Famous Bis: Debbie Harry

By Jennie Roberson

June 28, 2024



Here’s a question for you: what is cool? Or, rather, who is cool? Coolness seems like an ephemeral state of being, with some of us being lucky enough to live in that space and deemed “cool” for only a brief space in our lives. But some icons — of theatre, arts, or music — seem to be forever deemed “cool”. Forever cool is a tough, rarefied space to inhabit, but there are a few musical bicons that definitely take up that mantle. David Bowie is one of them. Freddie Mercury is another. And I think it’s about time we add another to that elite list — singer/songwriter and lead singer of the band Blondie, none other than Debbie Harry.

Originally born as Angela Tremble on July 1, 1945, in Miami, at three months old she was adopted by gift shop proprietors Richard and Catherine Harry, renamed Deborah Ann Harry, and relocated to the Harry’s home in Hawthorne, New Jersey. The Harry’s told her about her adoption when she was four, which she took well but also sometimes would daydream her birth mom was Marilyn Monroe. (It was, in fact, not Marilyn but a concert pianist.)

After graduating from high school in 1963, Harry got her associate’s degree but then dropped out of college and moved into nearby New York City in the late ‘60s. She held a number of jobs in her early years, working occasionally as a model, a go-go dancer, a secretary at the BBC, waiting tables at the popular club Max’s Kansas City as well as working as a Playboy Bunny. All the while Harry was working on getting a music career going, singing lead vocals in various bands to middling success. When she was in an all-girl band called the Stilettos, she met guitarist Chris Stein, with whom Harry would eventually form a long-term relationship. Eventually, the two musicians left the Stilettos in 1974 to go on to form that would eventually come to be known as Blondie.

A few quick fun facts about Blondie: the name Blondie came from what truck drivers would catcall Harry as she walked down the street. However, Harry is naturally a redhead! That said, for the last fifty years, Harry has bleached her hair herself to its iconic platinum shade.

Blondie (1977)

Blondie became one of the most iconic bands of the 1970s music scene. They played many of the most storied clubs of NYC of the time, including the CBGB. Their experimental but rockin’ sound blended different genres, including disco, new wave, reggae, pop, and punk, and even was one of the first songs to chart that included rap (“Rapture”, which ended up influencing Wu-Tang Clan members, and whose music video briefly featured Basquiat as an extra). The band pumped out a string of hits through their start into the early 80s, including but not limited to: “Heart of Glass”, “Dreaming”, “The Tide Is High”, “Call Me”, “Atomic”, and “One Way Or Another” (with lyrics based on Harry trying to be lighthearted about a stalker ex-boyfriend).

Despite this massive success, it was not destined to go on forever. In 1982, Blondie announced their breakup — in part due to Stein coming down with a rare skin disease that made it difficult for him to play. While Harry and Stein broke up during his treatments, Harry continued to nurse him while working on her solo career. Stein eventually got better and he and Harry remain friends to this day. Eventually, Blondie reunited in 1997 for a brief UK tour, which resulted in a new album and a second career wind, and giving a later-in-career hit in “Maria”. Blondie decided to keep the good times rolling, and have been going ever since.

Regarding her queerness, in addition to dating Stein long-term, Harry has also been known to date, among others: Iggy Pop (#Bi2), Penn Jillette, and Joey Ramone. As far as her relationships with women, at first, when Harry mentioned them she dismissed her “bisexual days” as a side effect of being on drugs and her hormones being on higher levels in her youth. However, in 2020 on the Homo Sapiens podcast with Alan Cumming (#Bi2) she mentions that she did not like giving a label to her sexuality but took far more ownership over her same-sex inclinations in her youth. A few pull quotes from the podcast:

I always felt entitled as to be the guy that I always wanted to be. Working in a band with all men as I have, I’ve had to be more aggressive than I’d have to be in other situations. I don’t know, it was sort of that this [attraction] was natural. Sexuality is kind of a nebulous thing in a way, you know? And it’s so different for each person. I just want to run out and get some hormone shots.
For me, [sexuality] has to do with fascination and crushes, like a magnetic thing. I’ve had crushes on all sorts of different kinds of people of different sexes, and some of them have come to fruition, and others haven’t.

Harry is not just known for her work as a musician. She has also modeled for an Andy Warhol painting and worked as an actress on stage and screen. Some selections of her work include The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1992-1996), voice work on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002), Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012), Hairspray (1988), Difficult People (2015-2016), and a slew of guest spots and cameos on other shots. Perhaps one of the best and most bi cameos on her resume in recent memory is as herself in the Zoe Kravitz-led TV adaptation of High Fidelity (2020)  a favorite of this site.

Debbie Harry in "High Fidelity" (2020)

Harry is also known for her work as a philanthropist. Some of the causes she has championed include fair wages for artists in the streaming platform era, relief for endometriosis patients, fighting cancer, and the environment. She also likes to give back to the music community by collaborating with new and up-and-coming artists.

In 2019, Harry wrote an autobiography called Face It: A Memoir. In it, Harry revealed some of the more harrowing details about her life, including detailing her drug addiction during Blondie’s prime and getting clean, surviving a rape at knifepoint in her own apartment in the 1970s, and escaping a kidnapping.

Debbie Harry is a living musical legend — a pioneer of blending musical styles into something new and formidable. And she did it while taking on a style that is so cool and forward-thinking that people still think she is cool to this day. Debbie Harry is chic, forward-thinking, and a genius. And she is bi.

While it is impossible to sum up the life of someone as cool as Harry is in one lone article, I highly recommend readers do their own research to find out more about this pop icon either online from trusted sources or by visiting their local library. Just make sure when you do, you put on some headphones and tune in to some of the greatest songs of the last fifty years — all done by Debbie Harry.