“They say I had nothing to do with breaking down the Wall,” David Hasselhoff announced to a capacity crowd at the Indig02 arena in London last March. “But it is proven! That I single! Handedly! Went through! The Wall!”
As the audience cheered, Hasselhoff kicked down a miniature Berlin Wall, and then burst into his most famous pop hit (at least in Germany), the 1989 single “Looking For Freedom.” It was, like almost everything Hasselhoff does, simultaneously transcendent and cringingly stupid. The tiny Berlin Wall replica was like something out of This Is Spinal Tap. But if there was anything funny about Hasselhoff bursting through a styrofoam symbol of 20th century communism, nobody in the crowd acknowledged it. They cheered and danced and pumped their fists unironically. Even when Hasselhoff dressed up like a Nazi to do an out-of-context song from the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, the audience was right there with him, laughing on cue at every punchline.
The show was a perfect summation of Hasselhoff’s almost 40-year career. There were embarrassing moments, triumphant moments, scantily clad women for no apparent reason, and the critics hated it. (“This was one of the weirdest shows I’ve ever witnessed,” noted a review in the London Evening Standard.) The only missing highlight was a drunken and shirtless Hasselhoff sloppily eating a cheeseburger on the floor of a Vegas hotel. But he can hardly be blamed for not wanting to remind fans about that unpleasant memory.
Love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge just how remarkable Hasselhoff’s meteoric rise has been. During the 1970s and ’80s, he was just another mildly handsome soap opera star who achieved minor fame with a TV drama about a talking car. But by the ’90s, he was bigger than Jesus. Literally. The global population of Christians is approximately 2.1 billion, and according to the distributors of Baywatch, the syndicated hour-long drama about well-endowed Californian lifeguards that ruled the airwaves for most of the 1990s, the show reached a staggering audience of 2.4 billion. So it’s a toss-up whether Hasselhoff or Jesus Christ had a bigger global following. The 21st century hasn’t been as kind to the former pop culture king of kings, but Hasselhoff has refused to go gentle into that good night. Whether he’s appeared in tabloids or whatever reality show or movie-of-the-week that’ll have him, he’s somehow remained in the public eye. And on June 1st, he stars (as himself) in big-screen shlock splatter sequel Piranha 3DD.
I called Hasselhoff in Vancouver, Canada, where he was filming a new movie called The Christmas Consultantfor the Lifetime channel. “I dress up like a Christmas elf,” he said. “After I’m done talking to you, I’ll be barking orders at kids all day.” He was equal parts silly and protective, self-effacing and self-protective, eager to laugh at himself and the first to rise to his own defense. Talking to Hasselhoff brings out a weird mix of emotions. Sometimes you want to laugh at him, sometimes you want to laugh with him, and sometimes you want to put a finger over his mouth and plead with him, “You don’t want to go down this road. Trust me, it isn’t going to end well.
Eric Spitznagel: You had a crab named after you this year.
David Hasselhoff: I did. They called it the “Hoff Crab.” I think it’s quite an honor to be named for a crab. As you know, one crab dies and ten thousand crabs comes to their funeral. I’m in very loyal company.
I had no idea. Is that true? Crabs have funerals?
I think so, yeah.
How’d you find out that your name was being given to a crab? Did the researchers call you, or did you hear about it secondhand?
I heard about it on the news. I think it was CNN or something crazy. When I finally saw a picture of it, I laughed pretty hard. It’s white and it’s got a hairy chest. I remember thinking, this Hoff thing is getting out of control.
It is interesting that they named it the Hoff and not Hasselhoff. The Hoff has become your evil, slightly more famous doppelgänger.
Oh definitely. The Hoff eclipses David Hasselhoff almost everywhere I go now. They point at me and go, “It’s the Hoff!” And then they’ll say, “Don’t hassle the Hoff!” This whole Hoff thing wasn’t even my idea. It’s something that started nine years ago by some secretaries in Australia.
Is that true?
You haven’t heard this?
I had no idea. Please explain.
