Without a doubt Billy Joel (1949) is one of the most successful singer-songwriters from the previous century. Hits like Piano Man and She’s Always a Woman are still played by radio stations all over the world. But the American artist also gained a reputation of a hopeless drunk, who became too lazy to bring out new tracks, crashed cars while drunk and ignored friends who told him to quit drinking. A reputation that Joel doesn’t really deserve. Yes, the ‘Piano Man’ once checked himself into rehab, but refused to completely stop drinking since he feels he’s in control. And quitters like Elton John shouldn’t bother him with their wining about total abstinence.
In a big interview with the New York Times in 2013 Joel cleared up a few things. For example, when he checked himself into rehab in 2005 after 3 car accidents in just 2 years, people assumed he was driving drunk. “But I never had a DUI in my life. Look at the police records. I went to rehab in ’05 because, when I was with Katie (ex-wife Katie Lee, MB), she said: ‘You’re drinking way too much’.”
The good thing is that Joel didn’t react in panic like so many people in Hollywood. No mumbo jumbo about a ‘disease’ he carried. He just got himself together and still enjoys drinking. “I’m not a psychoanalyst. I don’t know why I drank so much”, he looked back in his interview with The Times. “I don’t subscribe to A.A., I don’t subscribe to 12-step stuff. Sometimes I just overdid it. I started with Dewars White Label Scotch and then, when I really got heavy into it, it was vodka. Vodka is a hardcore alky drink. I could take it in shots or I could just mix it with something. I can’t even smell the stuff anymore. It makes me sick. But it wasn’t consistent, it would be periods of time, during a divorce or something. I used booze as medication.”
Joel’s practical approach towards alcohol consumption didn’t fell well with fellow artist Elton John. The Englishman gave up alcohol in the early nineties and since then started a crusade against booze among rock stars. John stated in 2012 that Joel never took rehab serious, after which Joel put him back in his place: “He doesn’t know anything about my private life. I stayed at his house once in France. He’s a very friendly, charming man, a nice fun guy, but we really never spent much time personally together. He doesn’t really know that much about me, so I let a lot of that slide.”
Joel’s attitude towards alcohol these days seems pretty healthy too. “I have a glass of wine once in a while, and I don’t hide it. I have a glass of wine with a meal. I don’t write popular music anymore because I got tired of it. I got bored with it. I wanted something more abstract, I wanted to write something other than the three-minute pop tune even though that’s an art form unto itself. For me, it was a box. I want to get out of the box. I never liked being put in a box.
So there we go, no need to worry about the Piano Man. Even though he sometimes overdid it a bit with the booze bottle, Joel produced some evergreens that will outlive him for sure. Although, a regular glass of wine is known to keep the doctors away of course.