Marquis Michael Philip Des Barres was born on 24. January 1948, in Sussex, UK. He was the only child of Marquis Philip Des Barres and wife Irene.
The Des Barres family had its origins in France, and the noble rank of Marquis is a heriditary title that can be traced back to 12th century France, when Guillaume Des Barres was given the title after rescuing the King of France from an enemy attack.
Michael’s parents separated shortly after he was born, and because of a difficult family situation he was raised by friends of his mother. Between the age of eight and sixteen he attended various boarding schools, including Repton.
Michael got into acting at an early age. He started out in advertising campaigns, which lead to acting jobs on televison. One of his earliest appearances was in an episode of the BBC comedy show Whack-O! in 1960.
After finishing boarding school, Michael attended the Corona Stage Academy in London for two and a half years, where he acquired a strong background in Shakespeare and classic theatre. It was during this period that he began songwriting and took up the guitar. For fun, he formed a band called The Orange Illusion together with some fellow drama school students. With Michael on vocals, the band played a few concerts at youth clubs in 1967 – 68.
Around this time, Michael guest-starred on several popular UK television shows, including Z Cars andDixon of Dock Green. He also appeared with Tony Curtis in the movie Drop Dead Darling and as one of Sidney Poitier’s students in To Sir, With Love.
After drama school, Michael appeared in several stage productions, worked as a mime and formed a “mixed media” group called The Electric Church. He also continued to appear in guest-roles on various TV-shows. Eventually he was asked by Robert Stigwood to play a role in a controversial musical called The Dirtiest Show In Town in 1971. This led to a meeting with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who offered him a contract after Michael had performed a few of his self-written songs.
He was also given the chance to sing the part of Judas on the original demo recordings of Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
Wanting to form a band, Michael put an ad in Melody Maker in early 1972 looking for musicians. “Originally it was just me. I didn’t want to be a Bowie-Bolan figure, but then I decided I wanted a ballsy rock band”, Michael said later.
Nigel Harrison and Rod Davies were accepted into the band at the first day of auditions, and were later joined by Pete Thompson and Steve Forrest (who was later replaced by Robbie Blunt).
The band was named Silverhead, and became signed to Deep Purple’s label Purple Records. They released two studio albums, Silverhead(1972) and 16 And Savaged (1973). A live album called Live at the Rainbow was also recorded in 1973 and later released in Japan.
Silverhead toured Europe, Japan and the U.S., and played support for bands like Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Uriah Heep, Kiss and Nazareth. Silverhead split in the summer of 1974, before they had finished work on their third album (working title Brutiful). This was followed by a couple of unsuccessull solo-attempts by Michael later the same year.
After relocating to Los Angeles, Michael teamed up with former Steppenwolf guitarist Michael Monarch to form the band Detective in March 1975. Other members included Tony Kaye (Yes, David Bowie) and Jon Hyde (Hocus Pocus).
Detective were signed by Led Zeppelin’s label SwanSong and released two studio albums in 1977, Detective and It Takes One To Know One.
That same year Michael also married Pamela Miller, whom he’d met while on tour with Silverhead three years earlier. Their son Nick was born the following year.
Detective split in the fall of 1978, before they had finished their third album.
In October 78, Michael appeared on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinatti – his first acting job on American TV. He played “Dog”, the vocalist in the “punk”-band “Scum of the Earth”, singing Detective songs. More guest-roles on TV followed, with appearances on The Rockford Filesand Hart to Hart.
Michael’s first solo album I’m Only Human was released in 1980, produced by the legendary Mike Chapman. Throughout the 70s Michael had been battling with drugs and alcohol, but in 1981 he stopped completely and has stayed sober ever since. He would later create the “Rock Against Drugs”-program together with his friend and manager Danny Goldberg.
In September 1982, Michael formed the band Chequered Past together with Clem Burke, Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison from Blondie and Steve Jones from Sex Pistols. Shortly after, Frank Infante left the band and was replaced by Tony Sales (Iggy Pop, Tin Machine).
The name of the band was not completely new, as Michael had already done a solo tour as “Michael Des Barres and his Chequered Past” the previous year.
Chequered Past did extensive touring in the US in the following years, and they also did support jobs for bands like Duran Duran, INXS and Little Steven. They released a self-titled album in 1984 which received good reviews, especially in Europe.
In 1983, Michael wrote and recorded the song “Obsession” together with Holly Knight, which was released without much success. But when the band Animotion covered it in 1985, it became a huge worldwide hit.
In June 1985, just after Chequered Past had split, Michael was asked to replace Robert Palmer in the band Power Station. John and Andy Taylor knew Michael from when Chequered Past had been support for Duran Duran. They were just about to start a big tour when Palmer decided to leave, and Michael had to learn all their songs in just a few days.
