The Sun


Monday 24th November 1986

Interview: Martin Dunn UK newspaper

AFTER four years in the wilderness, Debbie Harry is on the comeback trail with a vengeance. At the beginning of the Eighties, she was regarded as one of the most desirable women in rock – her Marilyn Monroe looks appeared on magazine covers around the world. Then her lover, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, fell critically ill with a horrifying illness. Debbie, 42, lost the face and figure that had been her fortune, and her career seemed in tatters. Now she is back on track with her great new single, French Kissin’ In The USA in the charts and an album, Rockbird, out at the end of this month. At her New York home, Debbie opened her heart.
Q – What have the past few years been like for you, Debbie?
A – It has been a sad, unhappy and scary period. Chris falling ill like that was nightmarish. In fact, the whole time has been nightmarish – but I’ve come through.
Q – So tell me what exactly happened with Chris?
A – He fell ill back in 1982, when we were touring with Blondie. At first we thought it was asthma. But after 10 days of tests, they finally discovered what it was – a disease called pemphigus. It’s a really rare disease, but apparently it had been in his body for years, then all of a sudden took hold. For six months he couldn’t eat. Then his skin went.
Q – What do you mean when you say his skin went?
A – It lost all its oils, and then looked all rocky. He was told that 10 or 15 years ago, he would have died because of all the infections you can get caused by the disease. Your skin opens up, and your immune system goes completely. So then you catch everything. But they built him up on steroids, and he came through.
Q – What was that time like for you when Chris was ill?
A – Chris couldn’t eat anything. I had to make soup out of everything for him, so he could take it. It was a very trying time for both of us. And they had to monitor his blood all the time. Apparently this disease is associated with stress, and Chris wasn’t handling stress very well. When he first fell ill, we were on the road, but he was out of it, he didn’t know who people were. He didn’t even know where we lived.
Q – But you put your career on hold while Chris was ill?
A – Of course I did. We had been working and living together for 11 years. I couldn’t leave. When someone you love gets that sick, you can’t just go and carry on with your job. It would be ridiculous. I was scared to death of losing him.
Q – Did you get a lot of support and backing from your fans?
A – It was unbelievable. We got tons of nice letters – really great letters. Nobody said anything rotten, everybody was really nice. I’ve saved every one of them.
Q – But it was hard actually coming back into the world and facing people again?
A – Well, I started practising for a few months. I just went into large groups of people without actually saying who I was. When I actually went out to a party thrown for me at the Palladium in New York, I felt fantastic. It was one of the most exciting nights of my life. But then, around Manhattan, people see you all the time on the streets and in the stores – it’s not such a big deal.
Q – What have the experiences all meant to you?
A – I suppose if any good came out of it all, it was that I became a lot stronger. I knew I could survive without Chris. He had always handled the business side of things before, but when he was ill he couldn’t. I suddenly had to learn how to keep on top of things.
Q – What about getting back into music?
A – It was wonderful working with Jellybean Benitez – he’s the guy who used to produce Madonna. He’s a nice guy, really talented. I liked writing with Jellybean. It was a real turn-on for me, after not writing for a while. I’ve always enjoyed writing with the guys, I did loads of stuff with the guys in Blondie. I think that everybody will say that the record sounds a little like the ones I used to do with Blondie – but a little more experimental.
Q – Was there ever any time you thought you might not make it back?
A – No. I always thought I’d be around again. And now I feel I can’t wait to perform again. I know I can do better than I ever have. I feel tremendous with myself. I really missed work when I wasn’t doing it. Now I think I am going to appreciate it a lot more.
Q – You look great. How have you got back into shape?
A – I didn’t work out. I think I just worked off the weight I had put on. I know I should probably work out, but I was too busy working. And I never sit in the sun. I don’t tan very well, so I stay out of the sun. If I go into the sun, I just turn red.
Q – So how does Debbie Harry unwind when she’s not working?
A – Chris and I have a lot of friends we haven’t really been able to see because of what happened to him. But we do other things outside music, like watching TV and going to the movies.
Q – What about Madonna? She seems to be following in your footsteps.
A – You’ve got to say she handles her success really well. I love her voice, and I think she is a phenomenon. I’ve never met her, although I’d like to. I used to get jealous of any rivals, but then I realised it’s a real waste of time. But I am very competitive, and can’t wait to get back into the fray.
Q – Are you going to go back into movies?
A – I’ve got a few little projects going. I’ve got a part in a TV show, and a small part in a new film called Forever Lulu. I get lots of offers to go back into films. I talk to a lot of film people all the time about parts, and I’m still very interested in acting. I want to do more films. I like acting.
Q – Have you got any marriage plans for now or in the future?
A – I think I’m not really suited to marriage. I’m too independent. Several times Chris and I were going to get married, but we just never did. Maybe we would if I had children, but having children can really change your life. However, I haven’t cancelled out the idea completely.
Q – So what about the comeback, and have you missed being away from the rock scene?
A – People say we’ve been making a successful comeback, but I don’t even think it is. We just had an extended holiday. I never took a holiday before. But I want to have more fun this time around. Things got very heavy the last time. I want things to be lighter this time. I can’t say I’ve missed the limelight, but I’m glad to be back.

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