25 Years Ago: Billy Idol Plays Punk Cupid in ‘The Wedding Singer’
Moviegoers got several blasts from the past over Valentine's Day weekend in 1998 when they turned up en masse to see The Wedding Singer, a love letter to the 1980s featuring a pivotal cameo by Billy Idol.
The romantic comedy, which opened on Feb. 13, 1998, stars Adam Sandler as Robbie Hart, the titular wedding singer with dreams of rock stardom, and Drew Barrymore as Julia Sullivan, a waitress and bride-to-be who hires Robbie to sing at her wedding. The two become fast friends and fall for each other, and it's up to Robbie to wrest Julia away from her loser fiance, Glenn (Matthew Glave), before they exchange "I do's."
The Wedding Singer is set in 1985 and chock-full of era-specific references, including a Boy George impersonator in Robbie's band, a club scene featuring David Bowie's "China Girl" and a portentous crack about Van Halen's breakup. But the most noteworthy throwback comes when Robbie boards a plane to Las Vegas and catches Idol sitting near him in first class. The "White Wedding" star listens to the lovesick singer as he bares his soul, then orchestrates a climactic encounter with the woman of his dreams at 30,000 feet. (He also flashes a knowing grin at a passenger who innocently asks what the Mile High Club is.)
Idol hadn't released an album since 1993's underperforming Cyberpunk (and wouldn't again until 2005's Devil's Playground), so he had no trouble fitting The Wedding Singer into his schedule. Plus, it scored him points with his son.
See Billy Idol in 'The Wedding Singer'
"I read the script, and I was just cracking up right from the first couple pages," he told Stereogum. "I've read quite a few scripts, and sometimes you're left quite cold. The Wedding Singer was just a funny idea. My son was really young, but I was taking him to see Adam's films, Happy Gilmore and stuff. I'm taking my son to see his films anyway, kind of fantastic to be in one, and then to be the Cupid that's going to bring the lovers together — that's almost hilarious. A punk rock Cupid."
It was also a big moment for Sandler, who was a teenager when Idol was at his mid-'80s commercial peak. "I'd say one out of 30 kids in my high school had a Billy Idol look going to 'em," the actor said in a TV interview. "He's the kind of guy the fellas were allowed to listen to and the girls were allowed to be in love with. Just something about Billy Idol, hanging out on a plane, knocking back champagne and getting involved with my love life — everybody thought that would be fun."
"The day I met him, I met his son, and I just saw a dad hanging out with his kid and having a good time," Sandler continued. "Then later that day, I was playing guitar in my trailer and he was jamming along and singing. I was like, 'Oh, yeah, he's also Billy Idol.' He's good. He's a good guitar player and a good singer and a good dude. He's got a lot of goodness. You don't ever think, 'I bet that guy's afraid to do this.' He seems like he'll do anything, and that's very admirable."
The gambit paid off for Idol, as The Wedding Singer opened at No. 2 at the box office behind long-reigning champion Titanic. It went on to gross $123 million worldwide on an $18 million budget and endeared the singer to a new generation of listeners. "It was a great 1980s spoof and I thought it was very funny — they had me at the Boy George impersonation," he told Contactmusic. "I gained a number of die-hard teenage fans through doing it, who are adults now and are still turning up to my gigs."