By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Singer Michael Des Barres doesn’t see success as a trophy or an award. The Pasadena resident considers it something very different.
“What is success?” he says rhetorically. “It’s not a gold, symbolic prize. It’s not double platinum. It’s being able to love yourself enough to be loved. That’s the ultimate award.”
That’s also the takeaway from the new documentary “Michael Des Barres: Who Do You Want Me to Be?,” which is available on multiple on-demand platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play/YouTube Rentals, Comcast, Cox, Spectrum, Cablevision, iTunes, Microsoft Store and Vudu.
He’s found happiness with his third wife, Britta Hayertz, owner of LA’s Britta Morgan Pilates, and he calls his son, Nick, his confidante.
“I trust him more than I trust everybody,” says Des Barres, who was formerly married to Nick’s mother, Pamela Des Barres, reportedly one of the inspirations behind the “Almost Famous” character Penny Lane.
“I trust everybody until they become untrustworthy. You can see the disguise very quickly and then you reassemble your thoughts.
“We can tell each other what time it really is. I don’t have to boost his confidence and he with mine. One of the greatest spiritual functions is making amends. You call them up, send a pigeon, say, ‘Yeah, my bad. I love you.’”
Loving himself came with sobriety, which came in June 1981. In the mid-1980s, he co-founded Rock Against Drugs, and he later did volunteer addiction counseling and worked with homeless teens.
“Michael Des Barres: Who Do You Want Me to Be?” tells the entertainer’s story. He’s the son of a junkie aristocrat (Marquis Philip Des Barres) and a schizophrenic showgirl (Marquise Irene Des Barres), as he says. He was born and raised in Hove, Sussex, England, and attended a boarding school in Derbyshire.
“When you’re born into a world with no parents, you tend to really be very, very conscious and aware of what’s going on around you,” Des Barres says. “There’s nobody to tell you what’s going on around you, or explain to you what’s happening. You discover the joy of people and the foibles of people and the animalistic side of human nature. And one learns quickly how to take care of yourself.”
A host of eyewitnesses, including Gabriel Byrne, Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Don Johnson, John Taylor (Duran Duran), Nigel Harrison (Blondie), Allison Anders, Ed Begley Jr., Pamela Des Barres and Steven Van Zandt, all join in to corroborate Des Barres’ tale.
Director J. Elvis Weinstein, a veteran television writer/producer (“MST3K,” “Freaks and Geeks”), said, “I’d never met anyone quite like Michael; he confounded my expectations. In an age of ‘toxic narcissism,’ I found instead in Michael what I would call ‘a benevolent narcissist,’ someone who rewards your attention by reflecting his attention and enthusiasm back on you.”
Des Barres has carved a path through show business with record deals over the last 50 years, and acting in more than a hundred TV and movie appearances.
His roller coaster career began with acting in “To Sir, With Love,” with Sidney Poitier, and includes lead role in “Ghoulies” and “MacGyver.” He was signed to Led Zeppelin’s label by Jimmy Page; wrote the omnipresent hit “Obsession,” later covered by Animotion; and performed at “Live Aid,” fronting the Power Station.
He replaced the great Robert Palmer in the Power Station—which also featured Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, bassist John Taylor and drummer Tony Thompson—when the “Addicted to Love” singer preferred not to tour.
“I knew him 10 years before, when he was in Vinegar Joe,” Des Barres says. “I loved him. We were quite close, but he was in the Marvin Gaye world and I was in the Steve Marriott world.
“It was two very different things. He was very subdued and a crooner. When I was in Chequered Past, I opened for Duran Duran and Andy said he remembered me. They watched us because they loved Jonesy (Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols). When Robert said, ‘Look, I don’t think I’m comfortable singing to 60,000 topless girls,’ he recommended me. They called me to come to New York. I met John and Tony, met Andy, who had the final say, as he was the leader of that pack. Boom, boom, boom, my first gig was Live Aid.”
He says he wasn’t nervous at all about taking Palmer’s place after the Power Station scored hits with “Some Like It Hot” and “Get It On.”
“I jumped up on stage fearless,” he says. “What else are you going to do? I had big shoes to fill, but I wasn’t going to do an impersonation of Robert Palmer. ‘Some Like It Hot’ just got hotter.”
Des Barres continues to act and preach the “rock ‘n’ roll gospel” on SiriusXM on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” to an audience of millions.
“They’re my friends out there,” he says. “There are 5 million every day. I use the same vibe for them as I do to myself. It’s a wonderful educative, entertaining feeling. Whatever happened to me in those younger years paid off.
“I’m lucky. I get to work here in my house. I have a studio in my house. I’ve been doing a lot of music, and it’s the best music I’ve ever made—but I always think like that. The song I wrote this morning is the greatest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve been writing this book of poetry for years. I love the romantic Lord Byron, Keats and Shelley.”
Des Barres has lived in Pasadena for three years, leaving “horrible” Hollywood behind.
“It’s a rat race of ambition and poison, on top of which is coated in dust,” he says. “I lived there for years. When I got this wonderful gig with Stevie, I said I was going to buy a (expletive) huge house and put a studio in it and stay right there. I’ve been lucky. I said, ‘Let’s get acreage and trees and hammocks.’ I did that.
“It was prescient because of what was going down, this dreadful fight that we’re having with both culture and division, the pain, the inequality, the injustice and the COVID. This is a double header—a punch to the stomach and the heart. The birth of Hollywood really was here. All the great stars all have houses out here. Life is what you learn from it. That’s been my credo and why I’m still here. I’m 72 years old. I’m Lestat’s brother. I’m a vampire with a heart in the right place.”