I got an email from one of these women, asking me, “How does it feel to be a sex symbol at 50?” Apparently there was a viral epidemic of emails going back and forth between secretaries in Australia. They were sharing all of these Hoffisms. You know, stuff like “Desperate Hoffwives” and “Some Like it Hoff” and “The Hoffice” and “Take It Hoff.” Every play on words you could imagine. I thought, well that’s kind of funny. So I went on television in Australia and I was talking about the whole phenomenon and I said, like I was talking to the secretaries, “I have a saying for you. Don’t hassle the Hoff!” And that’s when it all blew up and went crazy.
Does it ever bother you?
Bother me how?
You said the Hoff sometimes eclipses David Hasselhoff. That must feel unfair. You do all the work and the Hoff gets all the glory.
I let it go, because it brings me a lot of Internet awareness and commercials. They hire the Hoff, they don’t hire David Hasselhoff. I’m not an idiot. I follow the Hoff train, and the Hoff train goes all over the world. It’s a lot of fun, and it reaches a widespread audience. They’re very enthusiastic, and sometimes a little crazy.
How are they crazy?
When you absolutely think you’ve seen it all, something even more bizarre pops up. One day you’ll meet a girl with a David Hasselhoff tattoo on her arm. And the next it’s a guy wearing underwear with a picture of the Hoff right on the front of his you-know-what.
(Laughs.) Yes, his crotch. I’ve seen babies at the grocery store with t-shirts that say “The Man, The Myth, the Hoff.” It’s just everywhere. I love it, but right now I’m trying to get back to work as David Hasselhoff, the actor not the icon. That’s where the thrust of my intentions are right now. I’m getting more into the serious side of what David Hasselhoff does.
Like Piranha 3D?
Piranha 3 Double-D!
Why did you-?
Why did I do Piranha 3 Double-D? Because it’s funny, because it’s stupid, because it’s self-effacing. Everyone tried to talk me out of it. My press agent, my manager, everybody. And I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is the world’s greatest movie.”
How’d they try to talk you out of it?
Oh, they told me I should get away from doing cameos and back into more serious movie and TV roles. But I think the movie’s a big opportunity. It’ll reach the college crowd, and that’s a big audience. And, you know, they offered the part to me. (Laughs.) Sometimes that’s enough. I take whatever comes along.
You have a hard time saying no?
I just don’t see the point. In life, you either watch TV or you do TV. I told my daughters that the only way you’re going to make it in this business is to get in the game. That’s the biggest advice I can give them. If you’re not in the game, you can’t hit a home run. Maybe you strike out 99% of the time, but you could still hit a home run. Or you might hit a single, and a single gets you on base. And then you can steal second base. You can steal third base. You might even be able to steal home. But you’ve got to get in the game.
You don’t seem to have a problem with self-parody.
Not at all.
You’ve done caricatures of yourself in movies like Kickin’ It Old Skool and Dodgeball. Do you just take those jobs to demonstrate that you’re in on the joke? If you’re laughing with them, they’re not laughing at you?
I think laughter is the best medicine. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you can’t laugh at life and the silliness of it all. That’s when you’ve got problems. I mean come on, I’m a television star. Nobody on television is curing cancer. I’ve had a great ride, and I’m very honored to have been in this business. I’m happy if I managed to effect people in a positive way. And if I make mistakes and people want to make fun of it, I laugh harder at myself than anybody else. It’s kind of a way of picking yourself up and moving forward.
Do you think people identify with you?
I really do. They can see themselves in me. They see a guy who just doesn’t give up, who’s taken his knocks and keeps coming back for more. It’s not how hard you get knocked down, it’s how fast you get up. And then you get up and it’s like, “Okay, I shouldn’t have done that.” And then you move forward. That’s where I’m at in life. I can take what God delivers, the good and the bad, and I learn from it all. I just keep moving forward.
It hasn’t all been hard knocks for you. Baywatch did pretty well.
Yeah, we had a few people watching. (Laughs.)
140 countries, billions of viewers. Aren’t you in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most watched person on television?
That was in 1993 and last year they called me and said, “Would you come and do some more publicity?” Apparently no one’s broken the record since. I had people from Pakistan and Nepal tell me that Baywatch was like Slumdog Millionaire. Entire villages would gather around one television and watch it together. I was at the Caribou Club in Aspen once, and the Shah of Iran’s wife was there. People were telling me, “the Shah of Iran’s wife wants your autograph.” And I was like, “Yeah, right. Send her over then.” And then she comes over to my table and says to me, “They sell tickets to your show in my country.”
