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We Got the Beat-down: Which rock stars are secretly tough?

When it comes to rock stars, being a badass and being tough are two separate things. Keith Richards is probably the baddest rock’n’roll badass of them all, but we’re pretty sure we could dismantle him in a bar fight.(Take away the skull ring and the pirate regalia and you’re facing a scrawny, middle-aged Englishman raised on war rations.) Often it’s the least likely rockers whom you most want to avoid. Last December, Jack White beat up Von Bondies singer/guitarist Jason Stollsteimer, proving that just because you like to color-coordinate your clothes and cover Burt Bacharach doesn’t mean that you can’t hospitalize somebody. The following list exposes a few of rock’s secret toughies. Please note: Stars who allegedly use lackeys (Marilyn Manson, Ja Rule) or weapons (Eminem) to do their dirty work and men who beat women (Tommy Lee, Bobby Brown) are ineligible…and big pussies.


Who: Frontman for the White Stripes; hanging onto Coolest Man in Rock title by a fraying red-and-white thread

Why we underestimated him:Stopped a New York show midway through a rendition of Marlene Dietrich’s “Look Me Over Closely”to instruct two brawlers to “take it outside-this is a Marlene Dietrich song!” before segueing defiantly into the Stripes’ most romantic tune, “We’re Going to Be Friends”

Why he’s secretly tough: White turned an album-release party (for local country rockers Blanche) at Detroit’s Magic Stick into a WWE center ring when he pummeled Jason Stollsteimer after a verbal altercation. Both men filed police reports, and White was charged with aggravated assault. White’s spokesperson claimed that he “defended himself as any normal person would have under the circumstances.” But, um, look at this photo of Stollsteimer. The guy looks like Jake LaMotta after 12 rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson.


Who: Winsome voice of Coldplay; self-effacing former ancient-history student

Why we underestimated him: We figured that if his fists flew in search of blood and crunching bone, you wouldn’t be able to read the make trade fair slogans he’d written on them.

Why he’s secretly tough: Last December, hours after getting a marriage license in Santa Barbara, California, Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were snapped by photographers Scott Cosman and Nicholas Chirion as the couple waited to board a private plane. According to Cosman, an enraged Martin keyed his car while cursing loudly (“Every other word was the ‘f’ word,” the lensman said later). Then Martin smacked Chirion in the face, resulting in a black eye. Somewhere in England, Liam Gallagher was impressed.


Who: Former Sugarcube; modern rock’s elfin visionary

Why we underestimated her: First, she’s whimsical. Whimsical people don’t fight. They muse. Second, she’s from Iceland. People from Iceland don’t fight, either. They can’t. It’s dark all the time, and there are better things to do, like whimsically muse.

Why she’s secretly tough: In 1996, British journalist Julie Kaufman spotted the star strolling through Bangkok International Airport with her nine-year-old son. When Kaufman approached her with a cheerful “Welcome to Bangkok,” the singer went into cub-protecting, jungle-cat mode. TV cameras caught Björk as she took down Kaufman and smashed her head against the floor. No charges were filed after the singer called to apologize.


Who: Pearl Jam frontman; brooding, introspective grunge hero

Why we underestimated him: Maybe it’s his penchant fornonviolent political activism. Or the fact that he’s a bit crunchy andlikes to commune with Mother Ocean on his board.

Why he’s secretly tough: Following a New Orleans-style booze-up in 1993, Vedder landed in Orleans Parish Prison for disturbing the peace after he and Chicago White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell scuffled with local waiter James Gorman in a 5 a.m. street fight. “He grabbed me by the throat and started pushing me,” Gorman recounted. The dustup ended only when a bouncer decked McDowell (who was hospitalized after hitting his head on a parked car). Until then, Vedder totally held his own. Go, Ed!