MTV, Music Television, first buzzed its way onto cable television on Aug. 1, 1981. But through 40 years of evolution, change, decline and competition, it will always be one of the most vital pieces of 1980s pop culture, along with the music videos it helped make famous.
These little mini-movies helped make a few people famous, such as Courtney Cox and the late Tawny Kitaen. And there are countless other familiar videos starring actors and actresses, models, or a bandmember’s significant other.
Here’s a peek at five, famous, video-starring roles and what happened to the person who brought them to life in all their cheesy, retro glory.
The Lonely Diner Girl in A-ha’s “Take On Me” (1985)
“Take on Me,” known for its groundbreaking animation technique, follows a little love story between a melancholy diner patron and a pulp comic book hero. The girl in the role was a British actress, dancer and model named Bunty Bailey. Her latest acting job was in a little known movie named Defunct in 2008, but one of the weirdest acting jobs she did was opposite Adam Ant in the 1992 fantasy horror film Spellcaster.
She also dated A-ha’s lead singer, Morten Harket, for a short time after they met making this video.
The Student in Lionel Richie’s “Hello” (1983)
Lionel Richie’s videos were the Hallmark Channel of MTV. Moms (including my own) loved him and his romantic songs like these that could easily be turned into Christmas movies. This video, in which he plays a professor falling for a blind student, is one of the most famous.
The student is an actress named Laura Carrington who later became a pretty successful soap opera star with recurring roles on both One Life to Live and General Hospital back when soaps were mega-popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. She hasn’t done any acting past the mid-90s. She can see, for those taking notes at home.
The “Sharp Dressed” Valet in ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” (1983)
The “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” lost member Dusty Hill last week, which is a loss for everyone who loved the golden age of MTV.
It was so cool to see ZZ Top swagger around their videos tossing over the keys to “Eliminator” and, with the help of a car filled with perky models, turning hapless losers into awesome sexy people. Alas, it was all make believe, as even my official ZZ Top gold-plated keychain bore no effect on my nerdiness.
One person it did help was the working class dude in “Sharp Dressed Man,” played by Peter Tramm. Tramm was a dancer who worked with a handful of 1980s movies, including being the stunt dancer for Footloose. His wife, Marine Jahan, is best known as the uncredited “dance double” for Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. Sadly, Tramm passed away in 1991 at the young age of 33.
The Waitress in Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” (1983)
Kajagoogoo is pretty much known for their one huge hit, “Too Shy,” (if you don’t count lead singer Limahl’s theme from The Neverending Story).
In the video, the tired and shy waitress is played by former model Carolyn Espley. The video is pretty much what she was known for, but she’s doing fine. She has been happily married to comedian, author, and political commentator Dennis Miller since 1988.
The China Girl in David Bowie’s “China Girl”
This song itself, from David Bowie’s album Let’s Dance, is interesting even without video attached. It was co-written by Iggy Pop and originally recorded by Iggy in 1977. Bowie’s version sounds so epic, because this song, like the others on this same album, featured guitar by Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Even the video interpretation is interesting, as the song was originally written about Iggy Pop’s obsession with a Vietnamese woman. When Bowie released it, the album’s producer assumed it was about drugs, specifically cocaine, (China White) and heroin.
The girl in the video is a New Zealander who went by Geeling Ng at the time, and worked as an actress and model. Today, she goes by Geeling Ching, and is well known as a celebrity restauranteur. She is operations manager for the swanky Soul Bar & Bistro in Aukland, and is the cooking host for the New Zealand show Asia Downunder, focusing on Asian culture in New Zealand. This “girl” has done pretty good for herself.
Video may have killed the radio star, but MTV made familiar faces out of video stars.
On that note, I’ll leave with the first video ever played on MTV in 1981, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. Oh, and that little girl tuning in at the beginning? Well, I have no idea who she is. The model in the throwback silver “sci fi” outfit who gets flushed into the video in the big tube is an actress and model named Virginia Hey, who later played the blue humanoid plant species, P’au Zotan Zhaan, on the sci-fi series Farscape.