Baywatch, right. Actually, Knight Rider too. In Tehran, some homes have satellites in their back lawns, and they sell tickets for 25 cents to watch my shows. It’s amazing. There was this really interesting story in L.A. Weekly a while ago, called “Baywatch vs. The Ayatollah.” There were these two guys who went to Tehran Park and interviewed people. They asked them, “What’s your favorite TV show?” And people would usually say “Baywatch. I love Baywatch.”
Why do you think they watched?
Why wouldn’t they? (Laughs.)
But why would they? Why would so many people in the Middle East watch a show about a bunch of white people in swimming suits running in slow motion? What were they getting from it?
I don’t know. Why does anybody look to a different culture for entertainment? I just came back from Coachella, where ten thousand Caucasians were singing along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. And all their songs are about getting high.
I think you answered your own question.
They like getting high? I don’t know, maybe. (Laughs.)
It’s probably a little more complicated when it comes to Middle Easterners watching Baywatch with illegal television satellites.
I think it’s about people wanting to be free and looking at America as the big lifeguard. That’s why Baywatch was popular.
Or it’s the tits.
(Laughs.) Or it’s the tits.
Pamela Anderson has some gigantic boobs.
That’s the one thing everybody mentions.
Actually it’s two things.
Right, right. (Laughs.) I always laughed at everybody who said Baywatch was a sexist show. Seriously? We’re sexist? There are girls in bathing suits, guys in bathing suits, and we’re at the beach. It’s not called Ski-Watch. We’re not sky-divers. They’re lifeguards, and lifeguards wear bathing suits! When you go to the beach, that’s what you wear.
I think it was the slow-motion running that struck some critics as a little salacious.
That came about organically because we had no money. We didn’t have enough financing to finish the show. So we found a way to fill the hour by shooting people in slow motion. We said, “Well girls in bathing suits look good running in slow motion, let’s just shoot that.” And we found out that the audience kinda liked it. And they liked the music. They liked to sit back and watch music videos. We weren’t the ones who invented MTV, but we were the ones who said, “Hey, music videos are working, let’s do that.” And it did influence people, I think in a positive way.
How was it positive?
Baywatch was a show about saving lives. It’s not some reality television where you get everybody in a hot tub and pay them a lot of money to do stupid things. Baywatch gave people the right message. It was about women in the role of heroes, whether they were wearing tight bathing suits or not.
Do people still ask you to take off your shirt and run in slow motion?
Only if I’m paid heavily.
What’s your price?
In my stage show, we do a Baywatch set. It’s a parody. We show the outtakes and we put on the Baywatch lifejackets and run in slow motion. But it’s only a five minute part of a two and a half hour show. And I keep my shirt on.
You could get away with going shirtless though, couldn’t you?
I suppose so. (Laughs.) Not that anybody’s asking.
Is that what keeps you going to the gym every day? The possibility that somebody will ask you to take off your shirt?
No, what gets me to the gym every day is commitment and perseverance. It’s more of a mental thing than anything. I’ve been working out since Knight Rider. My first year on that show, I started working out with a guy named Dan Isaacson, who trained John Travolta for Staying Alive. I haven’t looked back since. He taught me that if you want to look good, you have to work out and eat right and stay healthy.
Do you really work out every day?
I really do. I actually intended to do it this morning, but I had an interview with Men’s Health.
But I have my rubber bands in my bag, so I’m going to work out at lunch today. For me, it’s more of a mental thing. If I don’t work out, I feel anxious. I absolutely love my workout time. It’s a time where I can decompress and not get stressed out about anything.
When Baywatch debuted in the late 80s, you were 35. Were you ever self-conscious about doing those shirtless slow-motion scenes?
Well, here’s the thing. We never ran in slow motion. We ran the film in slow motion.
Obviously. But you knew those running scenes were going to end up in slow motion, and things on your torso have a way of….
That’s exactly the word I was looking for.
