He’s been in the music business for decades now, he’s won five Grammys, and he’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, but he’s always felt like a failure where it really counts: in his love life. The story here is long and tumultuous, with lots of ex-wives and salacious stories. Read on to learn more about the heart of the piano man and plenty of other facts as well.
What He Really Wanted
In talks with his biographer Fred Schruers, Billy Joel mentioned that when he was young, he was envious of couples. He would see people walking down the street that looked like they had been together for thirty, forty, or fifty years. They'd lasted so long – why couldn't Billy have that? He dreamed about it, thought about it, wrote music and lyrics about it.
He tried again and again to achieve this dream, but three painful marriages have proved that even those who look for it don't always find it. At the very least, he got plenty of great music out of it.
Beginning at the End
In 2015, Billy Joel had gone through divorce three times. He wasn't done yet, though – in that same year; he walked down the aisle with his fourth wife, a former hedge fund manager named Alexis Roderick.
Despite the bad breakups he's had with each one, Joel has been able to stay on good terms with all of his ex-wives – not to mention the numerous girlfriends and short-term relationships he's had with models and other famous names that never made it to the chapel. His three wives are Elizabeth Weber, Christie Brinkley, and Katie Lee. They might have ended in heartbreak, but Billy Joel is nothing if not a gentleman.
The Women Made the Music
It should come as no surprise to anybody who knows anything about music – or relationships – that the women in Billy Joel's life have contributed to his songs.
Just off the top of our heads, we can thank his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, for the songs “Just the Way You Are,” “She's Always a Woman,” and “She's Got a Way.” On the other hand, Joel can also thank her for being the first major heartbreak in his life – with plenty more down the road. How did this magical musician get his start in love? It came after his start in music, at the very least.
Meeting His First Wife
Billy Joel and his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, met in 1970 through Joel's bandmate Jon Small. Weber and Small had been married previously and even had a son together. According to Joel, she was intelligent and charming, not scared to speak her mind. Not a typical American girl.
Their relationship began as an affair, but Small found out quickly. Elizabeth then disappeared from both of their lives and stayed gone for weeks. After that, Billy Joel not only contemplated ending his life – but actually tried to go through with it.
He Considered Himself a Failure
Being twenty-one is never easy, but Billy Joel had it worse than most of us. He was broke, loveless, and had few people he could depend on. His band was going nowhere, and he was crashing at his mother's house.
Once Elizabeth ran off, he consumed large quantities of Nembutal pills and immediately called Small to apologize for everything. Small, scared out of his mind, rushed to Joel's house in Hicksville, New York.
Small raced to Joel's home to find him lying on the floor. The next thing Joel knew, he was in a hospital bed. Small had notified emergency personnel, who had been able to get him the help he needed.
The first thing that Joel thought to himself when he woke up and realized where he was? “Oh, great, I couldn't even do this right.” It was yet another failure for Joel, but one we're all happy about. Of course, that wasn't the end of the story. Joel had to spend time in the psych ward after this attempt, where he ended up learning some things about himself.
In the Psych Ward
Only a few weeks later, Billy Joel tried to take his own life again. A family member found him with just enough time to keep him alive yet again, and then they placed him in a psych ward to give him a safe space to work out his issues.
During his three weeks in the ward, he had plenty of time to ruminate on what he had done. He eventually had an epiphany: all of his problems were his own. The people around him in the psych ward had real problems, but he was the only one to blame for his. He resolved to not stop until he had overcome his issues.
Back to Music
Thankfully, Billy Joel was never into the illegal substances so liberally used in Hollywood. However, booze and cigarettes were in everyone's lives back then. Joel started writing again and used those vices. He managed to reconnect with Elizabeth, and after some back and forth, they got back together.
Elizabeth was good with business and money, and she agreed to manage him as he tried to make it in music. She also agreed to become his first wife. In the end, however, this would end up being a poor decision on Joel's part. Whether one or the other would have worked is unknown, but it's clear having Elizabeth do both was a misstep.
The First Marriage Begins
Joel and Elizabeth got married in September of 1973, and people that knew the musician immediately became concerned about the relationship. Elizabeth appeared to be very controlling, manipulative, and just plain rude to Joel and the people in their lives.
She was also far more fond of the rock and roll lifestyle than Joel was. But, once the marriage began, some great music started to come out of Joel, including right off the bat “She's Got a Way” and “She's Always a Woman.” While it seems this relationship was destined to end poorly, Joel seemed to be enjoying it, at least at the time.
