Though his most enduring contribution to pop culture may have been lending his last name to his former spouse, the legendary groupie and rock scenester Pamela Des Barres, Michael Des Barres enjoyed a career as both an actor and musician for the better part of the last three decades.
Born in London, England on Jan. 24, 1948, Des Barres was raised in Surrey and studied acting at drama school. He appeared in several British television series in the late 1960s before making his screen debut in 1967's "To Sir, With Love." Supporting roles in the semi-cult obscurity "Joanna" (1968) and the 1971 Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing horror title "I, Monster" (in which Des Barres unwisely challenged a monstrous Lee to a street fight) followed, but Des Barres had found more immediate fame as the frontman for the glam band, Silverhead.
The new outfit released two albums in 1972 and 1973 before calling it quits shortly thereafter. Before their break-up, Silverhead was also filmed for a theatrical feature titled "Arizona Slim," yet the movie never saw the light of day. However, it did help introduce Des Barres to his future rock groupie wife, Pamela. The couple was married in 1977 and led a tempestuous life until their divorce in the late 1980s. The relationship was chronicled in graphic detail in the Mrs.'s tell-all book, I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie.
Des Barres continued to pursue a music career through the remainder of the '70s and '80s, but never quite broke through to superstar level. His second band, Detective, enjoyed the aegis of Led Zeppelin when it signed to their label; however, after two albums and an appearance on "WKRP in Cincinnati" (CBS, 1978-1982), the band members went their separate ways. Des Barres then released a solo album before partnering with the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones and several ex-Blondie members in a super group called Chequered Past. It too was a short-lived project, but the band served to introduce Des Barres to the then up-and-coming pop band, Duran Duran.
Two of the latter band's members, John and Andy Taylor, struck chart gold in 1985 with their side project The Power Station, which also featured Robert Palmer on lead vocals. The group's record yielded several massive hits, but Palmer refused to participate in the inevitable tour, so Des Barres was tapped to replace him for their concert performances. Unfortunately, despite a popular tour and an appearance at Live Aid (and on "Miami Vice" NBC, 1984-89), the Des Barres-led Power Station folded, with the Taylor brothers returning to their previous engagement.
Des Barres released a largely unheard solo album in 1986, which remained his final full-length album to date, though he continued to participate in projects for other bands, most notably the popular Los Angeles outfit Camp Freddy. Since then, he focused on a career as a character actor, mostly in roles as smooth villains or glam rockers. He played a Satanic wizard in the cult horror comedy "Ghoulies (1985), a white supremacist in the glum Clint Eastwood comedy "Pink Cadillac" (1989), and has essayed variations on these arch character types in films like "Under Siege" (1992), "Catch That Kid" (2004) and TV series like "MacGyver" (ABC, 1985-92), in which he enjoyed a semi-recurring role as Richard Dean Anderson's nemesis, Murdoc, and "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), as Heather Locklear's scheming boss.
In recent years, however, Des Barres was given several opportunities to display a broader range of acting talents, handling comedy as a morning DJ on the revamped "WKRP in Cincinnati" (syndicated, 1991-93)and by playing Martin Mull's lover on several episodes of "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-97). Des Barres gave a sympathetic performance as an aging glam rocker forced to bed a wealthy widow in Allison Anders' "Sugar Town" (1999) and as a gigolo who showed Andy Garcia the ropes in "The Man from Elysian Fields" (2001).
More recently, Des Barres played a former rocker who must deal with his son's impending fame in the short-lived WB series, "My Guide to Becoming a Rock Star" (2002) and as yet another international criminal on the hit spy show, "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06).