“What is this for?” David Hasselhoff asks me. “Is this for SPIN magazine or an Austrian magazine, or a German magazine or what?”
David Hasselhoff wants to know why I’m here. It’s a valid question, really. Why are any of us still delighting in the adventures of his sixty-year career? It’s not a roller-coaster ride, not in the least. On a roller coaster, you can see where the ride is taking you, no matter how frightening or potentially disastrous, the ride itself exhilarating and in the end, you’re thrilled it’s over. Hasselhoff’s career is a turbo-charged Tilt-a-Whirl, sometimes under water, and sometimes, catapulting its onlookers into outer space. You crane your neck to see what’s on the horizon. That’s the thrill of it. And that’s why he’s still working, surviving — no, prevailing in — the saber-tooth clenches of an industry that consumes entertainers like potato chips.
That’s why you, reader, are here, too. When you say the name “David Hasselhoff,” you think of Baywatch, and Knight Rider…and heavy metal records. And Germany, definitely Germany, where he’s a certifiable superstar. No matter where his multidimensional talent has taken him, it’s a unique experience he shares with all of us.
“Anyway, what are you working on and where are we going?” he persists. “Are they [SPIN] distributed in America as well, or is it only for Austria and Germany?” He is a whirling dervish of a personality. An amiable force of nature. This is a Guinness Book of World Record Holder (for “The World’s Most Watched Man on Television”—1 billion views in 140 countries), and Elvis-level star status in Germany, who isn’t too big to dance in front of a green screen (as in his 2016 video covering “Hooked on a Feeling”, a must-see at almost 15 million views), or don sequins and ’70s-retro space vibes for “Guardians of the Galaxy” promo, complete with, who else, uber comic book creator, Stan Lee. And he pulls it off—every damn time.
Welcome to Hoff Land. Enjoy the ride.
His latest product, the metal song “Through the Night”, is a collab with two-man metal project and die-hard Hoff fans CueStack, recorded in 2019 in Vienna. They had a Kickstarter campaign set up for the project, which included turning their “retro Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk vision” into a music video into a reality. Released on December 10th, and with The Hoff at the helm, there’s simply no way it couldn’t be epic. The Hoff always delivers.
“Through the Night” will follow Hasselhoff’s 2019 album Open Your Eyes, which features a wide array of genre-spanning covers, including Bowie’s “Heroes,” Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” and “Mit 66 Jaren” a bouncy, clap-along, ‘70s German toe-tapper. The Hoff is no stranger to cover albums with genre-hopping themes, including his 2004 album Sings America, whose covers range from “Rhinestone Cowboy” to Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.”
The story of Hoff’s journey to heavy metal came, if not obliquely, by way of a cruise ship.
“I did two different cruises,” he explains. “One was a DJ, like DJ Hoff…. Then I did something else. It was more like David Hasselhoff in concert… It was kind of a party for everyone. This song came to me and it was done. I walked around going, ‘Yes, this is cool. Is this cool?’ Everybody looked at me like I was a bit nuts, but I didn’t care because I finally felt a sense of peace that I’ve done something magical and something cool. The word cool really was what I was saying. ‘I’m finally cool. I’m finally cool.’”
For some of us, Hasselhoff exploded into the American consciousness as the coolest guy in a talking car from 1982–1986 in Knight Rider, after a boyhood in theater and a seven-year stint on legendary TV Soap The Young and The Restless (1975-1982). Knight Rider, it may shock you to learn, wasn’t as cool as we thought it was industry-wise. “When you talk to a car…they made fun of it,” he recalls, forcing many of us to reevaluate our ‘80s childhoods. “Everybody, and then every director, was asked to take it off his resume,” he says.
But unexpectedly, The Hoff’s career took an unexpected turn, thanks to the symbolic end of communism, New Year’s Eve 1989—and a very large crane.