Power Station played almost 40 concerts on their summer tour of the US and Canada. They also performed at the historic “Live Aid”-concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia – a career highlight for Michael.
During the tour, Michael arranged for the band to appear on his friend Don Johnson’s hit TV-show Miami Vice. He also co-wrote and did the vocals on a Power Station song called “We Fight For Love”, which was included in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Commando.
1986 saw the release of Michael’s second solo album, Somebody Up There Likes Me. It featured contributions from Steve Jones, Andy Taylor and Dave Stewart (Eurythmics).
After that album, and solo concerts in support of it, Michael started focusing more on his acting career. He appeared in several movies, including Ghoulies, Nighflyers and MidnightCabaret (where he had a leading role).
One of his most famous roles was as the professional killer Murdoc on the TV-showMacGyver, where he appeared in 7 episodes from 1987 to 1991.
He also made guest-appearances on TV-shows like Sledge Hammer, J.J. Starbuck, 21 Jump Street and ALF. And in 1989 he starred opposite Clint Eastwood in the action/comedy movie, Pink Cadillac.
Throughout the 1990s, Michael continued to guest-star on a wide range of different TV-shows, including Roseanne, Seinfeld, L.A. Law,Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,Northern Exposure, Ellen, JAG and Nash Bridges.
He was also part of the main cast in season 1 ofThe New WKRP In Cincinnati, had a recurring role on Melrose Place, and did lots of voiceover work for animated shows.
During the 90s Michael didn’t focus as much on recording and performing music as earlier. But he did form the bands Vince Lightning and the Spectaculars (with Slim Jim Phantom and Jamie James) and The Usual Susspects (with Steve Jones and Mick Rossi).
He performed with these bands at various clubs in the Los Angeles area between 1996 and 2000.
In 2001 Michael formed the band Down Boy, which included Paul McCartney’s guitarist Brian Ray. He also found time to write a rock musical about the life of Marquis De Sade.
In 2002, he starred alongside Mick Jagger, Andy Garcia, Anjelica Huston and James Coburn in the critically acclaimed movie The Man From Elysian Fields. Michael received very good reviews for his role in the film, which film critic Roger Ebert named “one of the best movies of the year”.
That same year he also won the award for “best actor in a feature film” at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival, for his role in the movie Ocean Park.
Since then, he has had recurring roles on the TV-shows My Guide to Becoming a Rock Starand Four Kings, and made guest-appearances on shows like Charmed, Gilmore Girls,Frasier, JAG and Alias. He also received much attention for his role in the movie Catch That Kid and his appearance in George Hickenlooper’s documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip.
In recent years Michael has helped organize and host the annual “Don’t Knock The Rock” film festival. He has also written several original screenplays and held a writing course at Santa Barbara University.
In 2006 he formed Michael Des Barres and Free Love Foundation, a 12-piece soul rock band that performed in the Los Angeles area and received a lot of attention.
His portrayal of a plastic surgery addict on the hit show Nip/Tuck in 2007 caused TV Guide’s reviewer to remark that he “did a fabulous job”.
The following year he once again teamed up with old songwriting partner Holly Knight. He also formed the all-star band Crash! Boom! Bang! and worked on the techno project Zodiax.
Michael and Pamela Des Barres divorced in 1991, but remain close friends. Pamela was a member of Frank Zappa’s all-girl group The GTOs and is famous for her groupie adventures in the 60s and 70s. She has written several critically acclaimed books, including the memoirsI’m with the Band (1987) and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up(1993). Michael and Pamela have recently been working on turning I’m with the Band into a TV-series. The project is currently in development.
In 2010 Michael spent time in Austin, Texas, working on new songs together with songwriter/producer Jesse Dayton.
This was followed by the formation of The Michael Des Barres Band in 2011. “I’m playing all these new songs evoking the musical world I grew up in… A world of blues-based dandies: The Faces, Free, Humble Pie…“, Michael says.
The band’s first album is calledCarnaby Street and was released in July 2012, to outstanding reviews.
He also recently reunited with the members of Silverhead. In April 2012 they played their first concerts together in 38 years, in Tokyo, Japan.
Although Michael’s main focus has been on music in recent years, he also continues to act. In 2010/2011 he did a Nikon commercial with Ashton Kutcher, an interactive Rihanna video and appeared in the music video for the Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera hit song “Moves Like Jagger”. All these projects were made by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund.
On television he appeared in an episode of Bones in 2010 and as the assassin Icepick onThe Finder in 2012. He also appears in the acclaimed 2012 movie California Solo with Robert Carlyle.
In 2011 Michael received the Legends Award at the AOF International Film Festival, for his achievements throughout a long acting career.