Born in Australia in 1962, Michael "Flea" Balzary started out as a jazz enthusiast. He was a talented trumpeter growing up. In high school, Flea turned to punk and rock. He formed the Red Hot Chili Peppers with three friends from high school. The band had its first hit album, BloodSugarSexMagik, in 1991. More successes have followed, including 2006's Stadium Arcadium and 2011's I'm With You.
As the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael "Flea" Balzary is one of rock's most famous performers. The band, known for its funk-punk infused sound, has enjoyed great success since the release of their 1991 breakout album BloodSugarSexMagik. Flea, however, started out as a jazz performer before crossing over to rock.
Some of his early musical influences came from his stepfather, a jazz musician, and included Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Growing up, Flea became enamored with the trumpet and developed into a musical prodigy. His family life, however, was unstable. His parents had split up when he was young, and his stepfather had problems with alcohol.
At Fairfax High School, Flea was a bit of an outcast for his quirky musical tastes. There he met Anthony Kiedis and the two became good friends. Flea's musical tastes began to change, adding such rock legends as Jimi Hendrix to his list of favorite performers. Before long, he had taken up the bass guitar. Flea basically taught himself the instrument with a little help from friend Hillel Slovak. The trumpeter quickly transformed into an ace bassist, playing in a couple of bands, including the Los Angeles punk group Fear.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
In 1983, Flea formed what would become the legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers with high school friends Kiedis, Slovak, and Jack Irons. Marrying the hard, driving sound of punk and 1970s funk, the group was a popular act on the Hollywood club scene. The Chili Peppers were known for their high-energy stage antics as well as their wild lives off-stage.
While their first few albums failed to make a commercial impact, the group soldiered on. Flea and his fellow band members were deeply hurt by Slovak's death from an overdose in 1988. Things soon started to turned around for the group with the addition of guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith. The Chili Peppers started to attract notice for their innovative sound from more mainstream outlets, including getting their videos on MTV. Mother's Milk (1989) featured a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" as well as their own composition "Knock Me Down."
The Chili Peppers reached new heights with 1991's BloodSugarSexMagik with a little help from famed producer Rick Rubin. With such hits as "Under The Bridge," the album went on to sell more than 4 million copies. The group soon went through some line-up changes, replacing Frusciante with Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro for a time. But by 1999's Californication, Frusciante was back in the band. The Chili Peppers continued their winning streak with such songs as "Scar Tissue" and "Otherside."
The Chili Peppers have showed tremendous staying power on the charts, still racking up hits more than two decades after they got their start. With 2006's Stadium Arcadium, the band delighted fans with such songs as "Dani California." After an extended break, Flea returned to the album charts with 2011's I'm With You with bandmates Kiedis and Smith and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.
Over the years, Flea has remained a constant force within the Chili Peppers, keeping the band going. He and Kiedis have stayed with the group from the beginning, weathering all sorts of personal challenges. In 2012, they received special recognition for their contributions when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Outside of his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea has recorded and performed with other artists. He has worked as a musician on albums by Mick Jagger, Alanis Morissette and Johnny Cash. Flea paired up with Radiohead's Thom Yorke for Atoms for Peace in 2009. Tackling another collaborative project, Flea joined with Damon Albarn of Blur fame and Tony Allen to form Rocket Juice and the Moon, which released its debut album in 2012.
A natural performer, Flea has also dabbled in acting. He has appeared in several films, beginning with 1983's Suburbia. He also had recurring small part in Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990) with Michael J. Fox. Working with some of the top directors, Flea appeared in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski (1998). He also lent his voice to several animated projects, including The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002) and Rugrats Go Wild (2003).
Flea is married to model Frankie Rayder. The couple has a daughter, Sunny Bepop Balzary, who was born in 2005. He also has an older daughter, Clara, from his first marriage to Loesha Zeviar. Flea has credited his children with helping him drop his hard-partying ways. He has seen the destructive powers of drug and alcohol abuse. In 1993, Flea was with actor River Phoenix, a close friend, when he suffered a fatal overdose.
This devoted dad has worked to share his musical knowledge with children. In 2001, Flea helped establish the Silverlake Conservatory of Music to provide music instruction to young people. He even ran the Los Angeles Marathon in 2010 to raise money for his non-profit organization.
Heavily tattooed, Flea has a portrait of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix on one of his arms. He also has his high school nickname—"Flea"—tattooed on his head, and his ex-wife's first name appears on his chest.