Everyone loves a musician who can act, but what about an actor who can play music? The history of Hollywood stars taking a stab at musical careers is lined with ambitious flops. Here are 15 actors who never quite made it as popular, mainstream musical talents.
While Depp never seemed to go after rock star status the way many of the personalities on this list did, he did count himself as apart of the alternative rock super group known as P. The Pirates of the Caribbean actor joined the Butthole Sufers’ Bill Carter, songwriter Gibby Haynes, and fellow 21 Jump Street alum Sal Jenco. The band’s self-titled debut was released in 1995 and though it could hardly be called a Billboard smasher, it managed to do well enough to garner a re-release in 2007.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
The I Know What You Did Last Summer star took a stab at an early as a pop star in 1992 with Love Songs, an album that was only released in Japan. Her follow-up, Let’s Go Bang, failed to top charts in 1995 and its follow-up, the self titled Jennifer Love Hewitt, did so poorly she was dropped from Atlantic Records. Her career seemed to pick up with the single, “How Do I Deal”, a modestly successful song from the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack. A 2002 follow-up single, “BareNaked”, was her biggest radio hit, but both failed to cement her singing stardom stateside. To date, she seems to have left singing and songwriting behind her in favor of acting.
Jada Pinkett Smith
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With all her achievements in acting, it’s easy to forget Jada Pinkett Smith also fronts the heavy metal band Wicked Wisdom. Pinkett provides lead vocals for the band, which has released three albums to date and has a fourth on the way. While the Wicked Wisdom has never garnered much mainstream attention, the group was successful enough to earn a spot touring with Ozzfest in 2005.
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Scarlett Johansson pursued the dual life of a Hollywood actress and indie rocker in 2008 when she released the album Anywhere I Lay My Head. Consisting mostly of Tom Waits covers, the disc got mixed reviews and debuted at No. 126 on the Billboard Top 200. Johannson has since merely dabbled in music, earning a spot on the He’s Just Not That Into You soundtrack but nothing much else of note.
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The Oscar-nominated Howard took a step into the musical world in 2008 with his album Shine Through It. Described by Howard as a sort of urban-country fusion, the album was mostly panned by critics and ignored by fans. As it stands, Shine Through It is little more than a note on the side of Howard’s acting resume.
If you take his contributions to the Grease soundtrack out of the equation, John Travolta’s music career is largely lackluster when compared to his movie career. Still, he got farther into mainstream acceptance than most on this list, as his single “Let Her In” made it to No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1976. Though Two of a Kind would later make it to No. 26 (following the success of Grease), his follow-up, The Road To Freedom, seemed to signify the end of his pop star status. He would later return to singing in the 2007 musical Hairspray and would collaborate with Miley Cyrus on “I Thought I Lost You” for the Bolt soundtrack in 2008.
During the ’90s, the Baywatch-star’s musical career was the butt of a long-running joke from Norm MacDonald during his stint as Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update anchor. The crux of the joke being, of course, about how much Germans love David Hasselhoff. The actor’s 1989 album Looking For Freedom did debut at No. 1 on German charts, but it seems that at one point or another much of the world loved Hasselhoff’s music. The actor/sing managed to make significant dents on Australian, Swiss, and German charts. However, in North America his musical career is less than respected, still haunted (or perhaps celebrated) by the memorable SNL-joke.
Star Trek‘s (original) Captain Kirk made his musical debut in 1968 with The Transformed Man, an album featuring the lyrics to such classic songs as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” spoken in deadpan fashion by the actor. It is probably the most poorly reviewed work to earn mention on this list. A 2004 follow-up produced by Ben Folds, Has Been, marked a far superior, largely well reviewed turnaround, making it to No. 22 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers. His third, Seeking Major Tom, made it to No. 1 on the list. Nevertheless, The Transformed Man remains his most iconic so-bad-it’s-good work, rendering Shatner’s musical career strictly for hardcore fans and audiophiles only.
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Eddie Murphy ruled the box office in the ’80s and ’90s and, at one time, almost rules Billboard charts. His Rick James-produced single “Party All The Time” made it to No. 2 on the singles chart, though the album, How Could It Be, only made it to No. 26. Murphy’s follow-up single, “Put Your Mouth On Me” never made it past No. 27. Things got worse from there, as “Whazupwitu” (from his 1993 album Love’s Alright) didn’t make it into the charts at all despite featuring the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Since then, Murphy has stuck mostly with his acting career, parlaying his musical talents into the hit musical adaptation Dream Girls in 2007.
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One-time action movie superstar Steven Seagal has become the butt of many jokes since his decline into the world of straight-to-video releases and reality shows. Among music fans, however, Seagal’s career as a blues guitarist has managed to garner most of the yucks. His 2005 blues/world fusion album Songs From The Crystal Cave was never released in America, but became fodder for a few Conan O’Brien bits. His follow-up, 2006’s Mojo Priest, did make it to the U.S. and was accompanied by North American tour. Regardless, Seagal’s music, much like his later films, remain elusive to all but the most devoted “Seagal-ogists” of the world.
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While it’s a little early to tell if Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane will make a quadruple threat actor-writer-producer-singer, his 2011 album Music Is Better Than Words failed to make it past No. 111 on the Billboard charts. With MacFarlane’s prolific film and television 0p-output, it may be best to think of his musical forays as little more than a hobby for a comedic superstar at the top of his game.
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Though Kevin Bacon may be in enough films to garner his own trivia game (“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”), few movie fans know of his musical side project, The Bacon Brothers. The country/folk rock group of Kevin and brother Michael originally formed to perform for a charity event but kept on going. Though the band’s achievements are still pretty small in comparison to Kevin’s filmography, they’ve seemed maintained a strong enough following to release six albums to date.
Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges may be an exception on this list– an actor moving up in the music world. Bridges 2000 album “Be Here Soon” was largely ignored. However, following the massive success Crazy Heart, Bridges managed to distinguish himself with the self-titled Jeff Bridges. Released in 2010, the album made it to No. 10 on the Billboard Country Charts and No. 25 on the Top 100. In must be noted that the album garnered mixed reviews in comparison to Crazy Heart, making any folk/rock star success from the Oscar winner a bit hard to gauge.
Photo: Larry Burton Photo
Dogstar is best known for having Keanu Reeves as its founding bassist and backing vocals. The alternative group’s first album, Our Little Visionary, was released exclusively in Japan in 1996. From there, the group managed to get a cult following and score some substantial opening gigs for bands like Rancid, Weezer, and Bon Jovi. Reeves, however, was forced to leave the group in 2000. Dogstar bowed out with the album Our Happy Ending and the band remains largely forgotten today.
Despite his many achievements in Hollywood, The Return of Bruno must still haunt Bruce Willis to some degree. Though the soundtrack performed admirably at first (with the single “Respect Yourself” hitting No. 5 on the Top 100), it failed to have the legs hype predicted. Follow-up singles “Young Blood” and “Under The Board Walk” didn’t even make it into the Top 50. Now, the album is mostly regarded in pop-culture terms as a novelty byproduct of Moonlighting‘s popularity. Shortly thereafter Die Hard turned Willis into an action hero household name and the actor distanced himself from the music industry.