If there was ever a person least likely to become a rock star, it was Ian Dury. Dury was already in his late 30s when he burst onto the punk/New Wave scene in 1977 but quickly made a name for himself. He was beloved by critics, who eagerly took up his "underdog" persona. One such critic, Charlie Gillett, became his manager and helped him get his first record deal.
Dury was born in 1942 in England. After using a public swimming pool in 1949, he was stricken with polio. Although Dury overcame the disease, he would need leg braces the rest of his life. After graduation from high school, he attended the Royal College of Art, where he was taught by acclaimed Brit artist, Peter Blake (the man behind the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper cover).
Dury took a job teaching art in a U.K. college while moonlighting in a pub band called Kilburn and the High-Roads. When journalist Gillett got behind that band, they ended up with a deal on Warners in the U.K. The record, however, was rejected by the label. Eventually, it was released on Pye's Dawn label in 1975, but the pub scene was in decline and the band broke up shortly thereafter.
By 1977, Dury had landed a deal with the upstart punk indie, Stiff Records (home to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe). His Stiff debut, New Boots and Panties!! was an unexpected smash hit in the U.K. Three of the songs from that record, "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," and "Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 3)" became Top Ten hits in the U.K. A bidding war for Dury's U.S. contract ensued, with Clive Davis & Arista winning out. The record was released in the states in early 1978, but—no pun intended—it stiffed, and Dury was dropped from the label. Ian Dury and his band, the Blockheads, remained a Top 10 act in the U.K. but had far less success in the U.S. By 1984, he had moved away from music and began to focus almost exclusively on his growing acting career. He did several TV and film appearances, including a role in the Roman Polanski movie, Pirates.
In 1996, Dury was diagnosed with colon cancer, and by 1999 the cancer had spread to his liver. He made one last performance with the Blockheads at a cancer charity show in February of 2000. Six weeks later, Dury was dead. The Blockheads reunited after his death to record a tribute album of Dury material with other singers.