Rick Springfield on Groupies, Depression, New Doc and Why He Turned Down Oprah (Q&A)

Rick Springfield Guitar 2011
Mark Mainz/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 8:  Musician Rick Springfield performs before signing copies of his new album "shock/denial/anger/acceptance" at Borders April 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. 

Rick Springfield was a singer without a voice. Sitting in a Manhattan doctor's office Oct. 11, the "Jessie's Girl" star was unable to speak, let alone sing, another word.

He'd spent the last week promoting the hell out of his new album, Songs For the End of the World, submitting to a whirlwind schedule that could've silenced the youngest and fittest of pop stars, let alone a 63-year-old one. Averaging five hours of sleep a night, he made the requisite stops on the talk-show circuit -- Live! With Kelly & Michael, Today and Fox & Friends, to name only three -- performing energetic sets on practically every program. But it was the impromptu concert on a crowded Penn Station subway platform that likely did him in: Without the help of a microphone, he had to really belt it out in order to be heard over the rumble of the passing trains.

So, with a performance on Good Morning America only 16 hours away, the Australian-born sometime-actor surrendered to a steroid injection and promised to keep schtum until after sunrise the next day.

The problem: That night he was expected to be interviewed at a showing of An Affair of the Heart, a feel-good and at times laugh-out-loud documentary about the singer's unique relationship with seven super fans who put their middle-aged lives on hold to follow him on tour. Appropriately, the IFC theater was set to be filled with diehards, many of whom have supported him since the early 1980s when he released his breakout album, Working Class Dog, while playing heartthrob Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital.

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"Most rock stars would say, "Screw it, my voice is shot -- I'm not going.' " said Affair of the Heart director Sylvia Caminer. "But he doesn't want to disappoint people."

Least of all Caminer, an Emmy winner for her Travel Channel series Great Hotels, and her producing partner Melanie Lentz-Janney. They were depending on his star power to garner attention for their feature, which has been lauded by Hot Docs and film fests from Florida to Nashville. When Caminer started on the project in 2009, she was not fully aware of Springfield's still-sizable fanbase; Lentz-Janney, however, is a self-described "recovering Rick-aholic." In fact, she got the $40,000 seed money for Affair of the Heart from a high school teacher who'd witnessed Lentz-Janney's burgeoning obsession after her first Springfield show at age 15.

Inspired by a scene in the film, Caminer and Lentz-Janney pitched Springfield on attending the IFC screening to silently lead the audience in a game of Ricktionary, a version of Pictionary favored by fans on the annual Rick Springfield Cruise. The singer obliged, and a few hours after the steroid shot he was at the IFC, standing at an easel with an oversized sketch pad and drawing illustrations of his song titles for the mostly forty-something fans to identify. Those who guessed correctly went home with the artwork, autographed by their idol.

Canceling was never an option, Springfield explained the next day. "It would be pretty shabby to appear flippant around around a documentary that's about how much I love my fans," he said, his voice fully restored following a successful GMA appearance. (Fellow guests Henry Winkler and Kevin James even joined him onstage for "Jessie's Girl.")

Speaking to THR with the kind of candor and honesty that can only come from experience, not to mention a fair amount of therapy, the tireless singer talked about respecting groupies, appreciate his long-suffering wife, his ongoing battle with depression and hopes for his own TV series inspired by the Rick Springfield character he's played to rave reviews on Californication and Hot in Cleveland.

The Hollywood Reporter: In Affair of the Heart, original MTV VJ Marc Goodman says you used to be "shitty" to your fans. How and why?

Rick Springfield: It was like, [puts on annoyed voice] "Meet fans? I don't want to do this, I've got a show to do!" It's a very normal thing for a young guy who's had big success quickly to think it's all about you. And it's not. I'm a songwriter, principally, and I was real excited that people liked my songs, but you get a bit of an ego about it. And you tend to be a little [bit of a] user with fans. They're there, they want to please you. It's a rock 'n' roll thing to have one-night stands. I thought, "This is what rock 'n' roll guys do." I was 15 when I first joined a band; I was 17 when I first had sex, and that was how I was raised, having sex. You meet a girl at a gig, and you do it.

THR: Watching the way women still swarm around you 30 years on, surely most wouldn't see you sleeping with them as a bad thing.

Springfield: No, and it's not. I've always treated women well. I know guys who will sleep with a girl and then have a roadie come and throw her out so they can get to sleep. I've always been really respectful. And I love women. And I let them know that.

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THR: So what made you start treating your fans better?

Springfield: Taking a break. I quit it all in '85, right when things were still popping. I got sunk by depression completely and had realized that all of this money and success wasn't making me feel better like I thought it would. And I decided that I had to start looking inside because that's where the depression was living. So I started going to deep Jungian therapy for about five years, and it changed me and made me human again. I'm not a bad guy, but ego is a destructive, terrible thing, and I was certainly under the power of that.