Everything jiggles, no matter how tight you are. So you have to be in incredibly fantastic shape or you will look like Gumby. I think the girls didn’t mind running in slow motion because it was attractive, but the guys, we were in the gym working out constantly, because as soon as you’re not as tight as you should be….
That’s when your man boobs start flapping in the breeze.
Sure, yeah. (Laughs.) Most life guards are in incredible shape, and we were playing lifeguards. I had to keep up with the young guys. Gravity will always be your enemy.
Is there any part of your body that you’re self-conscious about?
I’ve never been happy about my legs. They’re too scrawny and boney. When I got cast in Baywatch, the last thing I wanted to do was run around in a bathing suit. I was pretty happy with wearing jeans and a leather jacket on Knight Rider. But I got over that quick. After the first paycheck, I said “Bring on the shorts! Who cares?”
There’s a very famous and strange photo of you where you’re naked and covered in strategically placed puppies. What’s the story there? Was that your idea?
I’ll tell you what that was. Most of your readers probably don’t remember, but Cosmopolitan, which was the number one fashion magazine during the 70s and 80s, did a male centerfold. The first person who posed was Burt Reynolds in the early 70s. He was lying naked on a bear rug, smoking a cigar. And then they did nude portraits of Arnold Schwarzenegger and (football player) Jim Brown. I did it in 1990. Back in those days it was a big deal to be in that magazine. Now that photo’s on t-shirts and I see it everywhere I go.
Is it embarrassing?
Oh sure. But I just laugh at it, because it’s a part of my youth. I look at it as just another day in the life of Hoff.
There’s that old cliché that you should never work with animals or kids because they’ll always upstage you. Was it tough posing naked with puppies?
(Laughs.) Oh come on!
Is that a yes?
I’ll leave that to “What do you think?”
I suppose it’s not worth asking if they were declawed?
(Laughs.) No. No, it’s not.
You’ve worked with kids recently too, right? In Peter Pan?
I’m doing Peter Pan now in Manchester. We’re opening in December, and it’s going to be fantastic. It’s kind of a send-up of Peter Pan. Instead of me singing a song from Peter Pan, I sing “Hooked on a Feeling.” My first line is “Oh, don’t you just love me.” There’s a great bit where I’m auditioning people to be in my gay band of pirates, because I’ve killed a few of them. And one of the people auditioning is Louie Spence, who’s the artistic director at London’s Pineapple Dance Studios and he’s probably the gayest guy in all of the U.K.. He’s like (in an effeminate falsetto), “Hello! I’m here to join your band of gay pirates!” And I’m like “It’s not gay pirates, it’s a gay band of pirates!” And then he turns all of my pirates into gay pirates and they dance.
Wasn’t your acting debut as a kid in a production of Peter Pan?
No, that was Rumpelstiltskin when I was seven years old in Jacksonville, Florida. Peter Pan was my first semi-professional play. It was actually at a place called the Academy Theater in Buckhead, which is just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
I thought you grew up in the Chicago suburbs?
I did. I’ve been all over the place. I was born in Maryland, and then my family moved to Jacksonville, and from there we moved to Atlanta and then Chicago. I went to high school in La Grange (Illinois) at the Lyons Township High School. I’m in their hall of fame. There’s a plaque of me in the school when you first come in. I’m the only person in the hall of fame with a C average.
Do you consider Chicago home?
Not really. After I went to California, my parents moved back to Atlanta and that’s become what I identify as home. My roots are in Atlanta. It’s a really progressive place. It’s somewhere where you didn’t see race, creed or color. It’s one of the first places where everybody started to get along.
We’re talking about Atlanta, Georgia, right?
Yeah, yeah, Atlanta, Georgia. One of the highlights of my performing career was when Martin Luther King’s family came to see my show. It was in a little theater called the Valley Circle Theater, which was built by kids and run by kids.
Did you know right away that you wanted to be an actor?
Oh yeah. Especially after doing Peter Pan. The whole theme of “I won’t grow up, I don’t want to go to school.” Those words really stuck with me, really got under my skin. Growing up I was a geeky taller kid. I loved sports but I wasn’t really good at any of them. But I was good at the theater. When I walked onstage, I had no fear. It was just absolutely fun and nothing scared me. It’s kind of the same way now. Except when I did Broadway. That scares the hell out of me. For some reason, when you hit Broadway, it’s like “Oh shit.” It’s the closest you come to God if you’re an actor. But then after doing eight shows a week, you’re like, “What the fuck was I thinking? This is hard fucking work.”
