There is extreme, there is legendary — and then there is Iggy Pop. Beginning in his earliest days with the Stooges taunting Ann Arbor frat boys and small town Michigan folk, Iggy made an art of excess: self-mutilation, self-exposure and self-destruction. His risky theatricality required an audience to respond, participate or get the heck out of there. And the sex and violence hardly stopped after the show was over. Here are 20 of Iggy’s wildest moments, both on and offstage.
That stint on daytime TV hardly meant that Iggy had gone mainstream, as the cover shoot for this underground art mag confirmed. "We're not 50-year-old patrons of the arts," New York writer Dennis Cooper announced in the first issue of his magazine. "We're young punks just like you." And for 12 issues, Cooper's zine-turned-journal was where avant-garde poetry and punk-y glamour consummated their relationship. Issue 8 of Little Caesar boasted the mag's defining image: a full frontal black-and-white shot of Iggy in his sinewy prime. The muscular definition of his upper body and his confident swagger were so striking that his significant, uh, passenger might not even be the first thing you notice. The Seventies were ending, but Iggy Pop was just getting started.
"Iggy Pop is considered to be the originator of what is called punk rock today," daytime television doyenne Dinah Shore informed her middle American viewers in a surprisingly knowledgeable tone. After a performance, Dinah speaks to Iggy with soft, matronly concern: "You cut yourself with a bottle." The audience laughs after Iggy, at his most charming, explains, "I've had treatment for that sort of thing."
With his attempts at a solo career failing and addiction overwhelming him, Iggy checked in to the UCLA neuropsychiatric institute hoping to get clean, or at least keep the cops off his back for a while. Soon a famous visitor from his past arrived with a present. "We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for him," Bowie told Blender in 2002. "He wasn't well; that's all we knew. We thought we should bring him some drugs, because he probably hadn't had any for days!" Iggy's caretakers politely declined the gift ("This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital," as Bowie put it) but the re-established connection with Bowie would soon kickstart the next stage of Iggy's life and career.
Iggy limped off to L.A. after the demise of the Stooges, where he staged his first solo concert at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, with a performance he dubbed The Murder of a Virgin. "Do you want to see blood?" Iggy asked the crowd, which howled affirmatively back at him. Then, at Iggy's urging, guitarist Ron Asheton, wearing a Nazi outfit, whipped Iggy repeatedly. Iggy began hurling racial epithets at a black spectator, hoping to goad the man into stabbing him with the steak knife he'd brought onstage. No luck, so he closed the set by carving an X into his chest himself.
In February 1974, the Scorpions, a Detroit biker gang, became Iggy Pop's most celebrated foes. The Rock & Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan was their bar, and they were not amused by the skinny dude in the leotard onstage. They made their displeasure known by whipping eggs at Iggy, who leapt into the crowd – promptly stopped cold by a powerful biker fist. The band scrambled to safety, and while appearing on radio station WABX, Iggy challenged the Scorpions to show up at the Stooges' upcoming show at Detroit's Michigan Palace, which would also be their last. Captured on the live album Metallic K.O., the Stooges' final show was the culmination of all that had come before: Never had Iggy taunted a crowd so viciously, never had a crowd responded so violently. As critic Lester Bangs famously summed it up, "Nobody gets killed, but Metallic K.O. is the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings" Contrary to legend, however, no Scorpions seem to have appeared at the final concert.
At the height of his powers, crowds feared and obeyed Iggy Pop. But as the Stooges tour became a runaway train, and Columbia announced that it would not be renewing Iggy's contract, audiences smelled failure and turned on the band. Twice, Iggy – wearing white makeup and a bow tie – dove into a crowd in Toledo. Both times the crowd, who may well have been there for the Stooges-hating headliners, Slade, stepped aside and let the singer face plant.
As Iggy's life degenerated into a non-stop whirl of violence and drugs, even the most insane rumors about him sounded credible. According to Paul Trynka's Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed, regulars at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco in L.A. "gossiped that Iggy was asking a New York promoter for a one-million-dollar fee to commit suicide live on stage at Madison Square Garden." Andy Warhol disagreed – Iggy was going to off himself at a special New Year's Eve show at New York's Academy of Music, the artist insisted. Iggy did not in fact kill himself at that show, though he did strangely announce every song as "Heavy Liquid," to his band's confusion.
