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When he was 21, after his band broke up and his girlfriend left him, he tried to kill himself by drinking furniture polish (he "took the Pledge"). He learned that furniture polish doesn't kill you, it just gets you really sick. After the incident, he checked himself into a hospital for depression, which he later said was a great experience, since he saw people who had far worse problems and learned to stop feeling sorry for himself.
In 1970, he released an album with Attila, which was a really bad Heavy Metal duo the promised to "destroy the world through amplification." (it actually said that in the liner notes of their album)
In 2001, he sold his house in The Hamptons to Jerry Seinfeld for $32 million. Joel forgot to tell Seinfeld that it overlooked a nude beach.
His first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor, was recorded at the wrong speed. The vocals were too fast and made Joel's voice sound unnatural.
Joel's father was a pianist and met his mother when she was singing at the City College of New York in a Gilbert and Sullivan company.
In the mid-'90s, Joel was part of a series of protests on Long Island in New York. The state was going to ban haul-seining (the traditional method of catching striped bass). This would have put a lot of fisherman out of work. Joel said his interest was because it was an old tradition in his community. That's why he frequently risked arrest in support of the fishermen.
Joel married supermodel Christine Brinkley in 1985 and divorced her in 1994, supposedly because of Joel's busy road schedule. They met in 1982 when Joel was playing a hotel bar in the Caribbean.
Growing up in Hicksville, New York (on Long Island), Joel was a boxer for three years. He broke his nose, but was crowned Local Welterweight Champ of Hicksville in 1964.
He toured several times with fellow pianist Elton John. They played together at the Concert for New York City, a benefit concert for the policemen and firefighters involved in the World Trade Center attacks in late 2001.
Many critics trashed him in the '70s. Joel used to tear up their reviews onstage.
In 1992, Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, he made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yankee Stadium's first Rock concert featured Billy Joel on his 1989 Storm Front tour.
Joel has seen many legal battles over the years. He sued his ex-manager and ex-brother-in-law Frank Weber for fraud and misappropriation of funds. He also sued ex-lawyer Allen Grubman for fraud, malpractice, and breach of contract.
Joel has stated he is an atheist, although he believes he has reached some spiritual planes through music. (thanks, Amy - Chicago, IL)
Joel was raised as a non-practicing Jew. As a boy, he would go with his Catholic friends to Sunday Mass. He said he was "busted" when he started giggling in a confessional booth. (thanks, Ken - Louisville, KY)
He was the last artist to play Shea Stadium, which is where the New York Mets play. Joel will be the first artist in history to play all 4 of New York City's major sports venues: Shea, Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium and Madison Square Garden. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
In 2003, he won a Tony Award for the orchestration of his Broadway musical Movin' Out. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Joel was a Rock critic in the early '70s for the magazines Changes and Go!. After giving Al Kooper's Supersession a bad review, he felt horrible and quit the gig. Many years later, he was asked to be a judge on American Idol, and turned down the gig because he didn't like to judge musicians. Steven Tyler took the gig.
As far as piano players go, Steve Winwood is his favorite. Joel says that Winwood plays all the right piano notes the same way Clapton does on guitar.
Billy Joel's first wife was his business manager, Elizabeth Weber Small, the former wife of his music partner, Jon Small, in the short-lived duo Attila. With his second wife, model and actress Christie Brinkley, he has a daughter, singer Alexa Ray Joel, whose middle name is after Ray Charles, one of Joel's musical idols.
Joel told The New York Times Magazine
in 2013 that when he was in a financial crunch a few years previously, he sold a house he was building in the Hamptons to Jerry Seinfeld, and his New York City home to Sting
. "I was praying for a rock star," Joel said of the latter property. "They don't care what their accountant says. If they want something, they buy it."
Joel hates seeing himself on album covers, but his label liked his image there since it was good for marketing. For the photo shoot for his 1982 album The Nylon Curtain, Billy showed up with an actual curtain that he used to obscure himself in the pictures. Rather than use the Billy-under-a-curtain images, they commissioned an illustration instead. Joel's compromise was a photo of himself reading a paper on the back cover.