In 1967, Michael Des Barres first appeared on the scene next to Sidney Poitier in, To Sir, with Love. On stage, his role in The Dirtiest Show in Town got the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber and led directly to the formation of the so-called glam rock band, Silverhead. He went on to quite literally survive the “decadence and indulgence” of the time that many of his musical contemporaries did not. Whether coming out of the era alive played a role in creating the assassin that was Murdoc is open to question. But selling his interpretation to the producers of MacGyver was a clear function of the excessive aspect of the age, and he definitely didn’t ease into making an impression.
“I got that part in the parking lot. I had a vintage white Rolls Royce, and I pulled up in this fantastic car," remembered Des Barres. "I was all decked out in black with the producers waiting to greet me. They saw this character, and that was it.”
As it were, the premeditation was just another day’s work for the vintage TV icon. “Everything I do is planned. I go to the grocery store, and I’m there to entertain everybody. It’s just the way I’m made,” he said.
Makes His Mark as Reoccurring Character
Appearing sporadically like the X-Files’ Smoking Man, audiences couldn’t wait to catch wind, and he made the most of a role that was music to his ears. “It was fantastic. I considered him a Rock ‘n' Roll assassin, and it taught me a lot about how to make villainy appealing,” said Silverhead’s former frontman.
As for actual study in spycraft, he simply let the clothes make the man and remained in the moment. “I just put on a cap with a good wardrobe and tried to be present,” said Des Barres.
This meant being up to snuff with all the tricky gadgets. “Learning that stuff was pretty grueling. On the other hand, it helped alleviate all the waiting around that happens on shoots, and I’m definitely not in the waiting around business. I need to be stimulated, so I’d go off with the stunt cats, and it was fantastic on every level,” he said.
In turn, he felt his appearances raised everyone’s game. “I did elevate that show, and there’s a ton of Murdoc fans out there, which I’m really proud of,” said Des Barres.
Glam Rock Guy
But long before he killed for hire, Des Barres highlighted in a forum that he felt was misunderstood by the mainstream. “The term glam rock really was a lazy form of journalism that characterized us wrong. Yes, some bands did get their hair all quaffed up and came out in expertly made up eyeliner. But my makeup looked like it was on for about four days because it usually was. So we were completely different entities, Des Barres asserted.
At the same time, there was more to it than just the getup. “What happened in the late 60s was an androgyny movement. It was young people getting together, dressing the same, smoking hashish, playing rock ‘n roll and experimenting with literature, love, and sexuality,” he said.
The latter part in light of the look also gave people the wrong idea. “We didn’t want to have sex with each other. We wanted to connect with women,” he revealed. “Girls would see us weighing 125 pounds, and wanted to hook up with us, because we looked like them.”
Meaning, rock ‘n roll’s bottom line never deviated for them. “Well, there’s only one reason to play music,” he joked.
Love now has a whole new meaning.
Forty years later, he’s toned it down by spreading the love in a more figurative manner. “Where I am right now, getting laid is a metaphor for seducing an audience,” said Des Barres. “I really want to turn people on other ways so my new album Carnaby Street is about connection and relationships.”
The process involved going on the road and playing every club possible. “We honed these songs, and recorded it in the studio within a week,” he said.
Now, in 180 countries, Des Barres says it’s getting great reviews and a tour will follow. But the performer doesn’t get his platforms confused as he slides between acting and music. “It’s easy if you want it to be. The thing that satisfies me most is playing rock ‘n roll in a club, but I get the same feeling as an actor. Like I just did NCIS, and it was a fabulous experience. For instance, nailing a scene with David McCallum and Mark Harmon was extremely satisfying,” said Des Barres.
High Notes as an Actor
Hitting the high note at the outset as an actor wasn’t bad either. “Sidney Poitier is the most noble, charismatic man I’ve ever met. There was nobody more influential to my career in terms of how he handled himself, and the impact he had on me as a man,” beamed Des Barres.
He ran pretty hot on TV too with a memorable appearance on WRKP. “Dr. Johnny Fever was fantastic because he was such an incredible character that Howard created,” Des Barres remembered.
Based on an influential rock ‘n roller writer named Lester Biggs, Des Barres reveled in the harmless decadence Hesseman channeled. “Howard based his character on that guy—just mellow, laid back, and so stoned. To have somebody like that on national TV, I thought it was fantastic,” said Des Barres.
As for the bragging rights between the show’s two bombshells, he didn’t shrink between Loni Anderson and Bailey Quarters. “Jan Smithers—so sexy,” he expressed no doubt and left it as that.
Rich Monetti can be reached at [email protected]
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