We continue with the eighth installment of the World's Coolest Dude list, which covers the years 1981-1990.
In case you missed it, here are the previous installments of the World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011 list:
1981 – Harrison Ford
Let’s have a quick highlight reel of Harrison Ford’s career up until 1981: American Graffiti (1973), The Conversation (1974), Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Then, in 1981, he becomes Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, by 1981 he had successfully inhabited two career and franchise defining characters and was filming scenes for one of the most subliminal movies of all-time, Blade Runner, which was released the following year. In 1981, you could look up the word “cocky” or “swashbuckling” in the dictionary and there would be a picture of Harrison Ford dressed as either Han Solo or Indiana Jones next to it (this varied as to whether or not you were using Webster’s Dictionary). He had become perhaps the most popular movie star of the time and had effectively stolen the Star Wars franchise away from Mark Hammill whose character was intended to be the hero and the most likeable character of the franchise. And you simply can not argue with his performance as Indiana Jones in Raiders. It is sheer perfection. When you watch that movie now, and especially when you watch Ford’s performance, its almost hard to believe that the movie hasn’t existed forever. It’s also hard to believe that anyone could ever pull of the same moods and demeanors that Ford pulls off in that movie without seeming cliché. He set the bar so high and did it so naturally—tying classic noir, adventure, slapstick, and historical tropes together—in a way that absolutely mind-boggling. In 1981, there was no desire for Ford to “get his family back,” there was only undeniable charisma and the title of World’s Coolest Dude.
1982 – Michael Jackson
Thriller came out in 1982. That’s basically all you have to know. Michael wanted to have an album where “every song was killer,” which he basically did. All you have to do is look at the tracklist. There are nine songs on the album and five of them are “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,’” “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” Plus you have “Human Nature,” which is one of Jackson’s most underrated songs. At its peak, Thriller sold one million copies worldwide in a week. By 1982, Michael was arguably one of the most well-known figures in popular music, but once Thriller was released, he became popular music. The image and idea of Michael Jackson became larger than life. The Thriller cover of a young, sharp, slightly smiling Michael is iconic. He could outdance and outsing anyone and he released his best album. 1982 became the year of Thriller and so that year belonged to Michael Jackson.
1983 – Michael Jackson (2)
Thriller residue anyone? The impact of the album cannot be overstated not only for its sales, but for its influence on the 80’s and on the music business in general. The Thriller video was still a year away, but Michael and the Thriller album were seen as something new in the spectrum of pop-music. Michael Jackson and the Thriller album became a commodity. It became something more than just an album, it became something embedded with everyday life, or rather more of an experience. 1983 also marked Michael’s legendary performance at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever television special where he first performed with a reunited Jackson 5 and then alone. His solo performance is one of television’s most iconic moments of all time as Michael unleashed dance moves that were unfathomable, including the debut of the Moonwalk, which blew basically everyone’s minds upon first sight. Up until 1983 there had never been a back-to-back World’s Coolest Dude. Michael Jackson changed that with a few unparalleled slides of his feet.
1984 – Prince
Where do we start with Prince’s 1984 World’s Coolest Dude campaign? Well the only place to start is with Purple Rain both the album and movie, which were released in 1984. At one point in the year Prince had the number one single, album and film in the U.S., which had never been done before. Prince had been slowly working his way to the top of the pop culture mountain over the past seven years and Purple Rain was when all the aspects of his vision combined into something that in many ways defined the 80’s as much as Thriller did. The movie is not great feat in cinema, but it is endlessly enjoyable to watch as Prince overacts his way through each scene in such over-the-top fashion that you have to admire him. Plus, you get to see him ride the Purple Rain motorcycle and act like some kind of weird superhero. The performances in the movie are electrifying as well. I dare you to not get goose bumps during the “I Would Die 4 U” part at the end of the movie. The album’s excellence is has been covered extensively by rock historians and cultural pundits. However, just take another listen. For my money there may not be a more impressive run of songs in music history than side 2 of the original album. Just take a look at this murderer’s row: “When Doves Cry” (way better than you remember it being), “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m A Star” (incredibly considered a dark horse on the album), and “Purple Rain.” I mean you have to be very hard pressed to come up with a better run of tracks than that. The icing on the cake was that no one had ever seen anything like Prince before. He had his own way of dressing, his perverted Jimi Hendrix guitar style and a versatile voice that left you in awe. He was an alien who took over a year and basically a decade.
