Michael Des Barres



Michael Des Barres’ arrival in the entertainment world came early — as a marquis attending boarding school in England, he started acting in commercials and school plays at age eight. He later moved on to Corona Theatre School in West London. While there, he was cast in the classic 1967 film “To Sir, With Love,” starring Sidney Poitier.

At 19, Michael played the androgynous rock star Rose in the nude musical “The Dirtiest Show in Town,” produced by Robert Stigwood of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fame. Andrew Lloyd Webber saw Michael’s performance and went backstage to tell him that he should indeed form a real rock band. Michael quickly wrote his first song, titled “Will You Finance My Rock and Roll Band,” which he performed for Lloyd Webber. That song led Michael to form Silverhead, his first band, a raucous glam rock experiment. They were immediately signed to Purple Records in 1972. In 1974, Michael married his girlfriend of seven years, actress Wendy Hamilton (now Professor Emeritus Wendy Wheeler, London Metropolitan University).

After two albums and two world tours, Silverhead disbanded and Michael moved to Los Angeles, broke and in love with Pamela Miller, aka “Miss Pamela” of the GTOs. He arrived in L.A. with $200 and a hair dryer, ending his marriage to Wendy Hamilton. Michael married Pamela Des Barres, author of “I’m With The Band,” in 1977. Michael and Pamela amicably divorced in 1991 and have one son, Nicholas Dean Des Barres.

In Los Angeles Michael formed the band Detective. Detective was signed to the famed Swan Song Records by Jimmy Page and recorded two albums. That era also saw Michael appear on U.S. television in the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” with Detective playing the punk rock group Scum of the Earth. Michael’s character, Dog, was featured throughout the episode, and the band itself played at the end of the show. The members of Detective went their separate ways in 1979.

Throughout the years of Silverhead and Detective, Michael had been struggling with drugs and alcohol. In 1981, he finally got sober and has remained so. “People didn’t understand why I didn’t drink or do drugs in the ’80s,” he said. “I was a pariah, but I understood that it was for kids. It was making me psychotic and it was destroying my natural energy. It made me listless and uncreative, and I thought that was unacceptable. It was more important to be able to look into my son’s eyes and be able to connect with him, than it was to look in the eyes of some lower companion with bad coke.” As a result of his sobriety he cofounded R.A.D., Rock Against Drugs, a highly successful PSA campaign that helped infuse the culture of MTV with an antidrug message.

In 1982, Michael formed the band Chequered Past, featuring Steve Jones, Clem Burke, Nigel Harrison and Tony Sales. The band opened for Duran Duran in 1984, and it was this association that led to Michael being chosen to replace Robert Palmer as lead singer of the Power Station when Palmer withdrew. Michael performed with the Power Station in Philadelphia at Live Aid — a show watched by 2 billion people — after just 10 days of rehearsal. A highlight of the touring set was Michael’s song “Obsession,” cowritten with Holly Knight in 1983. At the time, it had been released by the L.A.-based new wave group Animotion and was a No. 1 hit in 27 countries.

Michael’s love of acting never subsided, and in 1985 he was cast in the role most familiar to his fans — that of Murdoc in the hit ABC series “MacGyver.” A master assassin who seemingly could not be killed, Murdoc had always succeeded in taking out his targets until he encountered MacGyver. Murdoc appeared in nine episodes of “MacGyver,” from 1985 through the series’ run, and was widely considered to be MacGyver’s archnemesis. As Michael’s acting career in the U.S. took off, he was cast in many of the most popular shows of that era, including “Melrose Place,” “Seinfeld,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Miami Vice,” “Alf,” “Roseanne,” “The Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure,” as well as films such as “Ghoulies,” “Nightflyers,” “Pink Cadillac,” “Diary of a Sex Addict” and “The Man from Elysian Fields.” Michael returned to play another master assassin, Nicholas Hellman, on the new CBS reboot of “MacGyver” in 2018 and 2019. In a nod to his iconic role, his character is the mentor of the new Murdoc.

In 2014, Michael was asked by Steven Van Zandt to bring his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and soul music to Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM Radio channel 21, where he can be found DJing every weekday from 5–8 a.m. and 9 p.m.–12 a.m. PT. Playing classic rock and soul music, from the Rolling Stones to the Ramones and the Shangri-Las to the Temptations, Michael is heard by more than 6 million listeners each day. People are drawn to his show for the outstanding music, as well as Michael’s positivity, humor and inimitable rock ‘n’ roll intellect and experience. Firsthand rock ‘n’ roll history from someone who was there.

Michael’s highly lauded documentary “Who Do You Want Me To Be?” was filmed in 2012. Directed by Josh Elvis Weinstein, it began streaming July 10, 2020, on Amazon Prime Video and various other streaming platforms.

“In 1981, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I turned into something I despised. Getting high was more important to me than hit records and beautiful girls. The usual rock ’n’ roll bullshit. But a dear friend who was in the music business said, 'Michael, keep this up and you’ll be underground.' And he didn’t mean Little Steven’s Underground Garage. I’ve been sober and clean from drugs and alcohol ever since. And I’ve had more revelations and guidance in Alcoholics Anonymous than any church or therapist.”
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