Gary Holton, actor and Heavy Metal Kid. A look back at a cult figure.

Oi! Oi! Holton

Oi! Oi! Holton

For anyone that knew Gary Holton, the news of his death from an overdose in 1985 came as no surprise. Gary lived hard and died young (33), but managed to make a lasting impression on anyone who came into contact with him. He was a cheeky urchin and lovable rouge. There is no doubt of his multiple talents that have resulted in his almost cult-like status.

Gary was born in East London in 1952. His first ambition was to act, but his musical talent led to him theatre work and he spent two years with the touring company of HAIR. Gary then fronted the British heavy metal/punk band The Heavy Metal Kids from 1974 ”“ 1977. It was during this time that Gary found himself bumping into another punk band The Boys around the giggy circuit in London. Gary and Casino Steel (keyboards/singer/songwriter) became firm friends and drinking buddies. Casino is a native Norwegian and lived for a number of years in London, following his ambition to play music in the country of his idols, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

Gary Holton made his acting debut with the role of Eddie Hairstyle in the TV movie The Knowledge in 1979 and an unaccredited role in the film Quadrophenia, released the same year. He appeared in the TV series Shoestring and played the lead role as Ken in the film Bloody Kids also 1979.

His solo music career seems to consist of one off appearances. He stood in for The Damned vocalist David Vanian on their tour of Scotland December 1978. Gary and Casino used to party hard and by 1980 both Gary and Casino had an alcohol problem and Gary was dabbling in drugs. When Bon Scott, frontman of ACDC died of heavy alcohol consumption Gary was offered an audition. He later told me that it was assumed he would get the job. It was a done deal. He told me he thought it was fate that he was to audition on the same day, one year later that Bon Scott died. He came to the audition carrying a crate of whiskey and told me of the embarrassing silence when the rest of the band went deadly silent. They didn’t offer him the job as they didn’t want another alcoholic as frontman. Gary was gutted.

One night in London on a particularly wet night out with Casino Steel, Cas remembers how Gary confided that he was afraid that if he didn’t get away from London and the alcohol and drugs, he would die. Casino, also having a problem with drink told Gary he knew just the place for them to run away to; Trondheim, Norway. Casino confided in me that at the time he was a total wreck and that he and Gary decided they would leave England for a quieter life in Norway.

I can’t remember the first time I met Gary, but I’m pretty certain it was at a club in Trondheim in early 1980 or 1981. Casino is a close friend of mine and he introduced me to his English friend, knowing my English background. Gary was always the life and soul of the party and Casino had this brilliant idea that they would have success punking up old country hits. Garys voice and Casino’s musical talent combined was something totally new to the Norwegian music scene. Their punked up version of the Kenny Rogers cover single ”ËœRuby, don’t take your love to town’, was an instant number one hit for Holton/Steel in Norway. Casino Steel has always had a soft spot for country music, but his best friend Gary Holton wasn’t all that keen to begin with, as I remember, but the success kept them going and their first album Holton/Steel was a huge success. Casino later told me that instead of the quiet life they had planned in Norway, their success made life even more crazy, and filled with surreal excess.

I remember being out at a night club in Trondheim with my best friend Marith Trøan. We were having a good time with friends when there was suddenly a telephone call for us at the bar. The record producer Bjørn Nessjø was on the line asking for us and could we get a taxi up to Nidaros Studios just outside Trondheim and help out with backing vocals on Gary and Cas’ song Irene Goodnight. The club we were at wasn’t really jumping and we thought it sounded like fun, although neither of us had much singing experience. Bjørn was a close friend to us both and we decided he must be pretty desperate if he was asking us to come in the middle of a Friday night. As we arrived at the studio we soon found out that the backing vocals we had been asked to do would be done in a rather untraditional way. Bjørn, Cas and Gary, together with a group of other people Bjørn had managed to gather were sitting inside the studio around a table filled with beer bottles. They wanted a pub singalong feeling to the backing so we spent the next few hours singing at the top of our voices for one take after another, whilst everyone got drunk. It was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t listen to Irene Goodnight for a long time afterwards.

Holton/Steel went on to make two more albums together, but none were as successful as the first one. Gary was always taking off and getting into trouble. Casino hired Honest John Plain, from his time with The Boys, as guitarist for a while. I remember when John came to Trondheim and the band wasn’t making as much money as they needed. I met him in a pub as he was waiting for some guy to come and pick up his tuxedo that he had sold him so he had money for food. Gary and John were always taking off somewhere and turning up late, if at all, for rehearsals and it ended with Casino having to sack John and send him back to England in the hope that Gary would calm down a little, without the desired result.