“The Wall went down and I was the first American to sing on the Berlin Wall,” he says. “They called me up and they said, ‘Would you sing? On New Year’s Eve?’ and I said, ‘What’s the show like?’ They said, ‘It’s very much like The DIck Clark Show. It’s called The Silvester Show.’ I said, ‘Yes, only if I can sing on the wall. Do you think that’s going to happen?’ ‘No way,’ he said.
“They had to get Honecker, the prime minister of East Germany and have him call for the prime minister of West Germany’s approval. They called me back and they said, ‘How would you like to sing in a crane above the wall?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ I went around the house freaking out because I knew how big it was. I knew. I chopped down the wall and gave pieces with a plaque. I just met a guy whose mother was dressing director on Baywatch before it became a syndicated show. He said she still has the plaque that says, “A little piece of freedom,” which I glued on the Berlin Wall. Chopped it down myself, took it home and said, ‘This is going to be worth a lot of money someday.’ Now it is, but the bottom line is you just do what’s in front of you.”
The combination of Hasselhoff’s chiseled good looks, undeniable star quality and the timely theme of his then single “Looking for Freedom” launched him into the hearts and souls of Germans at the start of a new life.
“When this happened to me in East Germany, I ended up putting out a book called Up Against the Wall, which is an audiobook on Amazon, which is terrifically funny and got great reviews. I had no direction at all. I just winged it. I did what was in front of me.”
A cover of a 1978 German single, “Looking for Freedom” stayed at Number One on the German charts for eight weeks.
“I have a relationship with East Germans that’s pretty amazing because I just happened to go behind the wall because I could. Because I was the Knight Rider and I said, ‘I’m going behind the wall,’ and I did. Then I ended up meeting three girls who freaked out at me. I said, ‘How do you know me, as the man who talks to a car?” They said, “No, we know you are the man who sings for freedom,’ and they could just sing the second line [of ‘Looking for Freedom’].”
The song sent Hasselhoff on a career in music. “I can send you a photograph of 30 or 40 golden platinum records” he offers “that I have, because I had gone, “God, how did I get these?” And I’ll go, well, I walked the walk, and I really went everywhere and got 40 gold and platinum records because I was an entertainer.”
By the time “Looking for Freedom” had solidified its presence as a German No. 1 hit, TV came calling again.
“Then all of a sudden Baywatch came along, and so it was either, do I go for the quality and because I had the number one single in Germany, or do I go for the money because it’s going to be an incredible moneymaker?” Hasselhoff didn’t want to take the show at first, though not because of his soaring career in music. “Oh, I didn’t want to do Baywatch, run around in the bathing suit because I had skinny legs and then I walked away to the manager and I said, ‘I don’t want to be in a bathing suit for the next 10 years, but you know what, get it. It’s going to be a monumental, money-making monster hit,’ and so she did.”
The show’s first episode premiered in September 1989. “I figured out a way to shoot my body and my legs.” He reveals the real reason for all the slow-motion — to make up for extra filming costs. “How do we make sure we have four more minutes of time because we couldn’t afford four more minutes? We shot in slow motion.”
Baywatch was canceled after one season, and then brought back, finally concluding its run in 2001 after eleven successful seasons. But Hasselhoff would leave the show in 2000 for Broadway. “Sometimes I think I can sing; sometimes I can’t sing at all. The voice is like a muscle. Someone said to me, ‘Learn Jekyll & Hyde. You’re going to really enjoy it. After about four or five weeks, you can do anything you want with your voice.’ I was like, ‘Wow, I can do anything because muscle is just like working out.’ Unfortunately, during this COVID time, I haven’t really concentrated on my music. I’ve just gone in and said, ‘Okay, hit it,’ and then I’m going, ‘Oh, shit, I can’t sing. I need to work out.’
“I’ve worked with a lot of different voice teachers along the line, but I started when I was seven years old. I saw a play called Rumpelstiltskin and said, ‘Mom, I want to do that,’ and ended up doing the first professional show ever in the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I did Peter Pan and I played Nibs. The reason I say that is because I’ve done seven pantos in the UK playing Hoff the Hook. Basically it’s a parody of Peter Pan, but it’s a great parody. It’s a tradition for kids. I’m larger than life being six foot four with the wig and the hook. The first time I went into rehearsal, I saw a boy was wearing a little sign that says Nibs. Then I said, ‘That’s me and I won’t grow up.’