The First Big Crack
Joel did seem to be in love with Elizabeth, but it's difficult for us to say the same thing in the other direction. Here's one example: Billy Joel wrote the song “Just the Way You Are” as a birthday gift to Elizabeth and then played it for her.
Did she cry? Did she hug him? Did she give an emotional thank you speech? No, none of those. When he had finished playing, she asked him if she had the publishing rights to the song. Being blinded by love is one thing, but anybody who responds to a gift like that has the wrong headspace.
A Stranger With His Money
Since she was his wife, it was only fair that Elizabeth was entitled to fifty percent of his wealth – which was growing every day thanks to his now-legitimate music career. She was also earning money from him by acting as his manager – and it was hers, not theirs.
She brought her brother Frank into the business, meaning that suddenly Billy Joel wasn't seeing much of his own money. Joel named his next hit single and his next album after the situation: “The Stranger.” Elizabeth might have been his muse, and the listening public got plenty of good music out of the relationship, but after nine years, the romance was gone.
Still Hoping for Reconciliation
The couple filed for divorce in 1982, but the decision wasn't mutual. Elizabeth wanted out.
Joel, on his part, was urging her to stay and was willing to do anything that she wanted, including buying her a $4 million home on the Upper East Side and an Alfa Romeo, worth anywhere from merely tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds. But it just wasn't to meant be. As the divorce was still going through the motions, Billy Joel – despondent and upset – got into a terrible motorcycle accident.
Bad Bedside Manners
The accident smashed up Joel's hands – something that is, you might recognize, pretty important for playing the piano. In the hospital, heavily medicated with pain pills, Elizabeth brought a contract to him, offering to stay with him as long as he signed. At first, Joel was overjoyed until he realized that by signing the contract, he would have given Elizabeth every single thing that he owned.
All of his money, possessions, and rights to his music. “I may have acted like an idiot a time or two,” Joel told his biographer, “but I'm not a complete idiot.” He sent Weber away for good.
The Divorce Goes Through
To Joel, the relationship was over then and there. He realized Weber didn't really love him – she might have liked him, but she loved the lifestyle and the money and the idea of being famous – take your pick – more.
It's telling that even Elizabeth's sister Frank took Joel's side in the divorce. However, years later, in 1989, Joel discovered that Frank had drained something like thirty million dollars from his earnings improperly. Joel then had to sue Frank to get his money back. He not only got it back, but he was also about to get an extra sixty million dollars in punitive damages.
A Costly Relationship
Frank was one step ahead of Joel during the court proceedings, however. He outwitted Joel by filing for bankruptcy. The two sides of the issue had to settle out of court in 1990. It seems that joining Elizabeth in marriage was the costliest decision that Billy Joel could ever make. It was his first experience with marriage, and it was enough to make anyone jaded with the entire idea.
Joel was now wary of future relationships, though it seems like he wasn't wary enough. Just because one relationship had ended badly – quite badly – that doesn't mean that every relationship will. Yes, it was still true. Billy Joel was a hopeless romantic.
Joel wasn't going to give up finding the love of his life. He eagerly clung to the idea of romance, though as he got back into the dating scene, he decided to guard himself a little better. He wasn't going to give up, however, and hoped that the next time he walked down the aisle, it was going to last.
If you've read to this point, you know that it didn't. However, he also set his sights a little higher – his next romantic interest was a supermodel. Now a big-time music star, he was starting to meet a lot more of them.
The Second Wife
In 1983, a year after he split with Elizabeth Weber, Billy Joel went to St. Bart's for a vacation during the holidays. While there, the 33-year-old found a piano bar and did his thing.
In a manner of seconds, three women were throwing themselves at him and the piano. The three women were Elle Macpherson, then a mere 19 years old, an undiscovered Whitney Houston, and the woman who would become his second wife – Christie Brinkley, twenty-eight years old and just as beautiful as always.
A Real-Life Fantasy
Having three beautiful women drape themselves over the piano is one of the most basic rock-star fantasies, and Joel almost couldn't believe his eyes. All three of the women were vying for his attention.
Whitney proudly exclaimed that she can sing – something the entire world would learn before too long. Meanwhile, Elle had draped herself over the piano like she was a movie star in a romantic film (“The Fabulous Baker Boys” with Michelle Pfeiffer comes to mind). For a dreamer like Joel, this was the perfect thing – his first relationship might not have worked out, but there will always be more fish on the sea. All he had to do was play that piano.
