous touring. Overwhelmed by his new star status, he suffered a cocaine and alcohol-fuelled breakdown during which he was supported by his wife, Leslie Edmunds, who he married in 1978.

Image source, Jim Steinman
Image caption,
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman endured a rocky relationship

There were also rows with Steinman who, having been the creative driving force behind the music, felt marginalised by the attention the singer was getting.

Steinman composed all the songs for Meatloaf's 1981 follow-up, Dead Ringer, but had no other input into the production.

The album reached number one in the UK. where Meat Loaf would continue to prove more popular than in his native US.

The next album, Midnight at the Lost and Found, was released to a wave of disappointment among fans and critics.

Name change

Away from the music scene, the singer decided to change his real name from Marvin to Michael in 1983. He told The Guardian in 2003 he had done it because he was persecuted as a child because of a Levi's local radio advert.

"I weigh less now than I did in the 7th grade - I couldn't wear Levi's," he told the newspaper.

"And Levi's put out a commercial that said, 'Poor fat Marvin can't wear Levi's'."

The singer said this was the reason he cited when he went before a judge to change his first name.

"It normally takes like 12 weeks to change your name. He decreed it on the spot," he added.

His music career began to fade however - without Steinman's grandiose lyrics, Meat Loaf seemed incapable of reaching the heights of Bat and Dead Ringer.

He was also facing serious financial problems which he attempted to solve with the release of Bad Attitude.

Recorded in England, where he felt increasingly at home, it was a minor success spawning one hit single, Modern Girl.

Solo albums

  • Bat Out of Hell - 1977
  • Dead Ringer - 1981
  • Midnight at the Lost and Found - 1983
  • Bad Attitude - 1984
  • Blind Before I Stop - 1986
  • Bat Out Of Hell II - 1993
  • Welcome to the Neighbourhood - 1995
  • Couldn't Have Said It Better - 2003
  • Bat Out of Hell III - 2006
  • Hang Cool Teddy Bear - 2010
  • Hell In A Handbasket - 2011
  • Braver Than We Are 2016

Meat Loaf followed this up with Blind Before I Stop, which became the first Meat Loaf record to be legally sold in the Soviet Union.

However neither of these records managed to stave off the singer's eventual bankruptcy; he was also suffering problems with his voice.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
In full flow at The Party in the Park in 2003

But in 1990 his fortunes were dramatically reversed. The rift with Steinman was healed and the result was Bat Out Of Hell II-Back into Hell.

The album duplicated all the hallmarks of its illustrious predecessor, including the thundering rock-opera sound and the gothic album cover.

The single release, I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That), went to number one in 26 countries, the innuendo in the title encouraging suggestive remarks from many radio station DJs.

1995 saw the release of Welcome to the Neighbourhood, which went platinum despite having only two Steinman songs on it.

Meat Loaf's reputation was fully restored and he set off on a series of tours.

Media caption,
Meat Loaf: "I either want to die in my sleep or die on stage"

It was also reported that he was considering setting up home in the north-east of England so he could follow the football club, Hartlepool United.

In 1999 he had a role in the film Fight Club, about an insomniac office worker who attends an underground fight club, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Meat Loaf played a former bodybuilder, wrestler and creator of a chest expansion programme who had used too many steroids.

But not long after this, the singer's own health was beginning to suffer and he collapsed during a 2003 performance at London's Wembley Arena.

He was diagnosed with a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and was advised to limit the time he spent on stage.

The third album in the Bat Out Of Hell series was released in 2006, but not before another major rift with Steinman.

Olympian minutes

Steinman had registered Bat Out Of Hell as a trademark and attempted to block the album's release.

In the event, seven of Steinman's songs appeared on the album and the row was quickly defused.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
His stage performances were always compelling

"I consider him to be one of my best friends, " Meat Loaf said, of Steinman. "But the real thing is about managers. So, really, I didn't sue Jim Steinman. I sued his manager."

The album received mixed reviews, with The Guardian famously stating that the track, In the Land of the Pig (The Butcher Is King) was "five Olympian minutes crying out for a full production at Glyndebourne".

Meat Loaf pulled out halfway through a performance in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2007, wishing the audience goodbye and telling them it was the last ever performance.

However after receiving treatment for a cyst on his vocal cords, he was back in the UK in July 2008 to kick off another tour.

But health problems continued to dog his live performances. He collapsed on stage in Pittsburgh in 2011 and, in 2016, having cancelled two shows of a Canadian tour, he again collapsed during a concert in Edmonton. His management said he had suffered from dehydration.

In 2013 he had announced he would again work with Steinman on a new album which would include songs Steinman had written for other artists including Loving You's a Dirty Job which appeared on Bonnie Tyler's 1986 album, Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire.

Braver Than We Are appeared in 2016 but was a huge disappointment. The big man's voice was a shadow of its former self and Steinman's songs lacked the power and the glory of his previous work.

It was an album that, in retrospect, might have been better not being made.

Despite the huge record sales and the sell-out concerts, Meat Loaf's style of music was often derided by rock critics, something that didn't bother his adoring fans or the man himself.

"The day that I ever become hip," he once said, "please shoot me and put me outta my misery."

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