Billy Joel has been quietly present in the music scene since the 1970s. Born in the Bronx in 1949, in a music family, singing and playing instruments was a central part of his upbringing. One of the best vocalists, piano player, and songwriter released his first album in 1973 and became an instant sensation. Since then Joel produced 33 Top 40 hits in the US, sold 150 million records worldwide, was introduced in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and won five Grammy Awards. Even the younger generations still bop to “Uptown Girl”. His career has been well-documented throughout the years of being active in the industry, both as a singer and a producer, while his private matters stayed out of the spotlight.
Billy’s father fled Germany during the Holocaust
Helmut Joel, who later changed his name to Howard, was born in Germany to a Jewish family. He was a pianist and a businessman. In the mid-thirties of the last century, the Nazi regime made them flee for their lives, first in Switzerland, then Cuba, after which they finally landed in New York. His mother, Rosalind, was also of Jewish heritage whose family immigrated from England. When Billy’s parents divorced in 1957, his father returned to Europe since he never preferred the American way of life, calling it “too materialistic”. For the next ten years, Billy and Howard lost touch. The two reconciled when Billy went on tour in Europe and found his father living in Vienna. Shortly afterward, Billy wrote the song of the same name and dedicated it to his dad.
Billy Joel was a great boxer
When he was a kid, still in elementary school, he was bullied by older and stronger boys. They often kicked him, throw his books and belittle him. Joel decided to stand up to them and started boxing. He was so driven by anger and will to retaliate that he became very good at it, winning 22 bouts on the amateur Golden Glove circuit. Two matches later the opponent broke Billy’s nose and that was the end of his boxing career.
Although he was of the anti-war sentiment and supported the peace movement, Billy was never an activist nor did he participate in any political matter. He did, however, go to Woodstock to see Jimmy Hendrix play, but that adventure was very short-lived. Billy left the concert after seeing messy, dirty, and smelly bathrooms. Disgusted by the whole event, and the way it was organized, he left in a hurry.
Joel attempted suicide at 21 years old
A very clumsy try to end his life occurred when a girl broke up with him. First, he wanted to drink bleach but was worried about the bones and skull sign on the bottle. Then he found furniture polish and drank since it smelled better. Later he said: “All I ended up doing was farting furniture polish for a couple of days and polishing my mother’s chairs”. He wrote a song about the experience – “The Stranger”.
Billy is a churchgoer, despite being born to a Jewish family
Growing up in Long Island with his mom and sister, Billy had a lot of Catholic friends of Italian and Polish heritage. In a desire to fit in, he went to church with them on a Sunday mass. Billy even confessed at some point. Since he comes from a non-observant Jewish family, Joel was free to go as much as he wanted. Today, Billy says he’s an atheist, although he does believe in ghosts.
He graduated high school at 43 years of age
Billy was never great in school. He was always steering towards music and performance, that he neglected his studies and never graduated high school. Later in life, in 1992 to be precise, he turned in some papers that were 25 years overdue and finally got the diploma.
Number 6 best-selling performer
Beatles, Elvis Presley, Garth Brooks, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and then Billy Joel, in that order. For example, he sold more records than Michael Jackson, just to give you an idea of how huge this fact is. Billy sold 81 million copies in the US during his career. Still, he says that he doesn’t have a sense of how popular he is humbly saying that he looks like a delivery guy rather than a rockstar.