Letting Her Make the Moves
All three of these young women tried their hardest, but Joel eventually laid eyes on Christie Brinkley. In order to attract her, he got gussied up, sat down at the piano, and played.
Christie sat down next to him to sing with him. It was clear she was interested. She was fresh out of a long relationship with Olivier Chandon de Brailles, race car driver and heir. Just a few days after Joel and Brinkley met, however, Chandon tragically died in a car accident.
Living in Fantasy Land
Once he heard the news about Chandon's accident, Joel reached out to Brinkley to give his regrets. The two had an immediate connection, however, and before long, their quick friendship became romantic. They started dating soon after.
However, it's important to point something out about this moment in Joel's life. He was, according to Brinkley, already going out with “This girl Elle.” That would be Elle Macpherson, who was just as beautiful as Christie Brinkley – but Brinkley still had the edge. Apparently, if you throw yourself at a man while he's playing the piano, he might just take an interest. It's every guy's fantasy.
All Ten Fingers
Nick Turturro is a relatively well-known actor, mostly for his spot on “NYPD Blue,” but before he broke out, he worked as a doorman for an apartment building looking over Central Park. Joel lived in the penthouse.
As Christy and Elle tried to capture Joel's affections, he would bring them home with him on certain nights. Turturro had the now-frowned-upon habit of ranking the women Joel brought home from one to ten. According to Joel, he would usually hold up seven, eight, or nine fingers, but for Brinkley, Turturro held up all ten fingers. Twice.
In Love With Brinkley
In his biography, Joel recalls one night – the very first night that he brought Christy home with him. On the surface, he was a cool cucumber, but inside, that kid from Hicksville was jumping around excited. Then, unfortunately, the elevator door opened, and Elle Macpherson walked in.
Macpherson stayed, and Brinkley left, but Joel couldn't ignore it anymore – he was enamored with Brinkley. At the moment Macpherson walked in, Joel wondered what his friends from home would say if they could see his life now – even while he was panicking about what could have very easily turned into a bad fight.
Elle Doesn't Agree With the Biography
When she made an appearance on “Watch What Happens Live” in 2018, Elle Macpherson had some things to say about the situation. Joel says that when he brought Brinkley home, Macpherson was there waiting for him, but what Macpherson says makes it seem like Joel was hiding something.
According to her, she and Joel had been living together at the time when he started officially dating Brinkley, and that she essentially got thrown out. The term that she used was “got ousted,” which means that either she's been quite mature about it, or she was being careful with what she was saying.
The Second Marriage Begins
Elle Macpherson was out, and Christie Brinkley was officially in. Joel and the supermodel became an item, and after a short courting period, the two got married in the New York Harbor on a 147-foot yacht.
Likely the number of people who are able to claim such a swanky marriage site has increased, but back in 1985, it was pretty special. Almost exactly nine months later, they welcomed their daughter Alexa Ray. Alexa Ray is following in her father's footsteps as a singer, songwriter, and pianist, having released several EPs and singles on independent labels.
The Model and the Marriage
For the music video to Billy Joel's hit single “Uptown Girl,” Brinkley appeared as the love interest, so for obvious reasons, people assumed he had written the song about her. The truth is that the song was about Joel's short-lived relationship with Macpherson.
The song was originally going to be called “Uptown Girls,” and it was going to be about dating not only Brinkley but the younger supermodel as well – there was even a third girl that was going to be part of it, someone that Joel had been seeing before he met either Macpherson or Brinkley. He was dating Brinkley when it came time to record, so Joel simplified.
Bubbles the Chimp
About his relationship with Elle, Joel would state that he felt somewhat insecure about it. He wasn't a bad-looking guy, but it isn't untrue to say Elle had the edge in the looks department. She was also quite a bit younger (and taller) than him.
He ended up writing “And So It Goes” for Macpherson, understanding she was on the brink of superstardom and that she would have eventually left him. There was one photo someone took of him with Elle before they broke up – Joel stated, “Elle was so tall that I looked like Bubbles the Chimp next to her, and I realized this was just not going to work.”
An Innocent Man
Joel's next album, “An Innocent Man,” was a love letter to his new wife. There was “Uptown Girl,” of course, but the album also included “This Is the Time,” which he wrote for Brinkley. It's a song about a couple reflecting on their best days together. Joel was back on the path to love, but new problems were about to rear their heads.
