Chris Isaak

Active - 1988 - 2008  |   Born - Jun 26, 1956 in Stockton, California, United States  |   Genres - Music, Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Michael Hastings

In another era, Chris Isaak's steely good looks and affable, unaffected screen presence would have made him an overnight leading man. Whether by choice or fate, however, Isaak seems to be content with his status as a part-time character actor and full-time rockabilly-influenced crooner. Born in Stockton, CA, in 1956, Isaak dabbled in surfing and competitive boxing as a teenager -- leaving him with his trademark bent nose -- before enrolling in an exchange student program in Japan. Upon his return to the U.S., Isaak completed college and endured a series of odd jobs as he led the life of the Northern California beach bum.

In the mid-'80s, Isaak and his friends secured a record deal and began recording their unique brand of Southwestern retro-pop under the moniker Silvertone. It was director Jonathan Demme -- already a fan of Isaak's music -- who gave him bit parts in 1988's Married to the Mob and Demme's 1991 breakthrough, The Silence of the Lambs. Though Isaak's acting career was slowly gaining momentum, his Roy Orbison-influenced ballads still weren't catching on with the general public. When David Lynch featured the jilted-lover anthem "Wicked Game" in his road movie Wild at Heart, however, radio requests for the song quickly grew, and Isaak found himself with a Top Ten hit by the end of 1990 -- well over a year since the track was originally released. Thanks to Herb Ritts' sultry video for the song, Isaak had become a reluctant sex symbol as well. Lynch would be the first to capitalize on Isaak's heightened public profile, casting him as Special Agent Chester Desmond in 1992's baffling, elliptical Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Despite the film's lackluster box-office performance, director Bernardo Bertolucci took notice and gave Isaak a lead role in his fantasy-biopic Little Buddha. Though convincing as the stoic family man whose son is mysteriously believed to be the latest reincarnation of Buddha, the neophyte actor couldn't withstand the wellspring of negative critical response to the film, causing some wags to slight his work in it. Perhaps as a response, Isaak has usually maintained a low profile in features since Buddha, choosing instead to take distinctive supporting roles in period films such as That Thing You Do! and Grace of My Heart, both in 1996.

Though his feature-film aspirations hadn't panned out, Isaak did find some success acting on the small-screen in 2001, when he was given his own television show on Showtime. The Chris Isaak Show attracted a cult following with its witty semi-fictional portrayal of musician Chris Isaak. In 2004, Isaak took to the big-screen again, starring in the NC-17-rated John Waters sex comedy A Dirty Shame amidst an eclectic cast that included British comedian Tracey Ullman, Jackass co-creator Johnny Knoxville, indie-film actress Selma Blair, and such Waters regulars as Patricia Hearst and Mink Stole.

Movie Highlights

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  • Chosen as one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1990.
  • Was an amateur boxer in the light-heavyweight class.
  • The music video for his song "Wicked Game" was ranked 13th on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos.
  • Ranked 68th on VH1's 100 Sexiest Artists.
  • Honored by the Stockton Art Commission with a career-achievement award in 2011.
  • Is an avid surfer.