Were your parents supportive of you becoming an actor?
Absolutely. They were the first ones who supported me. My mom, who passed away recently, she told me once, “You’ve got it, son. You’ve got the quality to make it. Which is a drag because now I have to take you to every acting and singing class possible.” (Laughs.) But she did it, because she knew it was what I was meant to do. I got my tenacity and work ethic from my mom. She raised five kids, four girls and me, and ran the household. Back in those days — somebody said it and it wasn’t me — they had less but appreciated more. I think that’s the difference between our parents and this generation. People now wonder why they can’t get Internet on the airplane. I’m still trying to figure out how a plane takes off. It’s ridiculous! A guy’s sitting there on the plane with me going, “I can’t get wireless Internet!” And I’m like, “What the fuck, man? We’re 50,000 feet up in the air. You didn’t even know you could get Internet on a plane a few minutes ago.”
We’re definitely spoiled.
We really are. A century ago, it took thirty years to get from New York to LA. Now it takes five hours.
Yeah, I think Louis CK’s hilarious too.
Yeah. (Long pause.) Anyway, my parents were great. They supported me one hundred percent.
Your dad too?
He’s the best. He’s 86 and he’s going to try and make it to Manchester this year to see Peter Pan again.
Didn’t he sell armored cars for a living?
That’s right. He worked for Brink’s Armored Cars, which delivers and picks up money. He was the vice president of that company. He was basically a great dad who worked his way up the ladder. We’re still very close, and he’s still one of the funniest people I know. I got my tenacity from my mother, and my sense of humor from him.
Give me an example. Is he all about one liners? Does he do impressions? What’s his sense of humor like?
He’s in assisted living, and for their 50th anniversary we did a standup routine. The Hoff father and his son the Hoff. My dad had some great lines. He said, “The only difference between a cemetery and this place is that people are dying to get into a cemetery and people are dying to get out of here.” I just looked at him and said, “That’s the funniest fucking joke I’ve ever heard.” And he made it up on the spot.
You two should go on the road.
When he had a heart attack and had a quadruple bypass, I did all his errands for him. I picked up his medicine at the pharmacy and they were like, “Oh my god, your father is so funny. He’s always making jokes.” And then I went to pick up his laundry and the Korean owners were like (with an Asian stereotype voice) “Oh your father. He very funny. He make joke all the time.” And then I went to the grocery store to get him food and they were like, “We made your father a cake cause we heard he was sick.” Every place I went, they had a story about my dad. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to change my last name. As a kid I told my dad, “I take a lot of crap for being a Hasselhoff at school, but I’m going to make this name famous someday.”
You were teased for your last name?
Brutally. I didn’t think there was a name worse than Hasselhoff, until I heard yours. What’s your last name again? Spunk something?
Spitnagel! If we opened up a law office, we’d represent every German in trouble. (With a thick German accent.) “Spitznagel and Hasselhoff. We bring down all walls!”
I feel like we’re a Mel Brooks joke waiting to happen.
Have you ever met him? He’s the coolest guy.
I haven’t, no.
I have a great Mel Brooks story. We were doing The Producers in Las Vegas. He loved me in the role of Roger De Bris. I was so scared of him, because I was like, “This is Mel Brooks! He’s a legend!” But we became friends. We used to hang out in my dressing room. I remember before the show opened in Vegas, we did a press conference, and Mel went off on Cirque du Soleil. He was like, “This town needs a show with a story! Cirque du Soleil is great, but there’s no story. There’s a mime, and he comes out, and then there’s some music, and then there’s another mime!” I was dying laughing, because he’s right, there is no story. It’s just mimes!
The Producers didn’t last very long in Vegas, did it?