Angry crowds, self-laceration, inhuman quantities of drug consumption – none of these things frightened Iggy Pop. But Elton John in a gorilla suit? Well, we all have our limits. The night before a Stooges show in Atlanta, Iggy was so luded out that he passed out in the bushes beside the Days Inn, and then shot some speed to make it onstage. Mid-performance he was met with a hairy menace that felt like a hallucination, if not something much worse. "I was like, 'Oh my god! What can I do?'" Iggy told Legs McNeill in Please Kill Me. "I couldn't fight him. I could barely stand."
A pal of Bebe Buell's graciously provided Iggy with a line of white powder before his show at the Kennedy Center – apparently cocaine and angel dust look a lot alike to an eager addict. The PCP immobilized Iggy, but he insisted the show could go on. The Stooges played the music to "Raw Power" for about 15 minutes before the singer was carried out and deposited onstage, where he mumbled some words, strolled out into an unimpressed audience, then attempted unsuccessfully to climb back onstage while his own band laughed at him. Keyboardist Scott Thurston eventually lent a hand, and he recoiled at what he witnessed. "I saw his chest, it looked like he'd cut himself up really bad, there were bits of flesh hanging on him, it was ugly to see," he later told Paul Trynka. Thurston was relieved to learn that someone had simply mashed a PB&J against the singer.
When Iggy dated model Bebe Buell, he could be a well-behaved companion, cooking and cleaning and otherwise helping out around the house. He could also be a druggy mess. One day, Buell found Iggy sleeping in her bathtub with her two dogs, Puppet and Furburger, on either side of him, also unconscious. When he woke, he stated innocently that he'd not only taken some Valium but that he shared the downers with Buell's pets. They survived the incident, just as Iggy insisted they would. "I'm a dog lover!" he protested, according to Paul Trynka. "I know a lot about animals."
To promote the release of Raw Power, the Stooges were booked for four nights at Max's Kansas City, the storied venue that served as a home base for Andy Warhol and other fashionable New York scenesters. While Iggy climbed through the audience, a chair slipped from underneath him and he sent a table of glasses shattering against the floor. Iggy landed atop them and emerged sliced and stabbed, but kept performing. Despite attempts to stop the show, Iggy jerked his body in a way that caused blood to spurt at the audience. Attempts to seal the wound with gaffer tape failed, and longtime Detroit buddy Alice Cooper rushed Iggy to the emergency room. Debates have raged for years over whether the injury was accidental or self-inflicted.
It was a hot summer day in St. Clair Lake, Michigan, and Iggy and his band devoured a watermelon backstage. Then, clad in a pair of fancy black London undies, he raced onstage as the band began "Raw Power" and excitedly lobbed what remained of the melon into the crowd. According to Paul Trynka's Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed, he bopped one woman in the skull with the rind, giving her a concussion. But Iggy wasn't done throwing crap off the stage. He dumped a cup of ice into those swank imported drawers of his, removing individual cubes and sucking them erotically before flinging them at the crowd.
The Iggy Pop who made his U.K. debut at the Kings Cross Cinema was a new kind of terrifying. Here Iggy debuted the look he sports on the Raw Power LP cover: silvery pants, glam-inspired makeup and smudgy raccoon eyeliner. "Once, he grabbed a chick and stared blankly into her face, almost beating up some poor wretch who dared to laugh at him," the British critic Nick Kent wrote after the show. "The audience was terrified, with Iggy climbing all over them, and management decided we would get arrested if we did any more shows," James Williamson later recalled. The spectacle made an impact on at least two of those audience members — John Lydon and Mick Jones would go on to form the Sex Pistols and the Clash respectively.
