Dressed like a New Wave swashbuckler with an ubiquitous stripe painted across his face, Adam Ant rose out of the punk scene to become a New Romantic superstar in the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Leading Adam and the Ants to chart success with catchy, beat-heavy songs including "Antmusic," "Stand & Deliver," "Prince Charming" and "Desperate but Not Serious," he went solo with the global smash "Goody Two Shoes." The charismatic chameleon ruled early MTV with his sexy presence in colorful music videos and easily segued into acting with a steady stream of credits. As musical tastes changed, Ant evolved, continuing to notch hits. Originally dismissed as a lightweight oddity, Adam Ant and his output eventually enjoyed a critical and popular reevaluation, and the singer finally received the credit for the impressive breadth of his unique genius and far-reaching influence.
Born Nov. 3, 1954 in Marylebone, London, England, Stuart Leslie Goddard was the son of Betty Kathleen Smith, a maid employed at one time by Paul McCartney, and Leslie Goddard, a chauffeur. His grandfather was a full-blooded Romani, and would prove a major influence as the young man grew. Growing up in a tumultuous, often abusive household, Ant exhibited violent, self-destructive tendencies as a child until a kindly teacher helped him channel his anger and energy into art. Demonstrating an innate visual creativity, Ant went on to art school, studying graphic design and marrying a fellow student before dropping out to pursue a musical career.
When the Sex Pistols debuted in 1975 as the opening act for Bazooka Joe, a band in which Ant played bass guitar, he experienced an epiphany, inspired by their hardcore punk ethos and glamorously grotty image. He left the band to start a new one, the B-Sides, but they never made progress beyond rehearsals since Ant was falling apart mentally. Suicidal as well as anorexic, he overdosed on his mother-in-law's pills and was committed to a mental hospital. When he was finally released, he took on a new stage name. Inspired by the biblical creation story and the success of insect-named acts in music, he christened himself "Adam Ant" and formed a new band, the Ants, from members of the B-Sides with a new drummer. As the band gelled into Adam and the Ants, they polished their punk rock sound as one of the many acts drawing inspiration from the famous punk-quake epicenter, the SEX Boutique.
Blessed with handsome features, an outrageous fashion sense, and the visual artistry to create an eye-popping statement with his appearance, Ant quickly drew attention, landing a spot in the punk film "Jubilee" (1977) and recording the singles "Deutscher Girls" and "Plastic Surgery." The band's independent-label debut album, 1979's Dirk Wears White Sox made little mainstream impression, but appealed to fans with its dark, glam-flecked punk sound. Ant hired the manager of the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, to give the flailing band a shot in the arm, and he made some commercially minded tweaks to the lineup, including having the band wear pirate-inspired costumes and sweetening their sound to a more polished, pop sound.
Although Ant took his advice to great effect, McLaren quickly proved how ruthless he could be by luring away the band to become the core of Bow Wow Wow. Undaunted, the singer replaced the Ants. The addition of guitarist Marco Pirroni proved critical to their success, and the two would co-write most of their future hits. The new, glossier Adam and the Ants released Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980 and it became an award-winning instant classic, pioneering the New Romantic movement and wowing critics with the innovative, almost tribal force provided by the band's double drummers. The set launched radio/video hits such as the title track, "Dog Eat Dog," "Physical (You're So)" and the pulsating "Antmusic." In fact, the photogenic Ant, with his "dandy highwayman" fashion and wild accessories (including his iconic striped face paint), proved the perfect frontman for the music video age. The darling of MTV and onetime guest VJ proved the best special effect in all the group's colorful clips.
A superstar in the U.K., Ant remained more of a cult figure in the United States, but the group's follow up, 1981's Prince Charming continued their hot streak, including the top ten hit "Ant Rap" and a glittering pair of U.K. number ones: "Stand and Deliver" and the title track, which featured an enormously appealing fairy tale dance-along music video which presented Ant at his peak. As Antmania continued to grow, the singer dissolved his band to go solo, retaining Pirroni as a co-writer and guitarist. He made his biggest impact on the American pop consciousness with 1982's Friend or Foe, which launched the hits "Desperate But Not Serious," the title track and the world-conquering brass-heavy singalong, "Goody Two Shoes." The latter flew to number one in the U.K. and Australia, and charted at No. 12 in the U.S.