“That’s been basically — the concept of my whole life is not growing up.” He laughs. “Unfortunately, that’s come to bite me. I’ve had to grow up at times when I just don’t want to grow up. The first show I ever did, big, big show was called The Fantasticks where I played the boy. I got to meet Tom Jones and Harry Schmidtz in New York before they passed away.” [We don’t know about Harry but reports of Tom Jones’ death are premature.] “I was really going to bring back– The Fantasticks was the longest-running Broadway musical ever. I love that show and I love the message in that show. I walked away from Baywatch and I said goodbye. I look at it now it’s like, ‘Wow, I left Baywatch? I was making a ton of money and I walked off the beach in Waikiki and went to New York to do Jekyll & Hyde. God, this is really hard.’
“My mom, she had a saying, ‘C’est la vie,’ — such is life. She would basically tell me to get my S-H-I-T together, ‘Go off and do Jekyll & Hyde.’ She was the first person that said, ‘You’ve got it,’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ She said star quality, and that was when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. She said, ‘That’s terrible for me because now I have to take you to every class.’ I went, ‘Let’s go.’”
After Jekyll & Hyde, Hasselhoff would go on to star in both Chicago and The Producers. He notes Sammy Davis, Jr. as one of his biggest inspirations.
“Yes, age sucks, but the good news is someone says the word action and someone says, ‘Okay, be here,’ and I do it no matter what. For some strange reason, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s the word ‘action’. Everybody will tell you the same thing. Sammy Davis Jr. said, ‘Hold my cane?’ I was like, ‘What?’ He says, ‘Hold my cane, snapper?’ Because he was watching The Young & The Restless and he went on to say, ‘Madame ma’am Bojangles is going to dance for you.’ He was fucking unbelievable.
“He walked off stage like, ‘Ahh.’ I went, ‘Wow. Wow.’ That blew my mind. To this day, I still utilize that analogy because I say I got to go. There’s 65,000 people out there, and I’ve arranged everything and choreographed it and got the girls and they all look at me like mouths are open because I’m supposedly David Hasselhoff, but I’m not. I’m just a guy who’s trying to do the best possible show he can do.
“That’s it. That’s what it comes down to. When people make fun of me and stuff, of course, you will always remember the person that flipped you off,” he chuckles. “In 65,000 people, one person flips you off and you remember that, but it’s like…don’t read the comments, you know?”
The man just keeps going. It would be utterly impossible to summarize Hasselhoff’s life and career here, in a one-part story. He in and of himself is a walking cornucopia of some of the most heartstring-pulling cultural moments of the last forty-plus years. Watching The Crown brought up his sweet recollections of meeting a young Diana. It’s a mere dollop of conversation somewhere in between his mention of his 2-series stint on Hoff The Record, his 2015 mockumentary-style sitcom where he plays a fictionalized version of himself as he tries to revive his career. If there’s “making fun” to be had, be sure to know that Hasselhoff is in on the joke, and a couple of steps ahead of you.
Funniest part of all — he doesn’t need to revive his career. Because he can and will pretty much do anything in show business, fully understanding and perpetuating the legend he helped to create, he’s never without opportunity.
By way of inspiration, he cites the showbiz Pantheon. “Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. Mel Brooks. James Gunn is an inspiration to me. I asked him why he put me in Guardians of the Galaxy and he said because he watched Knight Rider when he was eight years old and it changed his life. I have a lot of that. I mean, I have a lot of that.
“I always wondered– I think I told this to Paul Rubenfeld, my roommate from college, and we had a little Zoom party of a college reunion. I told the story of…do you still believe in God? Because it really bummed me out. How do these families still believe in God? You look at what’s happening in America today and around the world and you go, ‘How do you believe in God?’ They said to me, ‘Because you came,’ and I went, ‘Woah.’”