1985 – Bruce Springsteen
Are you seeing a theme here? The four most influential music stars of the 1980’s were Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and the Boss. Now, Madonna is not a dude, so obviously she doesn’t make the list, but the three dudes are well represented here in the core of the 1980’s decade. Much of the Boss’s best work came during the 1970’s, but you can’t argue with Born in the USA. Now, the album came out in 1984, but like Michael Jackson with Thriller, there was some spill-off in 1985 and the ensuing Springsteen staidium tours where he showed off his new guns, his toned Swayze-esque butt (effectively ushering the golden age of the male butt as a sex symbol), and engaged in lip-locking sessions with “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons in front of tens of thousands of people. The Boss had managed to turn from a bar-rocker to an electric-street troubador with grit, to a dark rocker, to an instropective folker and then brought them all together in the Born in the USA incarnation of the Boss in 1985. The tracks on Born in the USA speak for themselves: the joy of “Working on a Highway” and “Darlington County”; the despair of “I’m Going Down” and “Dancing in the Dark”; the dark sarcasm of “Born in the USA” and “Glory Days”; and the moving, slightly cliched, but powerful storytelling on “My Hometown.” Hell, just being the the Boss’ music video made you a star in 1985, just ask Courtney Cox.
1986 – Larry Bird
Larry Bird won his third straight NBA MVP award in 1986 and was the best player on perhaps the best basketball team of all-time, the 1985-1986 Boston Celtics. Let’s look at the stats, shall we:
G GS FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
82 81 .496 .423 .896 9.8 6.8 2.0 0.6 25.8
Look at those numbers and remember that statistically this was not Bird’s best season—that’s how good he was. However, what the 1986 Bird had over the other incarnations of Bird was perhaps the best team he had ever played on and a sort of synchronicity with his teammates that pushed him too new heights of mastery over the game. Take for instance the mythical “Left-Handed Game” against the Portland Trailblazers. In this game, Bird became “bored” and decided to take all of his shots left-handed. Just read the description of this video to understand how amazing his overall performance in this game was. Any basketball pundit will tell you that in 1986, Bird basically channeled the essence of the game of basketball. Michael Jordan may have the most explosive and exciting player, and Magic may have been the most entertaining player, but no one played with a greater purity, skill, and natural ease than Larry Bird in 1986. Take for instance the fact that Bird notched a triple double in Game 6 of the Finals against Houston to clinch the series. He had been knocking out triple doubles all year, so it seemed only fitting that he would achieve his final one in the most important game of the year. It only cemented the fact that the game flowed through and from Bird like perhaps no one before and no once since.
1987 – Magic Johnson
One of the dominating cultural stories of the 1980’s was the competition between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Their rivalry not only propelled the NBA to a popularity it had never seen before, but it also transcended the game. It became a phenomenon that the entire country was invested in. Each man pushed the other to higher levels and each man needed the other in order to become as great as they both did (this may not have been entirely true as both Larry and Magic were phenomenal players that probably still would have been great without the other, but there is no denying that their competition spurred each man to drive his natural talents harder). As the 1986-1987 season started, the Celtics were coming off winning their third title of the decade and perhaps the best season by any professional team ever, while the Lakers had been eliminated from the Playoffs by the Houston Rockets. Larry Bird had just won his third straight MVP award, while Magic was still living alongside the shadow of Kareem. The 1987 season marked Magic’s transformation into what Bill Simmons called “Magic 4.0,” where Magic reinvented himself as the “go-to” guy on the Lakers since Kareem had suddenly aged overnight during the 1986 Playoffs and could no longer be that true threat inside. But with the new, even more aggressive Magic, the team could still pull off the illusion that Kareem was playing at a high level, while Magic improved his scoring and overall leadership even though he had already been an outstanding leader. In the 1986-1987 season, magic’s stats looked like this:
G GS FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
80 80 .522 .205 .848 6.3 12.2 1.7 0.5 23.9
Magic averaged a career high 23.9 points per game while winning the MVP and leading the Lakers to the 1987 Finals in the rubber match against the Celtics. The defining moment of the series came in Game 4 at the Boston Garden. The series was still up for grabs until Magic got the ball in the closing seconds, drove across the paint and unleashed the “Baby Sky Hook” over Parrish and McHale to win the game. The Lakers went on to win the series and (though no one truly knew it at the time) the “Team of the 80’s Battle” against the Cetlics. When the 1987-1988 season started, Magic, with James Worthy and Byron Scott now firmly established as “go-to” scorers, Magic lowered his scoring average as the Lakers began what would eventually become a repeat title season. Add into the the fact that Magic was the unquestioned King of Los Angeles and formed the “Black Pack” with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall and there is no possible way that Magic Johnson was not the World’s Coolest Dude in 1987.