Six months! We totally bombed! Because nobody in Vegas wants a story. They’re too drunk. They just want to get back to the casino. Nothing sophisticated survives in Vegas. I hope I get a chance to do The Producers again. I wrote to Mel, I said “Dear Mel. They gave me a lot of shit for playing a Nazi in my one man show. I hear they’re doing The Producer at the Hollywood Bowl. Could you put in a good word for me?” He wrote back and said, “You were terrific, I will absolutely put a good word in for you.” He’s just a great guy.
What happened with the Nazi controversy exactly? I just remember seeing all these pictures on the Internet of you dressed as a Nazi.
That was from my one-man show (“An Evening With David Hasselhoff”). I was getting calls from my manager, “You can’t do anything anti-Semitic!” And I was like, “Dude, it’s from the fucking Producers! There’s a backdrop behind me that says The Producers. And I introduce that part of my show by saying ‘And now my Broadway period,’ and then I did Billy Flynn from Chicago, and both characters from Jekyll and Hyde while wearing a wig.” Did any of that get mentioned in the tabloids? No. They just picked up on on the Hitler stuff.
To be fair, a photo of you wearing a Hitler mustache and a swastika armband is a little more newsworthy than you dressed like Billy Flynn.
Well whatever, it turned into gold anyway, because everyone loved the show. I’m doing it again at the Edinburgh Festival in August. I’m going to do seven nights there. And then I’m doing two nights in the West End. Will I take out Hitler? Fuck no! I’m going to jam Hitler down their throats.
There must be a better way to say that.
David Hasselhoff: It’s a great show! I’m not praising Hitler, I’m mocking Hitler. He’s a gay fucking Hitler. And those lines are “Heil myself!” (sings.) “Heil myself, Heil to me, I’m the kraut who’s out to change our history!” Listen to the words, you idiots.
This probably isn’t the best segue, but they love you in Germany, right?
(Laughs.) I guess so, sure.
How did that happen exactly? Did you have anything to do with it? Or was it just a happy accident?
It was fate. You know that old saying, “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans?” That’s what it was. I’ll tell you what happened. I was sitting in my house after Knight Rider got cancelled. I had nothing to do and I was getting a divorce, and I got a phone call. A girl from Austria had won a trip to have lunch with me. It was sponsored by this magazine called Rennbahn Express, which is a big teen magazine over in Europe.
They never asked if you’d participate?
No, they just did it. I told them, “I’m going through my Ernest Hemingway period, I don’t want to see anybody.” I’d lost my marriage, I’d lost my job. I was seeing casting calls that said, “Looking for David Hasselhoff type.” And I’d show up and say, “Hi, I kinda look just like him.” And they’d slam the door in my face. They’d say, “no, not you. You’re a TV star, we need a new one.” But the people at Rennbahn Express talked me into it. I had lunch with the girl. I invited her over to my house in Sherman Oaks. I even let her ride my Trans Am go-kart, which the cast and crew of Knight Rider had given me for my first wedding. And she wrecked it!
How’d she do that?
I don’t even remember. I think she ran it into a wall. So she was trying to change the subject and she says, “You know, your record’s number one in my country.” And I was like, “Night Rocker? Night Rocker sold seven copies and I bought six.” She said “No, no, Night Rocker is number one in Austria.” I said, “Where’s Austria? We went in the house — this is a true story — we looked at a map of the world, and here’s this tiny little country that’s about the size of the head of a pin. So I called Austria.
You called the country?
I called this rock n’ roll promoter, Hebie Fechter. I said, “Hi! My name is David Schwartz and I represent David Hasselhoff.” I picked the most Jewish name I could think of. I asked him, “Is it true Hasselhoff’s record is number one?” He says, “Yes it is.” I said, “How about he comes over and does a tour and brings the Knight Rider car?” Because I figured if they don’t want to see me, maybe they’ll come to see the car.
And he goes, “Let me get back to you.” He calls me back within five minutes and says, “We can book it.” So I call my manager and say, “I think I just booked myself in Austria.” And she says, “Okay fine, but you have to be back for pilot season.” So now I have to be in Germany in two weeks.
With a Knight Rider car.
So I bought two!
Of course you did.
My dad found them. I had called him and said, “I need two black Trans Ams. We’re booked in Austria.” So he finds them and I bought ‘em both for $7000. I had them shipped overseas for a few autographed photographs. We blacked out the windows, put a kid inside who spoke German, and we had our KITT.
