The Bogus Urban Legend That Inspired ‘Airheads’
“What if we remade Dog Day Afternoon, but with more jokes and way more Van Halen songs?” is presumably the thought process that gave us Airheads, the 1994 comedy starring Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler, and Steve Buscemi as struggling rockers who hijack a radio station to promote their band. Which, to be fair, seems like less of an ordeal than simply going on tour in a beat-up van powered by loneliness, gas station burritos, and B.O.
While Airheads isn’t exactly considered a classic (and is virtually impossible to find to watch these days), it has bubbled up in the cultural conversation as of late, thanks to Variety’s Actors on Actors series, which reunited Fraser and Sandler, resulting in quite a bit of Airheads chatter.
Airheads itself has a bizarre origin story: it’s rumored to have been inspired by a real-life incident… that later turned out to be a bunch of bullcrap.
Supposedly, the seeds of Airheads can be traced back to a story about a die-hard fan of The Smiths who broke into a radio station in 1987, wielding a gun and demanding that they play his favorite band. The bizarre occurrence was recounted in the book Saint Morrissey: A Portrait of This Charming Man by an Alarming Fan, which claimed that a “distressed young man in Denver, Colorado, held his local radio station hostage, insisting, at gunpoint, that it play nothing but Smiths records.”
The book attests that the station cranked the Morrissey tunes for four hours before “the police besieging the building persuaded the unhappy man to give himself up.” No word on whether or not any of the cops were Chris Farley-types.
This alleged episode even more directly inspired the movie Shoplifters of the World, which was literally about a Colorado Smiths fan taking a radio station hostage (but not with water guns full of hot sauce).
The only problem is: the story is bogus. In reality, the 18-year-old obsessed fan showed up to the radio station armed with a rifle, plus “seven Smiths cassette tapes and an album,” although he never actually went through with the plan. Instead, he just sat in the parking lot for a while, then called the police and turned himself in. Thankfully, Airheads expanded on this legend instead of becoming a 20-minute short set entirely in a station wagon of sadness.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).