3 Prime-Time TV Actors Who Were Also Rock Stars

Back in the 1970s when variety shows were staples of prime-time programming, it wasn’t unusual for pop artists to be just as well known for their work on television as they were for hit singles. Sonny & Cher and The Jacksons were stars on the small screen and on AM radio. And speaking of The Jacksons, Janet Jackson was a regular on the ‘70s sitcom Good Times years before she made her first album. Some of music’s biggest stars, such as The Carpenters and Donna Summer, hosted their own prime-time specials.

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It was far less common to see rock stars on TV during the heyday of the big networks, other than on late-night programs like Saturday Night Live, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, and they would usually appear strictly as performers. It was an even less common occurrence in the eras of cable and streaming. Probably the best-known example of a rock star appearing on TV in a non-musician role was Rick Springfield. While he was frequenting the Billboard charts with a string of Top-40 and Mainstream Rock hits in the early and mid-’80s, Springfield held down a regular role on the ABC daytime drama General Hospital.

While you might be hard-pressed to think of an actor/rock star who was a presence on prime-time TV and the radio, each of the following three women managed to pull it off. None has gained as much recognition as Cher or Janet Jackson has, but all three deserve far more acclaim for their musical and acting talents.

Ellen Foley

Ellen Foley first came to the attention of rock fans when she dueted with Meat Loaf  on “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”—a mainstay of AOR stations in the late ‘70s. By the time she recorded her part for the song, Foley had already been a performer on Broadway as a cast member in Hair. Her acting background served her well for the theatrical Jim Steinman-penned tune. Foley popped up as a guest for several other artists, including Blue Öyster Cult and Joe Jackson, and she duetted with Mick Jones on The Clash’s “Hitsville U.K.” Foley also charted with the solo single “What’s a Matter Baby” (No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100) from her 1979 debut album Night Owl.

Even before hitting the charts with Meat Loaf in 1978, Foley had been a regular on a prime-time TV series. Few are likely to remember her on the NBC variety series 3 Girls 3 (with Debbie Allen and Mimi Kennedy) because it ran for only four episodes in 1977. Even those who did remember 3 Girls 3 were likely surprised to see Foley turn up in the cast of Night Court, as it was her first foray into a situational comedy. Foley only lasted one season in the role of public defender Billie Young. She would be replaced in the show’s third season by Markie Post, who would remain as a regular cast member for Night Court’s remaining seven seasons.

Foley would go on to appear in numerous roles for theater productions, movies, and television series. She would also make four more albums after Night Owl, most recently releasing Fighting Words in 2021.

Danielle Brisebois

Around the same time that Janet Jackson had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, viewers were seeing Danielle Brisebois on a weekly basis on the final season of CBS’ All in the Family and then on the spinoff series Archie Bunker’s Place. Brisebois played Stephanie Mills, a young girl abandoned by her father who went to live with the Bunkers. She would later have a recurring role on the CBS nighttime drama Knots Landing, but by the early ‘90s Brisebois’ focus shifted from acting to music.

The former child actor would return to the spotlight in 1998 as a member of Gregg Alexander’s project New Radicals. Brisebois did not perform on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart-topper “You Get What You Give,” though she appears briefly in the video as the band’s keyboardist. She co-wrote and provided backing vocals on the follow-up single “Someday We’ll Know,” which went to No. 28 on Billboard’s Adult Pop Songs chart. Brisebois also released two solo albums, Arrive All Over You (1994) and Portable Life (2008), and she co-wrote hits for Natasha Bedingfield, Halestorm, Donna Summer and several other artists.

Ann Magnuson

Ann Magnuson reached more people through her role as magazine editor Catherine Hughes on the network sitcom Anything but Love than her recording career, but the latter was still notable. The one-time manager of the New York nightclub Club 57 made four albums and a pair of EPs as part of the avant-garde duo Bongwater. She and Mark Kramer had a few hits on college radio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Though Bongwater disbanded in 1992, they have enjoyed success in recent years, as their songs have been collectively streamed over a million times on Spotify. Magnuson also released three solo albums: The Luv Show (1995), Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories (2006), and Dream Girl (2016).

It may seem like there is a disconnect between Magnuson’s not-made-for-prime-time music and her work as a star of a prime-time sitcom. After all, Bongwater’s often racy and satirical songs and offbeat covers of numbers by bands like The Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin likely appealed to a different audience than the one that tuned in to Anything but Love. However, Magnuson’s acting credentials were well-established long before she first appeared on the ABC series in 1989.

In addition to her work as a performance artist, Magnuson appeared in several films, including The Hunger, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Tequila Sunrise. As she noted in a 1990 interview on Later with Bob Costas, working on Anything but Love was “a lot like the performances I used to do in nightclubs in New York, because we would create something new every week so that you get that same feeling of immediacy and spontaneity that you sort of need to work with.”

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