The story is that a boy was hit in the crosswalk and the family called Hasselhoff’s mother and asked if he’d come see the stricken child.
“I said, ‘It’s New Year’s fucking Eve. or Christmas Eve,’ and she said, ‘Yes, it is. He’s not going to make it to the morning.” I went. I saw this little boy and they said, ‘It’s because you came.’ That kind of had an impact on me. It had a major impact on me because it’s just I think humans are the ones who believe in hope. I believe in hope.”
When you watch Hasselhoff in concert, and there’s no shortage of footage, for the tens of thousands cheering and singing along, you know that’s one thing he delivers: Hope.
During our interview, the word “fun” came up, and I counted, 15 times. “Cool,” however, beat it by 18 mentions.
“I tend to forget that, especially this morning,” he laughs. “This morning was a panic trying to get everything together, but I’ve got it together. I wanted to tell you that the operative word with “Into the Night” [from TV spin-off Baywatch Nights] is ‘fun’.”
When I ask him why heavy metal, he replies: “Amidst all the David Hasselhoff party animals, there’d be a guy with long hair and dreads and giving me the heavy metal sign. I would go, ‘That’s bizarre.’ They liked it. They really liked True Survivors, they really liked Heroes, and they wanted me to come out with something in the heavy metal zone. I hooked up with Martin [from CueStack]. Martin kept coming to me saying, ‘I have a group called CueStack and we’d like to do a song featuring David Hasselhoff.’ After about the 14th version of the song, I agreed to do it because it was something that was appropriate for today, very appropriate. It’s like forging ahead through the darkness into the light. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do. I personally am. I’m not doing really well at it. I’m trying to listen.”
The Hoff becomes more philosophical for a moment (or maybe he’s been that all along).
“I feel like we need to sit down and talk to each other. It’s a challenge because there’s great music, there’s alternative music, there’s heavy metal music, but there’s only one David Hasselhoff and there’s only one association with the word innocence and the word right. I believe that I’m innocent and I believe that I’m right. I believe that I’m not always innocent, I’m not always right, but I believe that inherently I have something that people don’t have, that people have lost, and that is respect. Respect is a big word to me and apathy is another big word. You have to have an opinion; silence is not an option. I believe that. With this song, I’m able to communicate how I feel.
“I’m not saying that heavy metal is the way that I’m going. I just did this one song. I think it’s good. I’m very happy with the release. It’s not going to be on my socials, or at least by David Hasselhoff. It was never intended to be that. It was always intended to be CueStack featuring David Hasselhoff, and I did this out of a relationship.”
He says his next album is going to be different.
“I’m back in the studio. Hansa. H-A-N-S-A, which is a very cool studio in Berlin, and I’m going to be doing a tribute album. It’s really more like what people expect from David Hasselhoff, and that’s a party. I’m not really a purist singer. I’m more of an entertainer than I am anything. I’m like David Lee Roth maybe, or Eddie Van Halen. He always says he’s more of an entertainer than he was a rock star, and that’s what I do.
“I’m doing songs like ‘I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight’ and ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ Songs that mean something to me, that are fun, and that I think people will relate to. Do I have a clue if ‘Through the Night’ will work? No. Do I have a clue the new album will work? No. I don’t have a clue. I just do what’s in front of me. Sometimes I’ll do an acoustic concert called The Romantic Concert, which is really songs from Broadway, songs from the West End.
“I never turned my back on what made me successful and how people know me, but this is who I am. This is the music. That’s why with Into the Night, I’ve gone from musical theater to Broadway, to West End, and Chicago and the West End, and to working with Mel Brooks, which was an honor, to Vegas, to everything, and I’ve just taken what’s in front of me and made lemonade out of lemons.”
For a moment, you may think to yourself, this David Hasselhoff…he’s just a regular guy, a humble human just like the rest of us. But the legend of The Hoff will be at the ready, to correct you.
“I think I’m more of a genius than anything,” he says. “But more humble than any of us.”