Immensely talented, unbelievably cool, and incredibly sexy, Debbie Harry remains the pin-up poster girl for the late 70’s and early 80’s punk scene. Her voice, sultry-yet-aloof, propelled her band, Blondie, to megastardom with hits like “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” and “Rapture.” As a solo artist, her eclectic taste and enthusiasm for collaboration has seen her work with everyone from Iggy Pop to Sia.
With her 50-year music career still in full swing, Harry is finally ready to tell all with her new memoir, Face It. Before we dig in, let’s review what we already know about the punk rock icon: Here are 42 rapturous facts about the iconic Debbie Harry.
Debbie Harry Facts
1. Jersey Girl
Nothing beats a good rags to riches story. Deborah Ann Harry was born on July 1, 1945 in Miami, Florida. Once upon a time, her parents were high school sweethearts, but by the time their daughter entered the world, their affair had reached a heartbreaking end. It didn’t last much longer than Harry’s conception. In the end, the iconic singer was adopted and raised by Richard and Catherine Harry of Hawthorne, New Jersey.
2. Musical Roots
We know very little about Harry’s biological mother (other than the fact that she was a concert pianist whose musical gene definitely came through in her daughter). But we know a bit more about the singer’s father and his own dark reasons for putting his daughter up for adoption. Harry’s father was already married with a family of his own. Yikes. Harry was four when she discovered she had been adopted. Her birth name was Angela Trimble.
3. Sharp Tailoring
Ever a fashion icon, Debbie Harry made headlines around the world for wearing a dress made entirely of razor blades. Lady Gaga, eat your heart out.
4. Darkest Hour
With her music career stronger than it’s been in years, Harry has turned her attention to writing. Her memoir, Face It, was released in October 2019 by Dey Street Books. The book reveals some of the darkest moments in Harry’s life. For example, when Stein was in the pits of his illness, Harry found comfort in a dark place: heroin addiction. Over time, she defeated her dependence on the drug.
5. Blonde Ambition
As a child, Harry used to wonder about her biological parents. In her wildest dreams, the budding songstress would dream that Marilyn Monroe was her real mother. Once she achieved success, Harry made these dreams a reality, even if in a small way. She bought one of the dresses Monroe wore in The Seven-Year Itch.
6. Picture This
One night, Harry returned home and found a terrifying site. Her apartment had burned down. In the rubble, Harry did what all reasonable people would do. She famously put on the treasured Marilyn Monroe dress and decided to have a photoshoot. Posing in the blackened husk of her ruined kitchen, Blondie’s totally normal response to a house fire proves that rock stars are just like us.
7. MC Debbie?
Did you know that Debbie Harry was the first “rapper” to have a #1 single? Blondie befriended a number of early hip-hop pioneers, including Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, through the New York club scene. Harry wrote the song “Rapture” as a tribute to the exciting new style, explicitly mentioning Flash and Freddy in the song.
8. From Cheerleader to Punk
Harry may have become a punk rock icon as an adult, but back in high school, she sported a very different look. She was the picture of the all-American high school girl, even performing as a cheerleader and singing in her church choir! Funnily enough, both singing and cheerleading made Harry incredibly anxious—she didn’t think she was any good at either.
9. Harry and Hefner
After graduating from New Jersey’s Centenary College in 1965, Harry moved to New York City where she worked a succession of jobs. She was a secretary at the BBC’s New York office and a server at Max’s Kansas City, before becoming, of all things, a Bunny at the Playboy Club.
10. Gone with the Wind
Around this time, Harry finally started pursuing her musical passions, but it still took her a while to find her niche. Her first band was, perhaps surprisingly, a folk group called The Wind in the Willows. Named for the classic children’s book, the band had a soft and mellow sound. The group recorded one album for Capital Records before going their separate ways. For Harry, that meant bigger and brighter things.
11. The Truth Comes to Light
This one blew my mind. Debbie Harry is actually a natural redhead. She started bleaching her hair as a teenager and never stopped.
12. Going Their Own Way
Harry went on to join a rock n’ roll band named the Stilettos, where she met someone who would change her life. The young singer quickly began dating the band’s guitarist, Chris Stein. When the Stilettos broke up, Harry and Stein decided to put together their own band. They recruited a drummer named Clem Burke and a bassist named Gary Valentine, and the rest was history.
