An Abandoned David Lee Roth Movie Could Have Changed His Career In Hollywood
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Highlights

  • David Lee Roth planned to write, star, and direct a movie based on his life in 1986.
  • CBS Films gave him a $10 million budget.
  • Despite storyboarding, casting, and picking out costumes, the movie was canceled due to CBS’ financial struggles, and Roth sued the studio for $25 million.

It doesn’t get more iconic than musician David Lee Roth. He was the lead singer of Van Halen during the band’s classic period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and much of the success is owed to his unique, energetic presence. It’s impossible to overstate how important Roth was to the success of Earth-scorching singles like “Panama” and “Jump.”

Roth eventually parted ways with the band to embark on a solo career, but it didn’t quite go according to plan. Granted, he found success as a solo artist, but his original plan was much more ambitious. If Roth had his way, he would have been a rock star AND a movie star. Let’s delve into what went wrong, and what could have been…


David Lee Roth Was Going To Write, Star And Direct A Movie Based On His Life In 1986

David Lee Roth caught the acting bug in the mid-80s, and decided to write a movie loosely based on his own life. He pitched the idea to CBS Films and the studio loved it. According to a 1986 article by Metal Edge, CBS Films gave the rock star carte blanche to write, produce, and co-direct the movie with Pete Angelus, who had directed several of Roth’s music videos.

Via: Instar

The studio also gave Roth a $10 million budget. That was a sizable amount to give to a first-time filmmaker. For comparison, Purple Rain, another movie star vehicle for a musician, cost just $7 million to make in 1984. The movie was titled Crazy from the Heat, after Roth’s debut EP, and the story was about a rock star named Dave (Roth, of course), who’s forced to leave the country after his agent gets involved with some dangerous people.

The parallels to Roth’s real life are obvious, as he was arguably the biggest rock star on the planet in 1985, and he told Metal Edge that the script was based on people he’s “experienced and endured in the music biz.” The movie would have carved out time for Roth to debut new songs (many of which ended up on his solo album, “Eat ‘Em and Smile”), and Nile Rodgers, the revered disco producer, was tapped to do the score.

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The notion of a Roth-scripted movie in which he runs around a tropical island may sound too ridiculous to be true, but all the rock star’s claims were verified when the original screenplay for Crazy from the Heat was leaked online in 2018.

The screenplay is 77 pages long, which translates to roughly 80 minutes of screen time (give or take a musical number), and there’s lots of sex comedy shenanigans involving women in bikinis. It’s very much in line with Roth’s reputation as a notorious womanizer.

David Lee Roth Wanted To Rebrand Himself As An Actor Following His Messy Split With Van Halen

David Lee Roth was eager to prove himself as a multi-faceted entertainer following his exit from Van Halen. The band were at their commercial peak when Roth decided to leave, but he was confident that his charisma would result in him being just as big, if not bigger, than he was with his guitar-playing partner. Acting was going to help him do it.

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Roth told Billboard that he was going to follow in the footsteps of other musicians who found success as actors, like David Bowie and Prince, and that he was eventually going to leverage his fame to cross over into every aspect of show business:

“[T]he record, that’s first. Then you go on the road, that’s second, then you have video, radio, movie star, television, sponsorship. Come on, this is the ’80s. That’s what being a rock star’s all about.”

Roth was off to a good start with his debut EP. It was a massive success, spawning the hit singles “Just a Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “California Girls”, and the aesthetic found in both music videos laid the foundation for what Roth wanted Crazy from the Heat to look like.

As silly as some of the content in the movie would have been, Roth was adamant that he was taking his burgeoning acting career seriously.

In a 1988 interview with NME, he clarified that Crazy from the Heat would not have been a throwaway movie like the ones Elvis Presley made in the 1960s, but a genuinely well-crafted comedy. “I created a whole retinue of characters,” he noted. “It’s a genuine film, it’s not ‘Dave singing’ or ‘Elvis’.”

David Lee Roth Sued CBS After The Movie Was Canceled And Abandoned His Acting Plans

David Lee Roth and Pete Angelus were off and running by March 1986. The duo had already storyboarded the entire film, picked out each of the individual costumes for the characters, and cast every supporting role. Unfortunately, business got in the way.

David Lee Roth performs with Van Halen in 2012.
Via: Instar

CBS shut down the department in charge of Crazy from the Heat in order to cut costs. According to UPI Insider, CBS was struggling to avoid takeover by media mogul Ted Turner, which made Roth’s movie, and other projects like it, subject to cancelation towards the end of the year.

Roth and Angelus were set to be paid $3.5 million as directors, in addition to 10% of the film’s gross receipts, so the former decided to sue CBS for $25 million. The suit asked for $15 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. Roth wasn’t awarded the $25 million, but he confirmed that he was paid the director’s fee in his autobiography, which is titled Crazy from the Heat:

“I sued CBS. I went to court, got the director’s fee. Never did make the picture– made semi-efforts at shopping it to a couple of other movie companies, but it was something that was born out of imagination and vision.”

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Roth eventually gave up on Crazy from the Heat, and with it, his ambition to become a Hollywood actor. He released his debut solo album Eat ‘Em and Smile to commercial success in 1986, and went about the rest of his career as a rock star.

That being said, the few times the rock star has ventured into the acting world, he’s shown real talent. He played himself in a 2004 episode of The Sopranos, and he drew positive buzz for his role in the 2013 short film Tokyo Story.

It’s difficult to question a career as successful as David Lee Roth’s, but there’s an alternate timeline where he was just as electric in ’80s films as he was on ’80s albums.

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