Billy Idol Recalls Blackmailing His Record Label by Giving the ‘Rebel Yell’ Master Tapes to His Drug Dealer

Photo Credit: Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Billy Idol has been a rock legend since the beginning of the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, being at the height of the rock movement involved some serious substance abuse on his part. While he no longer indulges the way he did in his past, he is sharing what life looks like for him now and even reveals how he once used blackmail to get what he wanted.

Idol blackmailed his record company

Billy Idol circa 1984. (Photo Credit: Richard E. Aaron / Redferns / Getty Images)

Prior to the release of “Rebel Yell,” Idol revealed that he stole the master tapes and blackmailed the record label. He explained that it was due to a dispute over the cover artwork. “I was saying: ‘There’s a flaw in this picture, and if we blow this up it will get worse,'” Idol said. “The record company started to say: ‘We’re leaving it. It’s not that bad.'” So, Idol thought, “I’m just not going to let this happen. It’s so silly. They just need to reprint the picture. I’m not listening to what the record company guys say. In fact, I’m gonna blackmail them.'”

In the middle of the night, Idol returned to Electric Lady Studios in New York City and took the master tapes. Then, he “gave them to my heroin dealer.” This was when the blackmail truly began. “And then I phoned the record company and said: ‘This guy I’ve given them to, he’ll have them out on the street bootlegged in a couple of days if you don’t change this picture,'” Idol explained. “And they relented.”

Idol was happy to have gotten his way and concluded by saying, “Don’t let them walk all over you.”

He struggled with substance abuse in his past

Billy Idol at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California. (Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images)

It is no surprise that Idol handed the tapes off to his heroin dealer at the time. He has always been open about his substance abuse, and he was most actively using during the 1970s and 1980s. However, in 1990, a serious motorcycle accident caused him to rethink his life and make the choice to “not be a drug addict anymore.” The accident was so severe that he almost lost his leg.

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“I really started to think I should try and go forward and not be a drug addict anymore and stuff like that,” he explained. “It took a long time, but gradually I did achieve some sort of discipline where I’m not really the same kind of guy I was in the ’80s. I’m not the same drug addicted person.” He continued, “I mean, AA would say, ‘You’re always a drug addict.’ And that may be true, but I don’t do anything that much anymore. I got over it somehow. I was really lucky that I could get over it because a lot of people can’t.”

He considers himself “California sober” now

Billy Idol performs at Central Park on May 05, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Scott Legato / Getty Images)

Idol doesn’t necessarily restrict himself from enjoying a drink here or there. “I can have a glass of wine every now and again,” he said. “I don’t have to do nothing. But at the same time, I’m not the drug addict that I was in the peak ’70s, ’80s.” Thankfully, having a drink every once in a while doesn’t cause any regression, as he has a strong sense of discipline thanks to the people in his life.

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“A lot of my friends from the old days are sober. [My guitarist] Steve Stevens is sober and [guitarist/singer] Billy Morrison in my band is sober. There are people around me who are sober. That helps a lot,” he said. “I’m, I suppose, ‘California sober.’ I just tell myself I can do what I want, but then I don’t do it. If I tell myself I can’t do anything, I want to do it. So I tell myself, ‘You can do anything you like.’ But I don’t actually do it.”

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