13. Going KooKoo
In 1981, Debbie Harry released her first solo album, KooKoo, which sold more than 500,000 copies. Featuring cover art by HR Giger (the guy who designed the creepy af aliens in the Alien franchise), KooKoo quickly became a controversial record. The cover depicted Harry’s face skewered with pins and proved too shocking for the London Underground. They refused to allow Harry’s record label to put up posters.
14. Hey Punk
Blondie soon became a popular act on the New York punk and new wave circuit, playing at clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City alongside groups like the Voidoids, Television, and Talking Heads. In one of those “God, I wish I could have been at that show” moments, The Ramones landed their first show by opening for Blondie (still called Angel and the Snake). But it wasn’t all glamour…
15. Internalized Misogyny?
Harry didn’t not get along with everyone in the scene. Even though they were some of the only women in punk at the time, Harry and Patti Smith were not on friendly terms. Patti Smith even dealt Harry a cold-hearted betrayal. The rival songstress attempted to poach members of Blondie for her own band. According to Harry, Smith told her that “there wasn’t room enough for two women in CBGB’s.”
16. Over Down Under
Despite being charter members in New York’s seminal punk and new wave scene, Blondie’s first commercial success came in Australia–and almost entirely by accident. A local music video show played their video for “In the Flesh,” the B-side to the actual single “X-Offender.” The song ended up reaching #2 on the Australian charts, and helped Blondie gain in audience in the UK, as well.
17. Breaking Hearts
Blondie finally scored a hit stateside with “Heart of Glass.” The song shot to #1 on the US charts, but it quickly plunged the band into controversy. The song’s disco-influenced sound caused some of their punk fans to accuse them of selling out.
18. Home Shopping Network
The video for “Heart of Glass” features Harry wearing a dress by designer Stephen Sprouse (no relation to Cole and Dylan). Most of Harry’s stage outfits in the 70s and 80s were made by Sprouse. The duo didn’t meet at a fancy gala or cocktail bar. Sprouse was just Harry’s downstairs neighbour. D’aww.
19. Killer Instincts
For a time, Harry believed she had had a run-in with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. While hitchhiking, Harry was picked up by a man who bore a vague resemblance to Bundy. Once she was in the car, Harry realized that the latches and window rollers had all been removed. The man started driving erratically, but Harry managed to escape by slipping her arm through the open window and opening the door from the outside.
It was a scary situation, for sure, but Harry now acknowledges it wasn’t Bundy: he’d never been to New York.
20. Call It a Hit
In 1980, Blondie scored a massive hit with “Call Me.” Originally written by Italian disco auteur Giorgio Moroder for Stevie Nicks, Blondie’s version of the song stayed at #1 for 6 weeks and was nominated for both a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Despite being their biggest hit, “Call Me” does not actually appear on any of Blondie’s studio albums. The song is from the American Gigolo soundtrack.
21. Pop Music
Harry was a friend and occasional collaborator of pop art icon Andy Warhol. Warhol painted a series of portraits of Harry. In return, she appeared as a guest on the very first episode of Warhol’s short-lived MTV series Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.
22. Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty Is a Banger
Harry’s biggest solo hit, “French Kissin’ in the USA,” was written by someone…unexpected: Chuck Lorre. Lorre is better known as the creator of the Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Guess he’s a double threat?
23. Hollywood Blonde
In addition to embarking on a solo career, Harry also decided to tackle the silver screen. To date she has more than 60 credits to her name, most notably as Nicki Brand in David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome.
24. Replicant Replacement
Harry was the first choice for the role of Pris in the 1982 sci-fi picture Blade Runner. The producers reconsidered, however, and gave the part to Daryl Hannah.
25. Blonde, James Blonde
Truly a sign that you have hit the big time, Blondie was invited to write the theme song for a James Bond movie. The band’s song, “For Your Eyes Only” (also the title of the spy flick) was rejected in favor of one by Sheena Easton—also creatively titled “For Your Eyes Only.” Blondie’s Bond song appeared on the group’s 1982 record, The Hunter. It’s pretty good!
26. Off Broadway
In 1983, Harry took a chance and appeared alongside iconic comedian Andy Kaufman in a Broadway play. It was called Teaneck Tanzi and man oh man, it was a disaster. The show closed after just one performance.
27. Push the Button
Harry and Stein originally called their band Angel and the Snake, but changed it to Blondie. The group was inspired by all the catcalls that their lead singer Harry would receive as she traipsed around the big apple. Their name change, however, came back to bite them. Many people began to assume Harry was a solo act named Blondie.
