Top 10 Surprising Influences on Pop Culture Icons


Most of the time inspiration comes from the usual sources: pop stars want to be The Beatles. Actors want to be Brando. And everybody wants to be rich.

But when hardcore rappers find inspiration in middle-aged Jewish sportscasters, or punk rock icons use Shakespearean thespians as role models, things can get nutty in a hurry. Here now are ten of the nuttiest surprises in the world of artistic influence.

10. Marv Albert Inspires a Hip-Hop Legend

Public Enemy’s Chuck D has one of hip hop’s most distinctive voices — strong, unyielding, and always confrontational. And from where did Chuck get that hard, staccato delivery? Would you believe Marv Albert? Yes, sports fans, that Marv Albert.

It makes perfect sense that a young Knicks fan growing up in Queens would admire Albert’s powerful baritone. It makes less sense that “The Voice of The Knicks” would directly influence the voice of ’80s politically charged hip-hop. Things get stranger still when you consider that a rap group whose lead rapper modeled himself after a Jewish sportscaster would find themselves embroiled in a controversial accusation of antisemitism, after one of its members (“Minister of Information” Professor Griff) was quoted as saying “Jews are responsible for the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.” Griff was soon dismissed from the group, but twenty-four years later, Albert’s influence is as discernible as ever in Chuck D’s delivery.

9. Prince Channels His Inner Seger

An icon of ’70s and ’80s blue collar rock, Bob Seger’s success mystified many people — including Prince. When the Minnesota funkster wanted to know why Seger packed so many stadiums, his keyboardist Matt “Dr.” Fink told him simply that Seger was playing mainstream pop-rock. He recommended that Prince try something in a similar vein.

He did, and the result was “Purple Rain,” a searing rock anthem that served as the centerpiece for an album, a movie and a nationwide tour that elevated the five-foot-two rocker to heights that Bob Seger — and nearly everyone else — could only admire from a respectful distance.

8. Pink Floyd Found Inspiration in Blues Musicians You’ve Never Heard Of

You could win a trivia question by knowing that psychedelic rock icons Pink Floyd got their name from a pair of obscure blues masters who’d inspired them, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. But that still doesn’t answer how a group of Brits, weened on American blues and R&B, drift off into a direction as oddly unrecognizable as, well, pretty much everything they’ve ever done.

7. Johnny Rotten Receiveth the Influence of Sir Lawrence Olivier

Lawrence Olivier was a man of many accomplishments. Iconic actor, filmmaker, Oscar winner, seminal punk rocker. Okay, that last part isn’t strictly true, but Olivier was a huge influence on a young Brit who could be described as a seminal punk rocker — at least by someone comfortable using a phrase as annoyingly pretentious as “seminal punk rocker.”

When Johnny Rotten first took the stage as front man for the Sex Pistols, he sought to embody everything ugly and sinister and raw. Who better then, to model himself after than Olivier’s Oscar-nominated turn as Shakespeare’s disfigured slimeball Richard The Third? Thanks to Rotten, Olivier’s over-the-top antics — his snarl, his trilled r’s, his snotty delivery — are now as much a part of punk rock’s enduring identity as heroin and spitting.

6. Sylvester Stallone Inspires The Fonz

In retrospect, it shou have been obvious where actor Henry Winkler got the basic style that would be the blueprint for his hugely popular character “The Fonz.” The sense of unflappable cool. The thick East Coast growl. Who else could have inspired this leather-clad hoodlum than Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone?

But it wasn’t obvious at the time because, when Author Fonzarelli made his debut on Happy Days in 1974, nobody knew who Sylvester Stallone was. Nobody except Henry Winkler, who had worked with the New York-born actor in the film The Lords of Flatbush. Stallone struggled through his early years as an actor, appearing in movies that we didn’t want to see (a porno film called A Party at Kitten and Studs,) or movies we didn’t notice him in because we blinked at the wrong time (Klute, Bananas). So by the time he achieved fame with Rocky, audiences were already getting a weekly fix of Stallone’s ubercool antics, through his friend The Fonz.