After Tony Defries, David Bowie's manager, took Iggy on as a client, he got the singer out of the Stooges' contract with Elektra. The plan was to win over Columbia's Clive Davis at a meeting in his office. As Iggy remembers it, Davis asked if he would sing Simon and Garfunkel. Iggy said no. Davis then asked if the singer would be more melodic. Again, no dice. "Will you do what anyone asks you to?" an exasperated Davis wondered. "No I won't," Iggy declared. "But I can sing. Wanna hear?" And with that he leapt up on the exec's desk and winningly belted out "The Shadow of Your Smile," the Johnny Mandel pop tune that had been a hit for Tony Bennett. That, weirdly enough, sealed the deal for the proto-punk charmer.
"He went to sing and he just pukes all over," Alan Vega recalls in Legs McNeill's Please Kill Me. "Miles Davis loved it." Later, during that same legend-establishing set at the New York club Ungano's, Iggy hauled out his sizable penis and let it rest on top of an amplifier. And, in perhaps his weirdest bit of stage theater, he grabbed the face of Geri Miller, one of Andy Warhol's superstars, and dragged her and her metal folding chair across the floor. At an Electric Circus show in New York the following year, recalling Iggy's prodigious vomiting skills, Miller goaded him: "Let's see you puke." Without hesitating, Iggy spewed all over her.
By all accounts, the Goose Lake International Music Festival was a druggy free-for-all. But the festival organizers hoped to keep Iggy in check. He was forbidden from stage diving, with security placed onstage to keep him out of the crowd and a wooden fence erected between performers and patrons. Frustrated at these limitations, Iggy began chanting "Tear it down!" according to Paul Trynka's Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed. The audience, likely looking for an excuse to go wild anyway, obeyed his commands, ripping wooden planks away to destroy the barrier. During the mayhem, bassist Dave Alexander, stoned and terrified, panicked and was unable to keep the beat. The songs fell apart and Iggy, furious, fired Alexander immediately after the show.
In the most iconic photos of Iggy's early career, we see him standing shirtless with an enraptured audience at the Cincinnati Pop Festival holding him aloft. He'd entered that crowd via stage-dive — another Iggy innovation — and would soon somehow produce a jar of peanut butter, which he slathered on his chest and flung in gooey hunks at his admirers.
The abuse Iggy Pop inflicted upon his body is legendary, but according to Ben Edmonds, later an editor at Creem, Iggy's career of public self-mutilation began at an Ohio Wesleyan University gig that he had booked. "He picked up a drumstick shard and began absent-mindedly running it across his bare chest," Edmonds would later recall. "He apparently increased the pressure with each stroke, because red welt lines soon became visible, which then discharged trickles of blood running down his torso." Gruesome stuff, but even more disconcerting for Edmonds was when Iggy pulled on a white T-shirt after the set: The singer's blood seeped right through the fabric.
Becky Tyner, the wife of MC5 frontman Rob, designed the pants — tight, low-cut, PVC hip-huggers, specially tailored for Iggy's muscular body. But they just couldn't stand up to the singer's demanding performance style. At a club called Mothers in the small town of Romeo, Michigan, Iggy got the show started by humping women in the audience like a dog, according to Paul Trynka's Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed. He returned to the stage and arched his back, contorting his body. Down dropped his drawers and out popped Pop's penis. Local law enforcement swarmed the club, but rather than clobbering the naked weirdo they'd discovered (their original intention), they merely arrested the performer. This, of course, would not be the last time a paying crowd got to peek at what Pop was packing.
The Psychedelic Stooges debuted at an Ann Arbor house party on Halloween 1967. Iggy, in a thrift shop nightdress and a robotic wig created by pasting foil strips on a bathing cap, sat on the floor playing Hawaiian guitar, each string tuned to the same note, before he made experimental noises with a theremin, a vacuum cleaner and "the Osterizer," a whirring blender half-full of water into which he inserted a microphone. The band bashed out heavy drones behind him, making for a loud, druggy, crazed event that the many Michigan notables in attendance didn't soon forget. "It wasn't like anything else I had ever been to," MC5 manager and political firebrand John Sinclair would tell writer Joe Ambrose years later. "I don't know if there were 20 people there. I was terrified. I just thought, 'Jesus, they can hear this all the way downtown.'"