SEATTLE – Michael Henrichsen has ideas about how he might celebrate his 26th birthday this week.
First, Billy Idol rolls up in a limo and tells him to hop in. There are women everywhere. And later, when the British rock icon takes the stage and rips into “Rebel Yell,” bras start flying and 1,800 of his closest friends go wild.
Far-fetched? Maybe not. After a two-year campaign that was part resume stunt, part charity drive and part heartfelt effort to get his far-flung friends together for a great time, the irrepressible Seattle man has actually persuaded Idol to play his birthday party Friday night.
“This is surreal,” Henrichsen says. “It should not be happening.”
So why is it? In his bedroom, surrounded by Cyndi Lauper and Madonna records, a drumstick he picked up at an Idol show two years ago, and rock posters, Henrichsen explains:
In October 2010, he had just turned 24 and was having an early life crisis. Friends were getting married and moving away. He was working three jobs and making little progress paying off $40,000 in college loans.
Salvation came over the stereo at the Bellevue Square Mall’s Billabong clothing store, where he worked. It was “White Wedding.” Henrichsen turned to a co-worker: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we got Billy Idol to play at my birthday party?”
She laughed. He laughed. No way, right?
But he went home and thought about it. He loved the way Idol blended pop and rock. Idol seemed like a fun guy. Henrichsen loves other music from the ’80s, but he couldn’t see Prince or Duran Duran agreeing. Idol, who lives in Los Angeles, wouldn’t even have to leave his time zone.
Scoring Idol could also be a major coup for his resume. Henrichsen isn’t sure what he wants to do for a career – something in entertainment or event planning or PR, maybe – but he thought this could get it started.
“I’m like, how feasible is it?” he says. “I realized it would cost a lot of money, something I don’t have, so that’s where the creativity came into play. How do you network to convince Billy Idol that it would be a good idea for him to come play a show on a specific date in Seattle?”
The first step was getting a friend, Jim Stamper, to build him a website, www.playmybirthdaybillyidol .com. “I thought it was never gonna work,” Stamper says.
The next step was to get people to look at the website. Henrichsen hauled a boom box through a deserted Pike Place Market at night, dancing as “Mony Mony” blared, then posted a video of it. He and friends held a banner over Interstate 5.
But the site didn’t start getting much attention until he decided to collect some celebrity endorsements. Comedian Kevin Nealon came to town to do standup, and Henrichsen got him on a 12-second video, telling Idol, “You gotta come to Seattle next October to do …”
“Michael,” Henrichsen prompts.
“… Michael’s birthday. It’s gonna be awesome.”
Endorsements from other B- and C-listers followed: musician Rick Springfield, former Seattle Mariner Jay Buhner, porn star Ron Jeremy. Hanging out at book signings and other celebrity appearances became a fourth job. Only Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and comedian Tom Green turned him down.
Local media outlets started to notice. And the Google news alerts made their way to Idol’s people. They called Henrichsen and told him the campaign was cool, but that they couldn’t promise anything.
“When we first became aware of Michael’s project we were inclined to see it as just another extreme idea from a well-meaning fan,” said Idol’s manager, Tony Dimitriades. “But as Michael’s campaign continued, his persistence and resourcefulness won Billy over.”
It took a while, though.
In the meantime Henrichsen, who sings, plays guitar and does a passable Idol impersonation, put together an ’80s cover band, Nite Wave. They began playing a series of charity concerts dubbed Billy Idol Aid and raised more than $10,000 for the American Red Cross and Northwest Harvest, which supplies meals to food banks.
But when October 2011 came around, Idol didn’t show. Instead, he sent a video, saying he was sorry he couldn’t make it – but there was always next year.
Though some friends and family were a bit tired of the project, Henrichsen decided to give it one more year. He had bimonthly chats with Idol’s people to update them on his status. Eventually, the Showbox, a Seattle venue that hosted some of the Billy Idol Aid events, made an offer to host the event at its location south of downtown.
Finally, last August, Idol’s people called from Japan, where he was touring, and said Idol was in, with his band. Henrichsen says he started screaming and running laps around the mall.
And when 900-plus people showed up for Billy Idol Aid IV, they were treated to an official video announcement from the man himself.
“The people of the world have spoken!” Idol thundered. “The dream will become reality …”
“It’s gonna be pretty much the coolest night ever,” says Henrichsen, whose birthday was Monday. “We’ll have as much fun as possible before we get to the 9-5 part of my life.”
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