He’s 65 now, short and stocky, and looks more like an everyman than a piano man. He’s been in a mental hospital and rehab, wrecked at least three cars and a motorcycle, lost two fortunes, and has three ex-wives including a supermodel and a woman half his age. Yet there wasn’t an empty seat at Madison Square Garden last Thursday as Billy Joel played his monthly concert. Despite a checkered life, he is, without a doubt, adored by his audiences.
We see how quickly entertainers’ careers can flounder when they have personal struggles and public controversies. Their public images suffer (examples: Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Ray Rice, Lindsay Lohan), and they’re often mocked and shunned by people in their own industry. Some recover from their issues and regain public favor; others never do. Billy Joel has navigated the negatives in his life and has enjoyed the public’s goodwill throughout his career, especially now. Here’s why:
First, there’s his music. His prolific catalog of hits places him among the biggest superstars. His songs’ lyrics speak of people we know and are, events and places we’ve seen and been, and take us to the times we heard them and sang along. And sing along we did at the Garden–more than 18 thousand people belting out “Piano Man”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and many others.
Locally this summer, Newsday’s “That’s SO Long Island” competition saw 520,000 voters place Joel number one–ahead of 64 foods, attractions, celebrities and activities including Jones Beach! He told Newsday, “My perspective of things all comes from a Long Island point of view.” Joel was born, raised and still lives on Long Island, calling it his “favorite place” in a state tourism ad. He’s raised money for Long Island Cares, Sandy Relief, and joins others cleaning a beach each year on behalf of the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association and Friends of the Bay.
Billy Joel’s a superstar who looks and thinks like us, and he spends his time and money on our behalf, too. This–and his wonderful music–is why the Piano Man remains Mr. Popular. Your thoughts?