Ready for Their Closeup

Aimee Mann’s involvement in TV and film runs deep. Known for playing herself on “Portlandia” and creating the soundtrack for “Magnolia,” her acting breakthrough came while portraying a toe-sacrificing, lingonberry-pancake-eating nihilist in “The Big Lebowski.” Here’s a look at 20 other famous musicians with movie cameos — and the films themselves.

Jack White, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007):

Jack White, who anonymously purchased Elvis Presley’s first recording for $300,000 at a 2015 auction, showed his love for the King years earlier on screen. In keeping with the film’s tongue-in-cheek spirit, he plays Presely with a mix of parody and fun

Keith Richards, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007):

In what might be the most meta musician cameo in history, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards portrays the father of Captain Jack Sparrow — a.k.a. Johnny Depp’s character, largely inspired by Richards himself — in the third installment of the “Pirates” franchise.

Gwen Stefani, “The Aviator” (2004):

Gwen Stefani’s film debut owes to happenstance. After Martin Scorsese saw her Herb Ritts-shot photo adorned on a bus shelter in New York, the director tagged the No Doubt vocalist for the role of Hollywood actress and platinum-blonde starlet Jean Harlow.

Michael Jackson, “Men in Black II” (2002)

Though he reportedly declined a chance to be in the original “Men in Black,” the King of Pop reversed course after watching it and phoned director Barry Sonnenfeld to request a cameo in the sequel. His brief turn as Agent M marks his second (and final) film appearance.

David Bowie, “Zoolander” (2001):

For all the star power in “Zoolander,” David Bowie’s cameo as the judge of the climactic “walk off” dwarfs everything that comes before. So much so that director-actor Ben Stiller realized he could never replicate the moment and decided against asking the singer to return for the sequel.

Bruce Springsteen, “High Fidelity” (2000):

Seemingly poking fun at his own seriousness, the Boss pops up as a voice of subconscious reason in “High Fidelity.” He’s a sounding board for John Cusack, whose insecure character imagines the experience of reconnecting with his exes as something “like a Bruce Springsteen song.”

Alanis Morissette, “Dogma” (1999):

Step aside, George Burns. At the height of her popularity, singer Alanis Morissette scored the ultimate power role — God! — in Kevin Smith’s fantasy-comedy. She speaks only with her eyes, and a knowing smile that suggests she relished every moment on set.

Flea, “The Big Lebowski” (1998):

Aimee Mann isn’t the only musician in the Coen brothers’  cult classic. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea plays a fellow nihilist, Kieffer, a hilarious part that requires the Australian-born musician to take a hurled bowling ball to the chest. Ouch!

Billy Idol, “The Wedding Singer” (1998):

Playing himself, or at least a vision of himself, circa ‘83 — complete with trademark leather jacket, metal-studded wristbands, spiked yellow hair and taunting sneer — Billy Idol serves as Adam Sandler’s in-flight protector in the cult-favorite comedy.

Tom Petty, “The Postman” (1997):

Tom Petty’s understated modesty, deadpan tone and shy smile made him ideal for acting. In Kevin Costner’s otherwise forgettable dystopian action-adventure, the singer-guitarist plays a mayor whose initial exchange with Costner puts into perspective his real-life feelings on fame.

Tom Jones, “Mars Attacks!” (1996):

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but R.E.M. isn’t the house band. Enter Tom Jones and “It’s Not Unusual.” The Welsh lounge-pop crooner treats his cameo in Tim Burton’s science-fiction spoof with all the glitz, glamour and cheesiness it warrants.

Lemmy Kilmister, “Airheads” (1994):

Lemmy as a former school magazine editor? In “Airheads,” the Motorhead leader emerges as a regular member of a crowd who joins others in admitting to their geeky past. It serves as a well-placed in-joke in a film that pays homage to Kilmister in another scene.

Tom Waits, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992):

Singer-songwriter Tom Waits counts upward of 30 film and TV credits to his name. Few are more memorable than his spot in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” as creepy asylum inmate R.M. Renfield, a madman who eats insects and wears metal hand restraints.

Anthony Kiedis, “Point Break” (1991):

Connecting with his band’s California roots, Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis — seen in braids — gets in a fight at the beach in this cult flick released less than three months before the “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” album changed his band’s fortunes.

Slash, “The Dead Pool” (1988):

Though all five original members of Guns N’ Roses receive a sliver of screen time in the final “Dirty Harry” film, guitarist Slash enjoys the privilege of firing a harpoon gun with deadeye aim despite having his eyes obscured by his curly hair. Chalk it up to Hollywood magic.

Alice Cooper, “Prince of Darkness” (1987):

Predating his guest turn in “Wayne’s World” by five years, shock-rock innovator Alice Cooper roams as a ragtag zombie in the second installment in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy.” Coincidentally, Cooper released a compilation LP that shared the film’s name in 1989.

Ozzy Osbourne, “Trick or Treat” (1986):

Bearing a striking resemblance to mid-period Chris Farley, Ozzy Osbourne mocks religious zealots who were condemning his music by playing a preacher who rages against the evils of heavy metal. Bonus point: Look for Kiss bassist Gene Simmons as a radio DJ.

Huey Lewis, “Back to the Future” (1985):

Give writer-director Robert Zemeckis props for cleverness. In his blockbuster film, singer Huey Lewis doubles as an uptight school administrator who chastises Michael J. Fox’s band for being “too darn loud.” The song the group plays? Lewis’ own “The Power of Love.”

Nancy Wilson, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982):

Heart cofounder Nancy Wilson doesn’t utter a word in Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age landmark. But she gets the last laugh. Literally. Sitting in a Corvette stopped at a light, she looks over at a flirting Judge Reinhold (dressed in a hideous fast-food uniform) before zooming away.

Aretha Franklin, “The Blues Brothers” (1980):

In her iconic turn as a diner waitress, Aretha demands respect from her character’s husband, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and performs “Think” with the fiery passion of a woman scorned. The high-profile cameo jump-started the singer’s career resurgence.

Bob Gendron has been obsessing over music, albums and audio ever since he landed a job at an indie record store at age 13. A longtime contributor to the Chicago Tribune and the first Associate Editorial Director at The Coda Collection, he was also the longtime Music Editor at The Absolute Sound and performed the same role at TONEAudio. Gendron is the author of “Gentlemen” (Bloomsbury) and a coauthor of “Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History” (Voyageur). His writing has also appeared in DownBeat, Rolling Stone, Revolver and other outlets.

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