What could go wrong?
Everything. (Laughs.) But somehow everything went right. We put a whole show together and pre-recorded it and were on the road in two weeks. We opened in a tent, and the first night we were supposed to have 2,500 people and 10,000 showed up. My dad was doing merchandizing, and he comes to see me backstage before the show and says, “David, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we’ve sold out of merchandizing.” And I’m like, “What’s the bad news, Dad?” “I have no fucking idea where to buy merchandizing in Austria.”
Did the tour just go to cities in Germany?
We went all over Europe. I went to Spain, Finland, Greece. One of the KITT cars was stolen in Italy, but we got it back. And then a producer came up to me and said, “I have a song that was a smash hit twenty years ago. It was called ‘uf Der Strasse Nach Suden’ and I think it’d be perfect for you.”
That became “Looking for Freedom”?
That’s the one. I said “Sure, let’s try it.” We released it, and then I sang it on a TV show in Germany called “Wetten, dass..?” (German for “Wanna bet that..?”), which is the biggest show in German history. Afterwards I went back to the hotel with Tom Jones, who was also on the show that night, and we swam in the rooftop pool with twenty dancing girls. And I was like, “This isn’t too bad.” (Laughs.) “I could get used to being a star.”
How long did it take for the song to become a hit?
Almost immediately. The next day we sold 17,000 singles and the day after that we sold 75,000, and the next week we were number one, and we stayed number one for eight weeks. This was in May, June and July of 1989. Then we went into East Germany, and the people over there didn’t know me as the Knight Rider, they knew me as the guy who sang about freedom. It was really cool. I was like, “Wow. This is weird. These people are all oppressed.” The bottom line is, the Wall comes down.
The Berlin Wall?
The Berlin Wall. And they called me and said, “Will you sing on New Year’s Eve?” This was for something called The Sylvester Show, which is like the Dick Clark New Year’s Eve show in the U.S.. They wanted me to sing three songs at the Berlin Hilton. And I said yes, but only if I can sing on the Berlin Wall. Figuring they would say no, but they said yes.
What was that like?
It was amazing. It was freezing, but I was so emotional I didn’t even notice. I think a took a few swigs of schnapps at one point. I was singing “Looking for Freedom” to a million people. And they were all singing along in English. It was like Woodstock.
Sans the brown acid.
(Laughs.) Yeah, nobody was stoned. That I knew about anyway. That more or less began my career. Then I came back to the States and nobody knew about the Wall falling. Nobody gave a damn about it over here.
Are you sure?
Nobody that I talked to seemed to care. Twenty years later, they finally understand it was a huge thing. It was the first time that communism had fallen without conflict. And they all made jokes about it.
About the Wall coming down or you?
People think I took credit for it. Norm Macdonald was on Saturday Night Live making all these jokes like, “The Germans love David Hasselhoff” and “David Hasselhoff thinks he tore down the Berlin Wall.” It was funny, ha ha. But then everybody picked up on it as an actual news source. I never said that! I never claimed that!
Where’d that misconception start? It wasn’t all Norm Macdonald’s fault, was it?
You know how that started? I’ll tell you exactly how it started. It started because somebody in the National Inquirer published a quote about me that was a complete fabrication. They only got half of it right. I went to Checkpoint Charlie and the lady there said, “Would you do some sort of promotion for Checkpoint Charlie to keep it open?” And I said, “Sure.” But then I looked around the museum and said, “Wait, where’s my picture?” And that’s the story that went out.
You thought you should be in the museum?
Well come on, I was the first U.S. singer to perform in East Germany since 1945. They had pictures of (Sylvester) Stallone but not me. But whatever, it’s no big deal. I just said something in passing, just pointing out that it’d be nice if I was included, and the Inquirer blew the whole thing out of proportion. They wrote something like “David Hasselhoff is really upset because he thinks he brought down the Wall and there’s no picture of him.” It got picked up by the BBC. I called the BBC and said, “Excuse me, I never said any of this. What’s your source?” And they said, “The National Inquirer.” I couldn’t believe it. The BBC is quoting the National Inquirer! But whatever, I think it’s funny. Let people think what they want to think.
