With his tousled blonde hair, big trusting eyes, and sexy yet boyish good looks, Leif Garrett set many a teen girl's heart to racing in the '70s. He started working at the tender age of five, appearing in movies like Skateboard -- which did more for the popularity of skateboards than for his acting career. In his teens he became a bubblegum pop singer and pinup boy young females swooned over. His biggest musical hit was a song titled "I Was Made for Dancing." The smash disco single topped the charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. All too often, though, finding fame and riches so early in life takes a huge toll later -- and so it was for Garrett.
Leif Per Garrett was born in Hollywood, California, in 1961. Being raised in such a city, and being born with eye-catching good looks, it's little wonder he became an actor before he tested his singing ability. Both he and his two sisters, Dawn Lynn and Debralee Scott, were taken to local casting calls at a very early age. By the time Garrett was five, he was landing small acting parts. As the '70s broke over the horizon, he got a couple of roles in major motion pictures like Walking Tall and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. For the next several years he showed up in a few other films, and made appearances on a number of popular televisions shows such as Gunsmoke, Wonder Woman, CHiPs, The Odd Couple, and even a recurring role on Family, where he was cast as Kristy McNichol's boyfriend.
In 1977, at the ripe old age of 16, Garrett was still acting, making two new films that year and two new television movies, including a lead role in Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion. He was also singing by this point in his career. That same year he signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records and released a self-titled debut album. He quickly hit the charts with remakes of the songs "Surfin' USA" and "The Wanderer." Teen magazines like Teen Beat and Tiger Beat couldn't feature enough about the hot pop star. Pull-out posters of Garrett covered young fans' bedrooms. He appeared to be at the height of his career; no one knew that his demise was drawing ever nearer, even as he stood smiling in the spotlight. Two more albums were released, 1978's Feel the Need and 1980's Can't Explain, before Garrett switched labels, leaving Atlantic for Scotti Brothers; the latter he would soon accuse of controlling his career with a tight rein, allowing him no creative freedom. Garrett was 17 at this point, and enjoying the lifestyle of a rock star when his fall came in the form of a car crash. He was the driver, and a close friend, Roland Winkler, was in the passenger seat. The needless wreck left Winkler in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and a devastated Garrett on a path of self-destruction that would find his career lost in a world of alcohol, heroin, and guilt.
Garrett held on long enough to make two more albums. Same Goes for You in 1979, and then My Movie of You in 1981. He worked on a few more films and television shows, but no one seemed to notice much. In 1998 a number of his best hit songs were gathered up and put on an album called The Leif Garrett Collection. The next year, his life story was featured on VH1's Behind the Music, where he said he had kicked heroin, but ended up in a substance abuse program shortly afterwards. In 2000, he put together a band called Godspeed and recorded a few songs, but failed to release any of them before he split from the group. Though his solo career seems over, Garrett still lends his talents on albums and works by other artists. ~ Charlotte Dillon