Gary would go back to London from time to time. His father owned a pub and Gary told me that he would help out behind the bar when he was at home. There wasn’t enough room for him to sleep in the flat above the pub, so after closing, Gary would drag a mattress out and make his bed behind the bar. Gary was also a friend to Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones). They used to be drinking buddies and shared the same dealer. Ronnie kindly made a drawing of Casino and Gary and they used it on one of their albums. As the third album didn’t have the success they wanted, Gary was feeling more and more edgy in the little town of Trondheim and decided it was time to move back to London permanently in 1983 to pursue his acting career. He won the role as the cheeky cockney urchin, Wayne, in Ian la Frenaise and Dick Clement’s TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet that same year. The series was about working class men, screwed by the system, who find work on a building site in Germany . It was a huge success and the British public wanted more. Gary Holton and his collegues were now stars with all the pressures this entitled and Gary was soon spiralling out of control again with alcohol and drug abuse and in 1985 he died of an overdose. The remaining cast of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet did not want to make the third series without him. The last episode of the second series which came out after Gary Holton’s death was dedicated to him.

Some people come in to our lives and make a lasting impression. For me, Gary Holton was one of them”¦..

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16 comments on “Gary Holton, actor and Heavy Metal Kid. A look back at a cult figure.”

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  1. Very good article. Never knew he had done so much. Interesting.

  2. Legend, check out his album with Mick Rossi. Some great Faces type stuff on there, and of course buy all the Heavy Metal Kids albums.

  3. nice one ted. interesting. shame you couldn’t go into a bit more detail.
    i believe there’s a book to be published soon about Holton and Steel. ‘Too Much Tequila’, I think it’s gonna be called. Probably a Norway-only release tho’.

  4. What a gifted actor and a terrible shame to be snuffed out so young by hopeless drug abuse.

  5. yeah i recently watched all episodes of A P gary was 1 of the best characters in the show but 2 put it bluntly , u could tell he using then ,,,, wat a waste though i’d o’v loved 2 av seen him in other stuff ,,,,,,,R.I.P ..m8t ….

    • Writing this article actually made me see how many people out there are interested in Gary. I knew him quite well. So I am writing a book about him. I’ll let you know when it’s out. Probably early next year. Lots of Garys old mates have agreed to talk to me about him. So I can promise you an interesting read :)

  6. A P ,great show ,gary was 1 of my favourits, shame he died so young,but as long as we can see him on tv from time to time hes imortal

  7. Just watched that final AP episode on TV,and all the memories come flooding back.
    Gary used to come and see the band I was in “Bad Detective” play at the Clarendon in
    Hammersmith in the early eighties.He came and spoke to me,and was a really great guy.
    I remember seeing HMK’s at the music machine in ’77,fabulous band way ahead of their time.
    Very sad demise,a lot of old friends from that era are no longer here.

  8. Great article. I run the website for Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. I most say Gary/Wayne is one of most loved characters from the show. Richard Smith who commented above wrote me a great piece on Gary. Check out the site, and let me know when the book is available, I want a copy! awpet.com

  9. I met Gary a few times after he had left the Heavy Metal Kids and always found him to be a true gent. Spoken to loads of people from the punk scene who were influenced by Gary and the Kids, and in my opinion he was one of the best frontmen ever. Gone but never forgotten

  10. Was in the original , unmentioned, ‘Kids’ with Gary. Mick on gtr, Mick FEAT on bass, me on keys, drummer was younger bro of Carl Palmer (ELP) but much better. Strange how some bands’ lineups just disappear. RIP Gary, loved ya. Derek xxx

  11. Great underrated Actor and without Gary and the HMK there would be no Guns and Roses. The kids were way before their time but we still have AWP and the legacy of his great Music.

  12. on october 25th 1985,when gary passed away,my life totally changed,i was only 16 and his passing devastated me,i didnt know him but loved his character in awp,and when the 2nd series was broadcast in 1986,seeing gary acting knowing he had died made me very upset and depressed,i now suffer with bi-polar disorder and take daily medication,ive been told that my illness began after garys death.even though its over 30 years ago i still watch awp,and miss gary holton,rest in peace.

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