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22 Interesting Facts You May Not Know About Billy Joel

Updated September 23, 2021 7.4k views22 items

It's no doubt that you've heard of the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel. Whether it's on the radio, from a jukebox, or on the front page of a tabloid, Joel has been one of music's biggest stars for more than 40 years. Classic songs like "Piano Man," "Just the Way You Are," "My Life," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," and countless others prove that he deserves his spot as one of the greatest American musicians. 

So, after 33 Top 40 hits, six Grammy Awards, and 150 million records sold, you'd think you would know pretty much everything about him, right? But, beyond all the songs, tabloid articles, and fame, just who is Billy Joel? These Billy Joel quotes, facts, anecdotes, and trivia should give you a better appreciation, and a deeper understand of the man behind so many hits.
  • His Father Was a Classical Pianist and Escaped Nazi Germany

    Photo: Craig ONeal / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
    Billy Joel was born in the Bronx on May 9, 1946, to Jewish immigrant parents, Howard and Rosalind Joel. Before emigrating to America, Billy Joel's father was a professional pianist from Austria. Facing persecution for being Jewish, Howard emigrated to Switzerland, and later to the US via Cuba. After divorcing his wife, Howard moved back to Vienna, and was absent from Billy's life for more than twenty years.
  • He Was an Accomplished Boxer Growing Up

    Photo: Public Domain
    Joel's first passion was not music, but rather boxing. As a kid, Joel was constantly bullied, which led him to take up boxing. And he was quite good, too! As an amateur, Joel won his first 22 fights, and competed on the Golden Gloves circuit. After breaking his nose in his final fight, Joel decided to give up the sport and focus on music.
  • Billy Joel Was Inspired to Pursue a Career in Music After Seeing The Beatles

    Photo: B Rosen / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0
    After being forced into piano lessons, and excelling more as a boxer than a musician, Joel's life was changed when he watched the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show on August 14, 1965. Joel said of the performance, "Up to that moment I'd never considered playing rock as a career... I was 15 when I saw them, and I remember thinking they looked like me and my friends. They looked like working-class stiffs - they didn't look like they were manufactured in Hollywood." Billy Joel would later perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater, and undoubtedly inspire a whole new generation of "working-class stiffs."
  • Despite Being Jewish, Joel Used to Attend Catholic Mass

    Photo: Dave Emerson / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
    Even though Joel was born to non-practicing Jewish parents, when he was a kid, he used to go to Catholic mass. Joel said when he was a kid that "he used to go to Mass with his friends," and that he viewed it as "a lot of very enthralling hocus-pocus." Joel considers himself a "cultural Jew," but admits that he is really an atheist.