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A life in pictures: Debbie Harry

A life in pictures: Debbie Harry

BY Anna Walker

1st Jan 2015 Celebrities

5 min read

We’re paying homage to the undisputed queen of punk with these ten photographs of the singer, actress and Blondie frontwoman: the iconic Debbie Harry

1. Debbie in the 1950s

A young Debbie Harry smiles at the camera
Deborah Ann Harry was adopted by New Jersey shop owners Catherine and Richard Harry when she was just three months old. Her childhood was spent daydreaming that Marilyn Monroe was her real mother, experimenting with violet hair, longing to be famous and “digging in my sand pile".
She learned that she was adopted when she was four years old. “They explained it to me in a really nice way,” Harry told The Independent. “It made me feel quite special somehow. I sometimes attribute my, uh, adventurous nature to that… I have an open mind about things.”
Speaking to MOJO in 2014, Harry revealed that she sometimes clashed with her adoptive parents. “I was determined to be an artist. And of course they weren’t artists and the whole idea was barbaric. My mother came from a family that thought artists were the slime of the earth. I think it was frightening for them, because of course they were trying to protect me.”

2. Debbie the playmate

Debbie Harry is dressed as a Playboy bunny and looking at the camera. She has long brown hair
Harry worked as a Playboy bunny (sans her iconic blonde hair) for nine months in 1969 following a waitressing stint at infamous Punk venue Max’s Kansas City. Having spent a large part of this time taking drugs and partying, the singer headed back to her parents house to clean herself up. When she re-emerged she was fronting her first girl band, The Stilettoes. 

3. With The Stillettoes

Harry described The Stilettoes as “a mix of Shangri Las/Supremes type trio, doing a mixture of raunchy music. We had a lot of fun but we weren’t too musical. Three girls trying to get along together is pretty hard… I wanted to do my own thing and left.”
It was at a Stilettoes gig that Harry first met Chris Stein. The son of two political activists from Brooklyn, he was first to become her friend, then her lover and then her lifelong creative partner.
The couple formed their first band, named Angel and Snake, but soon rechristened themselves as Harry tired of truck drivers shouting “hey Blondie” at her in the street. Blondie’s eponymous debut album was released in 1976.
When they first met, Harry remembers Stein as: “pretty much like he is now. Fun and interesting and cute. And we just had a good time together. Our personalities blend—we spark off each other.” 

4. Shooting album art for Parallel Lines

The band Blondie stand in a studio; the male members are wearing black-tie suits while Debbie Harry wears a white dress
The band’s third album, Parallel Lines, was their first commercial success, and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Despite being given six months to record the album by co-founder of Chrysalis Records Terry Ellis, the band had wrapped in just six weeks. Speaking to The Guardian in 2002, Harry said Blondie “was never that thought out. We more or less just did what we felt, and stuck to what we were good at. It was kind of effortless.”

5. Backstage with David Bowie and Iggy Pop

Black and white photo of Debbie Harry and David Bowie smiling for the camera
Debbie Harry and David Bowie are photographed here. They both spent plenty of time together at Iggy Pop’s "The Idiot World Tour", where Bowie was playing keyboard and singing backing vocals. Blondie supported the US and Canadian leg of the tour.
Speaking about that time, Iggy Pop recalls; “Debbie was an American ponytail girl as seen through the lens of Roger Vadim; Barbarella on speed or something like that. Bowie and I both tried to hit on her backstage. We didn’t get anywhere but she was always smooth about that. It was always, ‘Hey, well maybe another time when Chris isn’t around’. Always very cool about it.”

6. Debbie Harry on stage in 1977

Debbie Harry on stage, holding a microphone. She is wearing gold trousers and a white top
Debbie Harry is without question a style icon, breaking the mould of how female singers were supposed to look and dress. With platinum blonde hair, red lips and cut-glass cheekbones she was the unrivalled first lady of punk and defined the tough New York look.
Harry describes her trailblazing style as cobbled together from comic books and Hollywood films, mixed in with English punk influences and the harsher, tough inspiration of the New York scene. 
"It wasn’t an original idea of mine, you know. I took it from Hollywood and just put it in front of a band  "

7. A spot of home cooking

Debbie Harry wears a long blue dress and holds a pan which is on fire in an apartment kitchen
Between the years of 1983 and 1985, Chris became dangerously ill with pemphigus, an often-fatal genetic skin disease. Harry almost entirely disappeared from the spotlight to nurse him back to health. He survived the trauma, but soon afterwards their relationship dissolved.
“It didn’t seem like a sacrifice at all,” she explains, “because our careers were so entwined, so enmeshed. We had always worked as a team. And being sick on your own is no fun.”
The pair are still close, and reformed their professional partnership in the late nineties. “The reason we were successful as partners when we were together in a couple is the same reason that we’re successful as partners when we’re not a couple. We love and respect each other. And we like each other. As regards to Blondie, we have a co-dependence.” 

8. Riot Grrrl

Chris Stein, Debbie Harry and Tommy Kessler on stage; Chris is wearing all black and playing guitar, Debbie is singing in a gold coat, and Tommy is playing guitar in a blue denim vest and jeans
Acutely aware of her iconic status, Debbie Harry has always been an advocate for women’s empowerment. Asked whether she considered herself a feminist, she famously replied, “How can one be a woman and not be a feminist? That’s my question.”
When it comes to the music industry, Harry’s opinion is pretty frank. “The only place for rock to go is toward more girl stars. There’s nothing left for men to do. There’s bound to be more male stars, but they can’t express anything new.”

9. Filming Hairspray

Debbie Harry has highly-coiffed hair and wears pink as Velma Von Tussle, alongside Colleen Fitzpatrick as Amber Von Tussle
As a girl, Harry longed to become a famous actress, and she’s certainly seen this dream realised, having starred in over 30 film roles. Her impressive film resume includes appearances in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Forever Lulu and Roadie. She’s pictured above starring in the John Waters musical Hairspray where she played pushy stage parent Velma Von Tussle. 

10. Debbie Harry performing in 2017

Debbie Harry wearing a red dress onstage, pointing her microphone to the crowd
Unfortunately, a great deal of tabloid press coverage of Harry’s still-prosperous career insists on reporting on her as a sex symbol in decline. Interviewed by Kirsty Young for her fascinating episode of "Desert Island Discs", Harry admitted that she has struggled with the ageing process, and the media’s harsh spotlight.
“It’s hard. Regardless of what I say about trying to be better at what I do, I rely on looks a lot. Women’s calling cards, unfortunately, are based on their looks. As far as ageing goes, it’s rough. I’m trying my best now. I’m healthy and I exercise like a fiend and do all that stuff that recovered drug addicts do.”
Still performing, Debbie Harry refuses to retire or to let go of her relentless urge to create. “I’m amazed by ageing and how it happens differently for different people. All I can say is I’m a lucky f****** bitch!” Amen to that.
Banner photo: Debbie Harry in Blondie in 1977 (credit: Private Stock Records (Wikimedia Commons))
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