It sounds like you want some recognition.
I know I didn’t have anything to do with the Wall coming down. I just happened to be there at the right time. But I honored those people. Before the Wall came down, I went to East Berlin and met some children who said they would never get out. Their grandparents would maybe get out, but they wouldn’t. So I took a picture with them and I said, “Meet me here at 12 o’clock tomorrow.” I put them on the cover of a newspaper in West Berlin. I brought them the newspaper, and they started crying. I said, “Here’s a little piece of freedom.” They were actually on the cover of the West Berlin newspaper.
If I walked up to somebody in any German city and asked them about your Berlin Wall concert and what it meant to them, what do you think they’d say?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. But when I went on tour in Germany one year ago, they were all holding up signs that said “Thank you for our freedom. Thank you for the mauerfall.” I thought the Germans were making fun of me, but they weren’t.
How do you know?
Because they told me! They said, “No, this is not a joke. Do you realize that the first English words out of our mouth were ‘I’ve been lookin’ for freedom,’ because our first language is German and our second language was Russian?” They told me, “We weren’t allowed to watch television but we were able to watch you on television and hear you on the radio.”
You should be performing on the border between Israel and Palestine.
Maybe. (Laughs.) That’s my new series, it’s called “Off the Wall.” I’m going to bring down walls all over the world. Next I want to bring down the walls between girls and boys bathrooms. I think we should all be together. I mean it’s stupid, why do we have to go to different bathrooms?
I could think of a few reasons.
Bathrooms tend to have exposed genitals.
Well you close the door! Go to the stall and close the door! It really bothers me. Go in separately, go in together, I don’t care. Who cares?
This is a fight you’re not going to win, David.
Maybe. But yeah, in general I’d like to have a more positive influence on the world. I do a lot of work with the Wounded Warriors, and guys will come back from Iraq with lost legs and tell me, “You don’t have any idea how famous you are over there.” They tell me that if I just walked down the streets of Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan, everybody would know who I was. I think about that sometimes. I want to do whatever I can to help the situation over there.
If you want to help, just make more episodes of Knight Rider.
I’m trying, I’m trying! I want to do a Knight Rider movie. It’d be Michael Knight and his son. It’d be like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and it would work perfectly. It would be hysterical. We’d bring back KITT and KITT would say, “Where’ve you been, Michael?” And I’d be like, “Well, all the cars talk now.” I’m always being asked when I’m going to do Knight Rider again. I went to Zimbabwe and they were like, “Michael Knight, why you look so old?” Because the show is from 1982! “Where is your curly hair?” It’s gone, I’m on vacation, leave me alone. All over the world it’s like that.
Did Knight Rider get to as many remote parts of the world as Baywatch?
Even more so. I went to this Zulu village in Natal and we were watching a tribal dance and I see that everybody is staring at me. And the person I was with said, “You know they get Knight Rider over here.” And I just laughed. I was like, “No they don’t, it’s impossible.” So as a joke, I looked down at my watch and shouted “Hey KITT, come pick me up.” And I swear to you, the dancing stopped and every head turned to see if the Knight Rider car was coming. It was hilarious! Then we all went back to the chief’s kraal and drank Zulu beer.
What did you think about the updated Knight Rider series that NBC did in 2008?
That was my idea! I pitched it to them! It was basically my treatment. I brought it to them, and they were like, “We want to develop it. That’s the good news.” And I said, “What’s the bad news?” “You’re not going to be in it.” I said, “Oh. That’s not what I had in mind.” But that’s show business. You just have to roll with the punches. I said, “Good luck.” And then it got cancelled a year later.
Why do you think it failed?
It had no heart. And there was no humor. And there was no action. The action needed to be progressive and cool and hip. People loved Knight Rider — the original Knight Rider —not because the car could fly but because Michael and KITT were great characters. KITT was the perfect authoritative parent with a sense of humor. And Michael was a cool guy who believed in saving lives and not taking lives. It was about how one man can make a difference. (Pause.) Also, the new Knight Rider didn’t have me in it. (Laughs.) That’s a joke. (Pause.) Kind of.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MensHealth.com.)