5. The Godfather of Soul Cops a Lick from the Thin White Duke

In 1975 James Brown had reached his zenith in funk. He had camel-walked up the mountain and now needed inspiration to take the funk higher. So what funked-up superbad soul brother served as his muse? How about David Bowie? After all, the guitar riff that supports Brown’s song “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)” should sound familiar to anyone who’s heard Bowie’s song Fame (released earlier in the same year.)

If Brown’s act of subtle thievery (or early “sampling”) was an attempt at scoring a hit, it failed. While Bowie’s song (co-penned by Carlos Alomar and The Smart Beatle himself John Lennon) soared to the top of the pop charts, “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)” was mostly ignored, ignored, ignored.

4. David Lynch’s Muse is a Famous Napalm Victim

Filmmaker David Lynch is not known as an especially upbeat, emotionally balanced individual — at least not by anybody who’s actually seen his films. But the inspiration for the imagery most famously attributed to him is pretty weird, even for Lynch.

A memorably disturbing scene from his 1986 film Blue Velvet, featuring a nude Isabella Rossellini found naked on the protagonist’s lawn, was inspired in part by another memorably disturbing image: the infamous photograph of a young Vietnamese girl who’d been the victim of a napalm bombing. Only David Lynch could make this kind of creepiness seem downright awesome.

3. Bonnie and Clyde’s Dance of Death was Choreographed by Zapruder

Author Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde was, at the time of its 1967 release, a groundbreaking film in ways contemporary audiences may struggle to understand. Movies about murderous thugs weren’t supposed to make us feel empathy toward the thugs, but Bonnie and Clyde did so without fear. Even the film’s tagline — “They’re young, they’re in love … and they kill people” — was badass in a way mainstream studio movies weren’t previously allowed to be.

One innovation was the breathtaking demise of the characters at the film’s end. Dubbed “The Dance of Death,” our anti-heroes were sprayed with a hail of bullets in a way that was unlike anything seen in film before. Well, not exactly anyhow. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s ultra-violent finish bore a non-coincidental similarity to President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 shooting death, as captured by private citizen Abraham Zapruder.

2. The Man of Steel was Inspired by The Son of Man

Everybody’s favorite flamboyantly-clad crime fighter appears to have been given a Messiah makeover just in time for his latest reboot, Man of Steel. Some of Superman’s loyal flock have insisted that the parallels between the two holy figures have always existed. After all, both men are “saviors,” Superman’s enemy (Lex Luthor) has a name suspiciously close to the name of Jesus’s enemy (Lucifer,) and Superman’s name on Krypton was Kal-el, which is Hebrew for “voice of God.”

But Zack Snyder Man of Steel’s director admits that the latest chapter places extra emphasis on the similarities. And the film’s studio, Warner Brothers, has actively courted the Jesus-loving audience by releasing a nine-page downloadable document called “Jesus — The Original Superhero.” Let’s see The Dark Knight top that!

1. Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent Do Abbott and Costello

If you’re a movie-loving geek anywhere between the ages of twenty-five and death, you probably recall Goodfellas’s infamous “Billy Batts” scene better than you remember your own marriage vows. You may also remember that the two actors — Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent — had a memorably violent scene in 1980‘s Raging Bull. And maybe you’re also aware that Vincent would later get revenge by whacking Pesci in Casino.

But what you probably don’t remember is that Pesci and Vincent kickstarted their showbiz careers decades ago as an Abbott and Costello-like comedy duo, playing venues around Northern NJ under the name “Vincent and Pesci.” In 1975, they made it to Broadway with a show called The New Vaudevillians. It closed in a week, because it turns out they weren’t funny like a clown after all.

The world of film would be kinder to both men. With the release of 1990’s Goodfellas, the duo had come a long way from mimicking Bud and Lou. But a trace of their original badass East Coast mayhem still remained.

Other Articles you Might Like
Liked it? Take a second to support on Patreon!