Frustrated, the band started an awareness campaign in 1979 to address the issue. They sold accurate, if uninspiring, merchandise that read “Blondie is a Group.”
28. Will Anything Happen?
After nearly twenty years together, Stein and Harry made a devastating decision. The longtime couple, who had seen each other through thick and thin, went their separate ways in 1989. The reasons for the breakup were utterly heartbreaking. Aside from his illness, Stein also had mounting drug problems and money troubles. In the end, it was just too much. On the bright side, the ex couple are still friends. They even continued to collaborate on Harry’s solo albums.
29. Dumb Blonde Begone
Harry describes her persona as Blondie’s eponymous Blondie in a pretty brilliant way. She says that she thought of her alter ego as “a woman playing a man’s idea of a woman.” Harry decided to riff on the idea of “an inflatable doll” by pairing it “with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up yet I was very serious.”
30. Exits and Entrances
After a whopping 15 years apart, the classic lineup of Blondie delighted fans by reuniting in 1997. They began working on the group’s seventh studio album, No Exit. It was a commercial and critical success, with the lead single “Maria” reaching #1 in the UK. Harry, 53 at the time, set a record for oldest female vocalist to have a #1 single in the UK. She only just beat Cher.
31. Their Bark is Worse than Their Bite
One persistent urban legend states that the Blondie band was named for Hitler’s dog, a German shepherd named Blondi. The band all denies this, of course, but poked fun at the rumor in 1997. They recorded a song for an Iggy Pop tribute album. Instead of going by “Blondie,” they recorded under the name “Adolph’s Dog.”
32. Highway Robbery
Harry provided the voice of the taxi controller in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
33. Cool Your Jets
Harry had a hand in the creation of a rather stimulating invention. Once, while sharing a hot tub with magician Penn Jillette, Harry suggested there must be a way to configure the jets in a hot tub to make the experience a bit more…um…exciting for female bathers. Jillette set to work immediately, and in 1999 he was granted a patent for his “Jill-jet,” a “hydrotherapeutic stimulator.”
34. Washed Up
Bathing seems to be a particular passion of Harry’s. In 1979, she appeared on the cover of a “gourmet bathing” magazine called Wet.
35. Mental Math
Famous people are weird and Debbie Harry is no different. The singer claims to experience eerie psychic episodes. The first, she says, came as a child, when several voices appeared in her head. They described complex mathematical information.
36. Act Your Age
Not only can Harry still rack up the hits, she looks great for her age. In 2012, a group of photographers took her picture in New York, believing her to be Lindsay Lohan. Harry was 66 at the time, Lohan just 25.
37. Keeping Active
Now 74, Debbie Harry is still going strong as both a solo artist and a member of Blondie. Though it’s been more than a decade since Harry’s most recent solo record, 2007’s Necessary Evil, Blondie has released three albums since 2011.
38. With a Little Help from My Friends
Blondie’s most recent album, 2017’s Pollinator, saw the band collaborating with Charlie XCX, Sia, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, and Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr. The album’s lead off single, “Fun,” hit #1 on the US dance charts, the band’s first #1 single since a 1995 remix of “Atomic” topped the charts.
39. Ripped to Shreds
In the 80s, Harry learned that even though she should be on top of the punk rock world, she was actually at the bottom. The superstar was officially bankrupt. Harry’s clothing, vehicles, and home were repossessed in an effort to offset her significant debt. The singer isn’t clear about exactly how this happened, but instead has claimed at different times that the band was swindled by people in the music industry and that they unknowingly racked up a huge bill of unpaid taxes.
40. Stalking Feat
The follow-up single to “Heart of Glass” was another smash hit, but it held a dark secret. “One Way or Another” was based on Harry’s own experiences with a stalker. An ex-boyfriend in New Jersey stalked Harry and even threatened her with a gun.
41. Home Invasion
In 2019, Harry revealed that she underwent an utterly horrifying encounter while in her youth. One night, a strange man walked up to her and her bandmate Stein, suddenly threatening them with a knife. The man forced himself inside the couple’s apartment and stole all their guitars. But that was just the beginning. The man then assaulted Harry in the worst way possible.
42. Plight of the Hunter
In 1982, Harry’s entire world fell to pieces. Her partner Chris Stein fell ill with an extremely rare autoimmune disease. To make matters worse, his illness coincided with the release of the band’s sixth album, The Hunter. Because bad things come in threes, of course The Hunter failed to live up to expectations. With Stein too ill to tour and Harry taking a break to look after him, the band decided that they should break up.