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Meat Loaf — Heaven will be rockin'

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Meat Loaf's death has prompted a flood of tributes (Screenshot via YouTube)

Marvin Lee Aday, better known as the musical sensation Meat Loaf, has passed away of unknown causes, surrounded by family and friends. He was 74.

The man who was one of the best-selling musical artists of all time with worldwide sales of more than 80 million records was born on 27 September 1947, in Dallas, Texas.

He was the only child of a school teacher and a former police officer and army veteran who became a raging alcoholic in later life. Meat Loaf’s father went on phenomenal drinking binges and would remain drunk for days at a time. He and his mother would drive around to various dive bars in Dallas, trying to rescue him from calamity.

Over the ensuing years, Meat Loaf took solace in drama lessons and appeared in many school plays until the death of his mother. Upon receiving an inheritance from her death, he holed up in an apartment in Dallas for several months and eventually bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles.

Meat Loaf soon formed a band called Meat Loaf Soul, after a nickname coined by a football coach because of his weight. His band supported many of the great acts of the late 1960s, including Them, The Who, Iggy & the Stooges, MC5 and Grateful Dead.

Meat Loaf loved combining stagecraft with music and once cleared out an auditorium with a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s 'Smokestack Lightning', during which a hired smoke machine malfunctioned and sent punters howling towards the exits.

After joining the Los Angeles crew of the rock musical Hair, Meat Loaf despaired because the rock press at the time did not take him seriously. He famously said that he felt like a "circus clown”.

In late 1973, Meat Loaf was cast in the relatively small but very showy role of "Eddie” in The Rocky Horror Show. At the same time, he collaborated with music genius Jim Steinman on a trilogy of albums called the Bat Out of Hell series.

The actor John Belushi, a close friend of Meat Loaf’s since his early days in LA, hired him as an understudy in a show called National Lampoons Television: Lemmings Dead in Concert. During this production, Meat Loaf met and collaborated with Ellen Foley, who sang on one of Meat Loaf’s early hits, 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light'.

This was swiftly followed by 'Bat Out of Hell', which became Meat Loaf’s signature track. Because the song didn’t meet with current musical industry standards, Meat Loaf fought for airplay but had a saviour in Todd Rundgren, an avant-garde American musician who promoted and produced his music.

Meat Loaf and Steinman formed a band called The Neverland Express and scored a gig supporting Cheap Trick, which led to an appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1978.

Guest host Christopher Lee famously said:

“And now ladies and gentlemen I would like you to meet Loaf. I beg your pardon, what? [he listens to the director’s aside] Oh! Why… why I’m sorry, yes, of course… ah… Ladies and gentlemen, Meat Loaf!”

Bat Out of Hell ended up selling 43 million copies worldwide, 15 million of which were in the United States.

Unfortunately, Meat Loaf and Steinman had a major falling out over two songs that Steinman attempted to give to Meat Loaf. Steinman claimed he was never paid. They were 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' – which later became a major hit for Bonnie Tyler – and 'Making Love Out of Nothing at All', which became a hit for the Australian band Air Supply. The two men remained estranged over “creative differences”.

In 1975, Meat Loaf returned to acting in the film version of the Rocky Horror musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where he reprised his role as Eddie, starring alongside Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon.

While commercial success eluded Meat Loaf in later years, he kept a reasonably high profile by making guest appearances in the hit movie Fight Club and television shows such as Glee and South Park. He also hit the nostalgia circuit and did well with later hits like 'I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)', which charted in 1993.

Meat Loaf’s death prompted a flood of tributes.

Bonnie Tyler said:

'He was, as you might imagine, a larger-than-life character with a voice and stage presence to match... one of those rare people who truly was a one-off talent and personality.'

Australian comedian Adam Hills, who hosted Meat Loaf on the music show Spicks and Specks, wrote:

'He virtually came straight to the show from the airport, was jetlagged and nailed it. When I asked why he never collected his Grammy Award, he replied "cos I wanted to win an Oscar first".'

Award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted:

'The vaults of heaven will be ringing with rock.'

Jenny LeComte is a Canberra-based journalist and freelance writer.

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