If imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, then Weird Al Yankovic was arguably the nicest guy in Hollywood. The multi-talented singer, comedian and accordion player made his mark in the music industry by skewering chart-topping singles by the likes of Michael Jackson, Pat Benatar and Madonna with his hilarious song parodies. Yankovic launched his career as a comedian on a Southern California radio show before rising to fame in the 1980s with spoof hits like "Eat It" (1984), "Fat" (1988) and "Like a Surgeon" (1985). Yankovic not only put his comedic spin on the songs, but he also imitated - with uncanny precision - the stars' looks, mannerisms, and music videos. After starring in the cult feature "UHF" (1989), winning Grammy Awards, and releasing dozens of albums, the singer showed no signs of slowing down when his music video for "Perform This Way" (2011) - a parody of Lady Gaga's monster hit "Born This Way" (2011) - went viral on the Internet and proved that when it came to musical parodies, Yankovic was an inimitable and timeless entertainer.
He was born Alfred Matthew Yankovic on Oct. 23, 1959 in Downey, CA and grew up in the neighboring town of Lynwood. He was the only child of Nick and Mary Yankovic. The future comedy star's background was Yugoslavian on his father's side of the family, and Italian and English on his mother's side. Yankovic began accordion lessons on the day before his seventh birthday, but after three years of lessons, he decided to learn the instrument on his own. While attending Lynwood High School, he earned extra money as a part-time accordion teacher. Yankovic also began writing his own songs during his teens and sent homemade tapes to Dr. Demento, a Los Angeles-based disc jockey who often played comedy material and novelty music on his nationally syndicated program. Demento liked Yankovic's accordion-driven songs enough to give the aspiring musician airplay. Yankovic graduated valedictorian of his class at 16 and studied at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, where he majored in architecture. After college, Yankovic was hired by a radio syndication company in Culver City, California to work in the mailroom and later at a desk job.
Yankovic gained a modest cult following for his music, thanks to constant airplay of his songs "My Bologna" (1979) - a parody of The Knack's "My Sharona" (1979) - and "Another One Rides the Bus" (1980) - inspired by Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" (1980) - on Demento's radio program. Yankovic's career gained more momentum after he toured with Demento's stage show in 1981. The following year, the spoof singer signed with Scotti Brothers Records, which released his self-titled debut album. Weird Al Yankovic featured "My Bologna" and "Another One Rides the Bus," as well as hilarious parodies of hits originally performed by Tony Basil ("Ricky") and Joan Jett ("I Love Rocky Road"). His sophomore release 'Weird Al' Yankovic in 3-D (1984) went platinum, in large thanks to the hit single "Eat It," a parody of Michael Jackson's chart-topping single "Beat It" (1983). The music video for "Eat It" - a shot-by-shot spoof of "Beat It" - played regularly on MTV and also established Yankovic as a visual comedian. The Grammy Awards often took notice of Yankovic's work, honoring him with Best Comedy Recording trophies for "Eat It" and "Fat" as well as a 2003 Best Comedy Album win for Poodle Hat.
After landing supporting roles in the comedy features "Tapeheads" (1988) and "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" (1988), Yankovic was cast in his first lead role in the cult comedy "UHF." He played a slacker who ends up running his own television station. "UHF" featured Yankovic's penchant for sight gags and wacky parodies, and also starred fellow comics Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson and a pre-"Seinfeld" (NBC, 1990-98) Michael Richards. One of Yankovic's biggest supporters was MTV, which let him host several comedy and music specials on the network titled "Al TV" (MTV, 1988; VH1, 2006). In 1997, the comedian starred on "The Weird Al Show" (CBS, 1997), a half-hour long Saturday morning series filled with comedy skits, musical guests and a variety of characters often played by Yankovic himself.
While Yankovic was legally allowed to parody songs without permission, he maintained a good relationship with songwriters and fellow artists throughout his career. Bands like Nirvana reportedly said that a parody from Yankovic meant that they had finally "made it" in the business. One artist, however, was upset after hearing Yankovic's parody of his song. It was widely rumored that rapper Coolio was offended by "Amish Paradise," Yankovic's take on his hit "Gangsta's Paradise" (1995). Yankovic later claimed on his website that there was a misunderstanding between his and Coolio's representatives, and that the rapper gave permission for the parody. The controversial song was one of the biggest hits in Yankovic's career. Other artists, like Prince and Paul McCartney, simply refused to let Yankovic parody their work.
In the new millennium, the rise of YouTube and viral sites like Funnyordie.com made it possible for anyone to make their own parodies and celebrity impersonations. Yankovic remained true to his roots and released albums like Straight Outta Lynwood (2006). In 2011, he released his 13th album Alpocalypse, which featured the Lady Gaga-inspired single "Perform This Way." The music video reached more than two million views on YouTube within days of its release and featured Yankovic's head superimposed on a female body that wore outlandish costumes similar to those worn by Lady Gaga.