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Rob Halford recalls his surprise at the success of '80s glam-metal while he was living as a 'closeted gay man'

'How am I not able to come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys are going out there looking like they do, and everybody's falling over them?,' the Judas Priest front man asks

Throughout the 1980s, glam-metal musicians piled on the hairspray and makeup in a bid to come off as androgynous as possible. In the eyes of Judas Priest front man Rob Halford, who was living as a closeted gay man at the time, this seemed a curious way to make a run at large-scale success, given that he perceived the era as a time of rampant homophobia.

In a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, the Metal God recalled his surprise at glam-metal's popularity at the time, saying, "When you think about the glam rock movement, what it was, specifically, two bands that really pushed that for me were Motley Crue and Poison — and, to some effect, Cinderella, maybe some Winger, L.A. Guns. There was a lot of stuff coming through at that moment in the glam rock era. And definitely Sebastian [Bach], you know, when guys looked like girls. And that worked. 

"And I could never quite figure that out, because of the homophobic stuff that was going on in the '80s. And there's all these guys with makeup on, looking ... I have to watch my words here, but you know what I'm saying? Looking in a specific way, that everybody else is like, 'Yeah, man, they're really hardcore,' and all that kind of stuff. And then me as a closeted gay man, it's like, 'Am I missing something here? How am I not able to come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys are going out there looking like they do, and everybody's falling over them?' Not everybody, but, you know, just the general perception of the imagery was just, everybody has to look that way. Everybody has to dress that way. It [was] a remarkable time in heavy metal and rock to think about in a broader sense."

He continued, "And I love those guys. While we're talking, I must get the message across that I love those guys. I love their music, I love what they achieved and everything. They're very, very important. And maybe there was a sense of opportunity within the LGBTQ community because these guys were there then, doing what they did. Maybe they opened a little tiny chink in the door for acceptance. Because a lot of guys used to go to the shows looking like that. One of my friends here in Phoenix in the '80s used to put the makeup on and the hair and everything. They would look like that, and then they'd go out to see those bands. 

"So in terms of the anthropological aspect, the social connection between looking like that and it being cool and accepted without any pushback was quite remarkable. It's a really interesting part of that time in heavy metal. And I include myself — not entirely, in that respect, but if you look at Turbo, you look at the way that we're looking, look at the way Glenn [Tipton]'s got his hair and Ken [Downing]'s got his hair, we were all in that same melting pot, really. The '80s was a remarkable time for metal, glam rock, rock, whatever you want to call it. The visual presentation was extraordinary."