After flashing brightly as one of his homeland's top music acts, Ant's next step, 1983's Strip, failed to sustain his upward momentum. He earned his last U.K. Top Ten hit with the No. 5 "Puss 'N Boots" but the barely-risqué video for the tongue-in-cheek title track, featuring ABBA's Anni-Frid Lyngstad, was banned by the BBC. After looking back to the Regency era of English history for so much career inspiration, Ant began drawing influences from the future and space age, changing his sound to have a harder rock edge, but 1985's Vive Le Rock and its title track, which he played at the historic Live Aid concert, met with lukewarm critical and commercial response. Ever the chameleon, he turned his considerable creative energy towards acting, leapfrogging from English theatrical performances to higher profile screen roles in Hollywood. Permanently relocating to Los Angeles, Ant booked many acting jobs, including appearances on "The Equalizer" (CBS, 1985-89), "Tales from the Crypt" (HBO, 1989-1996) and "Northern Exposure" (CBS, 1990-95).
Industry tastes had changed greatly when Ant returned to music in 1990. He shed his New Wave trappings to emerge as a sleek, sexy funkster with the release of the Prince-inspired Manners & Physique, which spawned an international hit, "Room at the Top," as well as the underperforming but catchy "Rough Stuff" and "Can't Set Rules About Love." The album's sales overall were weak, which convinced record execs to pull the plug on Ant's subsequent set, Persuasion. Although never officially released, Persuasion saw the light of day in fan circles as bootleg copies surfaced for illegal download. The pressure of a floundering career as well as the increasingly violent actions of a stalker took their toll on Ant's health, and he suffered a mental breakdown, checking into Cedars-Sinai for treatment. When his relationship with then-girlfriend and rising star Heather Graham failed, Ant left the United States to move back to London.
He released 1995's quieter Wonderful, which charted a hit with the title track, and toured the U.K. and U.S. in support of the album. He appeared in the film "Drop Dead Rock" (1996) as well as contributing to the soundtrack, and continued to write and record new music with longtime collaborator Pirroni. In 2000, Sony released the retrospective Antbox, a fan's dream that included a treasure trove of unreleased demos, and he agreed to appear on the New Wave-nostalgia "Here & Now" tour, but legal and mental health issues prevented him from following through. In 2002, Ant arrived at a Camden pub to allegedly find a man who had supposedly been threatening him and his family. When the man was not present and several patrons mocked Ant's appearance, he responded by throwing a car alternator through the pub window, injuring one person. When security chased after him, Ant brandished a World War II-era starting pistol and was subsequently arrested. He pled guilty to a reduced charge of causing affray, and was ordered to pay a fine as well as receive psychiatric care.
Unfortunately, his mental health continued to disintegrate, and he was arrested in 2003 after beating a neighbor's door with a shovel and then attempting to fall asleep, pants down, on the basement floor of a café. He was again charged and taken to a psychiatric ward, spending months receiving in-patient care. Ant's mental state and subsequent treatment caused many physical changes, and the tabloids printed many unflattering images of the singer at his worst. While recovering, he attempted a few new musical projects, but none fully came to fruition. Diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, Ant received mainstream attention and a critical and popular reevaluation with the warts-and-all television special "The Madness of Prince Charming" (TK, 2003). Longtime friend and collaborator Marco Pirroni oversaw the most inclusive Ant collection to date, and the singer published his successful autobiography Stand & Deliver in 2006. He received the prestigious Q Music Icon Award in 2008, and launched an intriguing live musical comeback in 2010 with a project tentatively titled "Adam Ant's Pirate Metal Extravaganza."
After a flurry of near-manic musical output, Ant returned to in-patient care at a psychiatric hospital for about a month before transitioning to an outpatient treatment option. He returned to the public eye with a vengeance, playing a series of late-2010 concerts and announcing an ambitious new concept album in the works, Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter. Ant tantalized fans with a juicy interview in which he shared some details about the mysterious set, which he claimed dealt with his mental health and treatment issues and featured a tribute to the late Malcolm McLaren, as well as a track co-written with Erasure's Andy Bell. He also candidly discussed his struggles with bipolar disorder and called for raised awareness to combat mental illness and its social stigma.