Then [in the mid-90s] I started to go back to playing, and I was really scared. I had come off of people screaming and yelling, and the shows being really high-energy. I didn't know if everyone was going to be just sitting there going, "That was kind of a nice song, yeah, I remember that." But I walked on stage and it was like bedlam from beginning to end, and it still is. Everybody's jumping around, throwing stuff, screaming and singing along. I am forever thankful that those people stayed with me. Because that's why I go out there: to connect with people. I'm a loner normally and, like I said, kind of depressive. And that's my high. That's my connection to humanity, it really is.

THR: The film shows you going out of your way for your fans, even playing in torrential rains when there was a tornado threat.

Springfield: I hate canceling. I've actually had no throat left, but I've gone on and said to the audience, "My throat is really hurting, I need you to help me out," and they'll start singing the song.

THR: Some cynics might say, "He was filming a documentary -- of course he wasn't going to cancel!"

Springfield: I never knew when they were going to show up, the documentary people. I mean, we stumbled out of a van in Sweden after an 18-hour trip to Europe, and they're there.

THR: And at what could have been a disastrous gig! The Sweden Rock Festival was a hard-rock show that was headlined by Guns N' Roses. Were you like, Man, I wish these documentary folks weren't here…?

Springfield: No, because I like to take those kinds of things by the balls. This is what I did with the subway thing. I could've been very intimidated. Yeah, I was nervous, but I said, "F--- it! If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it for real and not afterwards go, 'I really should've put out a little more.' " I insist on 100%, even if I feel shitty. I cannot not play the hardest that I can. They tell me, "If you're throat's hurting, back off a bit," but I don't know how to do that.

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THR: One of the most touching scenes in the documentary is when you're at a piano bar playing "Ordinary Girl, a song you wrote for your wife of many years, Barbara, and she's there, singing along and wiping tears from her eyes. But the filmmakers told me that she was off-limits to them.

SpringfieldI've turned down so many shows who've wanted to interview the both of us. When my [autobiography, 2010's Late, Late at Night] came out, Oprah wanted to do an interview, which would've been very big, because she sells a ton of books. But they said, "We want to have Barbara there to talk too," and we said no. She's very private.

THR: In the memoir, you went into a lot of detail about the countless times you've cheated on her. How did you feel when you saw that scene with her crying?

Springfield: Oh, I fell in love again. We often don't see the best of each other. [He gets choked up, then clears his throat.]  I'll come on the road and go, "Oh, the wife's so mad at me," and [my bandmates] will go, "Dude, she loves you so much. You should hear her talk about you when you're not around." I know we're in love, and we're meant to be, but you forget that kind of stuff. To see that [scene in the film], it's really strengthening.

We were at a really bad point in our relationship at one time. We went to a really great Jungian therapist, and I was like, This is just not working out. We need to find a way to end this properly." And [the therapist] was amazing. She said, "Look at Barbara. Don't say anything, just look at Barbara." And I… I mean… I started crying.

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THR: You've played yourself -- sort of -- on Californication and Hot in Cleveland, and to hilarious effect. Is there more acting in your future?

Springfield: Absolutely. Hot in Cleveland have called up again and have asked if I'm available for more. And we have a show that we're taking around that [is centered on a character that's] like the Californication version of me. It's an acting ensemble, very funny. It'd definitely be a cable show. The writers are hot young guys, and they loved my Californication episodes. So we're pursuing that.

THR: Songs for the End of the World is your 17th studio album. A lot of artists from your generation make good money just doing concert tours playing their greatest hits, while you continue to write and record new music. Why?

Springfield: Because I'm first a writer. I was never the guy who put up the platinum and gold records around the house. Any time I got any of those, I stuck them in a box and put them outside. [Hanging up] stuff like that, for me -- I'm not saying for everybody else -- was like saying, "Hey, I'm pretty f------ cool." And it also made me worry that I'd sit back on what I'd done and not press forward. It's very important for me to have new music to go out and play, because I don't want to just go out and play the old hits. Our show feels very vibrant, and this record sounds modern because I look forward. I don't try and redo "Jessie's Girl." I think the last two records we've done are possibly as good as any record that I'd done in my early career. I hear a lot, "Wow, this record rocks so hard, it sounds so modern." It's like they expect me to do my American songbook album or something.

THR: Seeing as you're the kind of guy to throw your guitar in the air and shred roses on the strings, it's hard to imagine you standing still, singing standards...

Springfield: People are always surprised. I think the initial image of me being the soap-opera/pop guy, they [don't] expect that. But I've always been a guitar player, and the shows have always been full-on rock 'n' roll shows. I've been playing for over 35 years. I have some chops. 

See a snippet of Springfield singing "I Hate Myself" with Henry Winkler and Kevin James in the video below:

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