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Though his landmark 1977 album Bat Out of the Hell would ultimately be his greatest contribution to pop culture, many fans' first exposure to Meat Loaf as a performer came not through his own music, but through one of cinema's all-time great cult classics. The singer and actor, born Michael Lee Aday, made an indelible impression when he burst onto the screen as a biker named Eddie in 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, stealing the show even from the likes of Tim Curry to sing his number "Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul."
Though Aday would be best known as a singer from the time of Bat Out of Hell's release until his death this week at the age of 74, that Rocky Horror appearance (which he carried over from the Los Angeles stage version) marked the beginning of a career-long presence in genre entertainment that seemed to enhance and underline the horror-tinged cool that made Bat Out of Hell so alluring. His legacy is musical, but his presence through horror, sci-fi, and fantasy storytelling over the last five decades is also a key part of the work he leaves behind.
Though Bat Out of Hell's primary lyrical focus was on heightened, operatic songs about unrequited love and heavy nights in parked cars, one look at the cover revealed both the ambitious nature of composer Jim Steinman's lyrics and the fantastical imagery that would help make the album an all-time classic among fans. The cover image, featuring a slightly wolfen, shirtless man roaring out of a graveyard on a motorcycle while a winged creature shrieks in the background, is among the most evocative images in all of rock, and gave Steinman's epic songs about motorcycle crashes and dashboard-lit romance an almost creature feature feel. It's an ambience that was further underlined by the album's two sequels, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell and Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, both of which featured music videos highlighting the Gothic, even monster movie-inspired aspects of the musical storytelling.
Ironically, despite his early appearance in Rocky Horror -- itself inspired by science fiction and horror B movies -- and the legendary imagery of Bat Out of Hell, Aday himself was never actually a horror fan, as he underlined in a story he told on Eli Roth's History of Horror podcast last year.
"I get an offer to do a Masters of Horror, and it was the lead, and it's called 'Pelts,' and Dario Argento was the director," Aday recalled. "And so they called me up and said 'They really want you to do this part, but the producer wants to talk to you.' And I said 'Oh, cool, I don't care.' So I'm on the phone with him, and he's talking. And he goes 'So you're a fan of horror?' And I go 'No.' I told him I wasn't a fan at all of horror movies, but Dario was on the phone. The producer just wanted to talk to me, I didn't know Dario was on the phone.
"And so I hang up the phone, and I get a call back from the agent going 'I don't think they're gonna use you.' I said 'Why not?' They go 'We're not sure, we'll find out.' They call me back and go 'Well Dario Argento was on the phone when you were telling him you don't like horror movies.' I said 'Yeah?' And they go 'He's the director.' I said 'Yeah?' And they go 'Well, you don't like horror movies.' I said 'So?! What has that got to do with playing a character in one? That character knows nothing about... one has nothing to do with the other. Because I personally don't like them, I'm not bringing that element into the character at all!"
He went on to get the leading role in the Masters of Horror episode "Pelts" anyway.
Despite his lack of personal connection to horror, Aday certainly made an impression on the genre over the years, with appearances in everything from Monsters to Tales from the Crypt to Stage Fright and Ghost Wars, and as he described on the podcast, he never let his own lack of horror love getting the way of inhabiting a character.
In the 21st century, Meat Loaf gained a new wave of fans in part thanks not to his appearances in fictional spooky stories, but to his devotion to real ones. In 2009, the singer and actor made an appearance on the SYFY original docuseries Ghost Hunters, assisting the T.A.P.S. crew as they investigated haunted sites. He appeared again in 2010, and made no secret in the press of his affinity for and belief in real-life ghosts.
"I believe there’s something when you die because there are ghosts," he told Shortlist in 2012. "I’ve seen them, I’ve been around them. Some are just energy left behind, and some are intelligent. I’ve had conversations with them using a K2 meter, which lets them answer 'yes' or 'no'. I chased one across the room once. And when we were making Bat Out Of Hell I saw a blonde girl in a white dress. I went downstairs and told the guys, 'There’s a groupie up on the balcony,' and they go, 'How would she get up there?' Everybody went up and no one was there."
Interestingly, Aday's final TV appearance might ultimately be connected to his interest in the paranormal. The singer rejoined the T.A.P.S. team for an episode of the Ghost Hunters revival series on Discovery+. Set to air in February, the episode will feature Aday teaming up with the investigators to look into the history of a notoriously haunted Tennessee farmhouse.