Born in 1961 in Washington, D.C., Henry Rollins was barely out of his teens when he joined the legendary punk band Black Flag. After parting ways with the band in 1986, he enjoyed some success as a spoken word artist and with the Rollins Band. In the mid-1990s, Rollins added acting to his resumé, appearing in such films as Johnny Mnemonic (1995). He had his own television program, The Henry Rollins Show, from 2006 to 2007. Two years later, he had a recurring role on the hit television drama Sons of Anarchy.
Born Henry Lawrence Garfield in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 1961, Henry Rollins is regarded as a punk rock icon for his work with Black Flag and the Rollins Band. He is also an accomplished writer and actor. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Rollins's mother, Iris Garfield, worked for the U.S. government in the department of Health, Education and Welfare. His father, Paul Garfield, was an economist. When he was still very young, Rollins's parents divorced, and he was subsequently raised by his mother.
Rollins's mother taught him how to read before he entered school. This interest in the printed word continued into his school years. As he explained to , "In school, I really didn't dig math or science but I liked literature." Some of his earliest influences were writers John Steinbeck, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway.
Musically, Rollins grew up listening to a diverse mix of music. He was, through his mother, exposed to classical compositions and the work of jazz legends Miles Davis and John Coltrane, as well as such classic rock greats as the Doors. With his friend, Ian MacKaye, Rollins began developing his own musical sensibility as a teenager. He went to performances by the Clash and the Ramones, which turned him on to punk.
Black Flag Frontman
Rollins was working at an ice cream store when he caught his first big break. At a Black Flag show in New York, he jumped on stage and sang a song with the band. This impromptu performance led to an offer for Rollins to become the group's lead singer. He soon quit scooping ice cream and hit the road with Black Flag.
From 1981 to '86, Rollins established himself as a leading hard-core punk figure. He became known for his high-energy, aggressive singing style. Being in Black Flag could also be combative. During the making of his first record with the group, Damaged, Rollins explained to The New York Times, "We were broke and at each other's throats, but every song we wrote was first-rate." He also helped write songs for such later Black Flag albums as My War (1984), Slip It In (1984) and In My Head (1985). The 1986 live album Who's Got the 10 1/2? proved to be the group's last record. Rollins later chronicled his experiences of touring with Black Flag in the book Get In The Van.
While with Black Flag, Rollins began his career as a spoken word artist. Some of his performances were featured on the 1984 Black Flag album Family Man. He eventually established his own publishing and record entity, 2.13.61, to produce books and an album of his own work, as well as materials created by others.
After the break-up of Black Flag, Rollins continued make dramatically charged music. He enjoyed a greater level of commercial success with the Rollins Band in the 1990s. "Liar," perhaps one of Rollins's best-known songs, was featured on the 1994 album Weight. The video for that song got heavy airplay on MTV.
In addition to recording and performing with his group, Rollins began to branch out into acting, appearing in Johnny Mnemonic (1995) with Keanu Reeves and Heat (1995) with Al Pacino. He also continued to do spoken word performances, which were recorded and released over the years. He won a Grammy Award for best spoken word album in 1994 for his recording of his memoir, Get In the Van.
Rollins added television host to his extensive resumé in 2006 with The Henry Rollins Show. On the program, he interviewed an intriguing mix of guests, from William Shatner to Marilyn Manson to John Waters. While this show ended in 2007, Rollins went on to host a program on a California public radio station. He launched his own documentary series, 10 Things You Don't Know About, in 2013, tackling such topics as Prohibition and presidential assassinations.
An in-demand writer, Rollins has contributed to such publications as Vanity Fair and LA Weekly. He continues to tour extensively with his spoken word performances, including an appearance at the Claremont Folk Festival in 2013. Rollins also returns to acting from time to time. In 2009, he had a recurring role on the motorcycle gang drama Sons of Anarchy, and has made guest appearances on such shows as Hawaii Five-O. Rollins has also lent his distinctive voice to such animated shows as The Legend of Korra.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Rollins remains active in many creative endeavors with his publishing company and record label, as well as with his work as a writer and performer. As he explained to Billboard, "I don't have a whole lot else to do—don't have a girlfriend, don't have a wife, don't have an addiction to anything. I have a lot of ambition, I have a lot of fury, a lot of rage ... It comes out, hopefully, in cool ways."
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