1988 – Ronald Regan
When you look past the Celtics and Lakers, Prince, Steven Speilberg***, the situation in Iran, and the prominence that Bruce Springsteen brought to the male butt, perhaps nothing defined the 1980’s more than Ronald Regan. Although the 1987 stock market crisis had put a partial damper on Regan’s legacy, by the end of his second term in 1988, he had completely changed the culture of America. His theory of Reganomics may have created the cultural phenomenon of the “yuppie,” but it helped bring America out of an economic stagnancy that had carried on from the late 1970’s. Why did what Regan do for America mean so much in the World’s Coolest Dude Award? Because America was the world leader in nearly everything in the 1980’s and it all occurred under Regan’s leadership. Regan even had an all time classic quote when it came to the Cold War, in the immortal, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Regan may have turned the country far to the right with his conservative beliefs and the overall success of both of his terms in office, but perhaps his most important contribution was reaffirming the United States’ trust in the president, which it truly had not had since the early days of John F. Kennedy—that fact is something that every president after Regan has benfitted from. Regan’s win in 1988 may have been a “lifetime achievement” type of win, but he deserved it and no matter how much unrest you had as an American citizen or youth, some part of you liked Ronald Regan.
1989 – Michael Jordan
In the Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons wrote that the 1989 version of Michael Jordan was the apex of “Jordan 1.0” and he was absolutely right. When Michael Jordan entered the NBA in the 1984-1985 season, no one had seen a player play the way he did. Dr. J and David Thompson had soared, but no one flew like Michael Jordan. He seemed to score and put the ball in at will. No one else besides Dominque Wilkens could dunk like him, but Dominique’s force made him seem almost too human, while Jordan remained otherworldly. Jordan improved each year he was in the league, giving us moments like the 63 points in the Boston Garden and "The Shot,” but in 1989, over time that bridged the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons, Jordan put up some textbook “early Jordan,” numbers:
Season G GS FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
’88-’89 81 81 .538 .276 .850 8.0 8.0 2.9 0.8 32.5
’89–’90 82 82 .526 .376 .848 6.9 6.3 2.8 0.7 33.6
Jordan was not the MVP in either of those seasons, but he had reached the ceiling of what the “early Jordan,” as Free Darko so aptly put it, could achieve. However, that unsuccessful “early Jordan” was still the most popular man on the plaent. His sneakers changed the shoe business and his endorsements changed the level at which a professional athlete could make money and how the public could consume the image of said professional athlete. We are still feeling and learning to understand the effects of this impact that Michael Jordan had on sports. In 1989, Michael Jordan had come to the peak of the first version of his professional self and that sight was something to behold—which the world did in great quantities.
1990 – Michael Jordan (2)
In the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls lost to the Detroit Pistons in seven games, marking the second year in a row they had lost in the Eastern Conference Finals and the third year in a row they had been defeated by the Detroit Pistons. This was the beginning of the second version of Michael Jordan. By the start of the 1990 season, Jordan had begun to embrace Phil Jackson’s “Triangle Offense” and learned to trust his teammates. So by the time 1990 ended, the Bulls had begun what would become their first championship season. What made Jordan the second consecutive World’s Coolest Dude? After losing to the Pistons in the 1990 Playoffs, Jordan was at his lowest. The public had known him only as an awe-inspiring athlete who sold sneakers, Gatorade, McDonald’s and then lost. There was no model for this. Magic had choked in the 1984 Finals, but he had already won two championships before the public had something to question. Jordan had multiple scoring titles, an MVP, was widely known as the best player around, but he continued to fail to win a championships. Jordan being at his lowest and his ability, his competitive fire to learn the Triangle, to learn to trust his teammates is what started to shape him into not only the greatest talent or greatest basketball player, but the greatest athlete of all-time. Jordan hit the bottom in the spring of 1990 and was rising again by the end of the year. He was still the best player in the game, still had the most talent, still could score more than anyone, could still sell product and be loved by everyone from North Carolina to Tokyo, but for the first time we saw him actually learning. We saw him truly progressing and that struggle, that knowledge made him the World’s Coolest Dude for a completely different reason than he was in 1989.
***Note: Speilberg's mention warranted its own footnote. Speilberg dominated the 1980’s. Take a look at his resume from the decade. He directed: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He directed and produced: E.T., Twighlight Zone: The Movie, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, and Always. He produced and wrote: Poltergeist and The Goonies. He produced: Gremlins, Back to the Future, An American Tail, The Money Pit, Harry and the Hendersons, Innerspace, The Land Before Time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future Part II. He was involved in nearly every iconic 1980’s movies character of the 1980’s and created or directed half of them. No one man had a greater sway over public consciousness than Speilberg did in the 1980’s. Why isn’t in on the list? It was too hard to condense it down into one year. Even when he was arguably his most influential, in 1982 post-E.T. release, Michael Jackson was still cooler and more popular/influential/inevitable. When thinking about an overall body of work, Speilberg basically owned the 1980’s and all of our minds.