It's not surprising that of all Don Henley's massive hits -- with the Eagles as well as solo -- his most massive chart triumph was his first individual effort, "Dirty Laundry," in 1982. Henley, who turns 64 today, wrote the song as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the sad state of the media biz, specifically the tawdry tabloid approach that categorized the TV industry at that time. "Crap is king," he declared, making clear his disdain for the sensationalist tack news people pursued at the time, a trend that continues to the present day. In concert, he's been known to dedicate the song to Rupert Murdoch and Bill O'Reilly, two men whose behavior suggests they are direct descendants of the sleazy journalists Henley lambasted at the time.
Although Henley has said the song's inspiration drew from the intrusive media coverage generated by the deaths of certain celebrities -- John Belushi and Natalie Wood in particular -- he could also count himself among the media's prey. However, in his case, Henley was hardly innocent. On November 21, 1980, a 911 call from Henley's home led the L.A. Fire Department to find a naked 16-year-old prostitute who had OD'ed on cocaine. Henley later entered a plea of no contest to the misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and received two years' probation. He denied knowing how old she was, insisted he never had sexual contact with her, and all but blamed his roadies for her ingestion of drugs.
Don Henley - "Dirty Laundry"
In fact, Henley has plenty of dirty laundry of his own, so much so that the song was initially believed to be about his own missteps. And according to Eagles insiders, that laundry could get pretty stinky. He's frequently been accused of egotism and arrogance, minor complaints compared to alleged indiscretions involving drugs, debauchery, and prostitution. The band's history -- not to mention best-selling books like the Hollywood tell-all You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again and Don Felder's Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) -- is littered with tales of head-butting between Henley and his fellow bandmates. Likewise, his torrid romance with Stevie Nicks also provided plenty of fodder for the gossip columns. Once she became pregnant, Henley withdrew from the relationship and Nicks opted for an abortion, later penning the song "Sara" in tribute to the unborn child.
Nicks' former beau Lindsey Buckingham also made note of Henley's lack of discretion. He claims that his participation in the making of Henley's Building the Perfect Beast album led Henley to suggest that they go out on the road together while billing their jaunt as a former Stevie Nicks' lovers tour.
Hmmm... that's one of several tasteless tidbits. Could Henley have been the inspiration for Charlie Sheen's mental meltdown?
Of course, none of these disparaging remarks takes into account Henley's efforts and activism when it comes to social awareness, his political pontifications, environmental concerns, and his ongoing campaign on behalf of musicians' rights.
Still, his renegade reputation precedes him. Mojo Nixon's song "Don Henley Must Die" pretty much sums up the vicious vibes he often inspires.