He was still suffering from financial problems due to his long legal battle with Frank Weber, and it meant he was touring nonstop to maintain his income. His relationship with Brinkley suffered, and the boiling point came when, in 1993, he stayed at a hotel right next to the Nassau Coliseum rather than drive ninety minutes home.
Brinkley wasn't happy about this choice – and it was at that point when one of Joel's band members informed her that Joel was cheating on her, an accusation that Joel denies. But, by the end of 1993, both Brinkley and Joel knew that the marriage wasn't going to last much longer.
Their split coincided with when Billy Joel stopped making albums – Brinkley jokes that it was the end of his songwriting career. A number of factors went into the breakup, not just the alleged affair. Just like Joel's first marriage, he and Brinkley lasted nine years together.
Absence Didn't Make the Hearts Fonder
Other factors that led to the breakup include Brinkley's desire to move to the West Coast – while Billy Joel was and will remain an East Coast guy. Joel's endless touring schedule also drove a wedge between them.
Brinkley's statement was that just because someone is great at communicating through art (as Joel clearly is) doesn't mean that person is great at communicating in a relationship. Joel had always kind of been an awkward guy, and having the drive to find romance in your life is no assurance that you'll be any good at being in a relationship.
Always Had Her Back
While the relationship might not have worked out in the long run, Brinkley reports that Joel was always supportive of her. The two were quite an item while they were together, and Joel always had her back when the claws of the media came out.
Many people fell back on the air-headed blonde stereotype when it came to his second wife, often calling her stupid or boring. Joel didn't like it, and during an interview with “Rolling Stone,” he said people calling her such things really bothered him. To him, she was anything but that.
More Than a Pretty Face
When Joel and Brikley went out together, he preferred people looking at her – whether this was a trophy wife sort of situation or he was nervous about his appearance, we aren't sure. Brinkley turned out to have plenty of brain despite what the media liked to say.
We're unsure whose idea it was, but once when the couple was trying to avoid the media at a hotel, they booked themselves as Rocky and Sandy Shore. It's clever, but anybody that sees it would understand that it was a couple of fake names.
She Needed a Backyard
Having a place you can go to be yourself, without the pressures of the outside world, is an extremely important thing for anybody. And for someone like Brinkley, who had cameras after her 24/7, it was even more important.
She explained to “Sports Illustrated” in 1989 that the worst thing she could think of was being famous and poor because then it would be impossible to escape to somewhere the paparazzi wouldn't be able to find her. Thankfully, with the money that Billy Joel was always bringing in and Brinkley's own cash flow, they were always able to get away, even if they did have to come up with fake names.
Brinkley After the Divorce
Once Billy Joel and Brinkley split up, Brinkley moved on to other men. No doubt she's still getting suitors even to this day. Once the divorce was finalized, Brinkley married Richard Taubman, though their relationship ended up being pretty short. They still managed to have a son together, however.
She married her next husband, Peter Cook, in 1996 and welcomed a daughter quickly. That was her longest marriage since it lasted a full twelve years, but they split up in 2008. Brinkley might not have had a lot of success, but Joel wasn't doing much better when they divorced. Still, he managed to move on to his next beau.
Before He Married Again
One of the other reasons Joel and Brinkley ended up splitting, and something that would go on to plague Joel for years to come, was Joel's dependency on the bottle. He drank heavily in order to stave off depression, but to no one's surprise, it didn't help much.
This led to a bad public breakdown when he was onstage with Elton John at Madison Square Garden. Joel started shouting out random famous battle sites such as Bunker Hill and Antietam. Why? It's hard to guess, but the bottle is surely at least partly to blame. The relationship between Elton John and Billy Joel took a nosedive after being the most popular dual touring act ever.
Joel Battles the Bottle
The outburst at Madison Square put a big rift between these two powerful acts, but they've recently been able to patch things up. However, between 2002 and 2004, Joel found himself in not one or two but three car crashes on Long Island.
In one, he crashed into a house. He blamed bad street lighting, local wildlife, and his car, a Citroën and Porsche 9/11. Eventually, the evidence piled up, and he knew that he had to check himself into a rehabilitation center. He went on record at the time: “The fact is, I like to drink... Sometimes too much.”
The Third Marriage
As Joel struggled with his demons, he found a light at the end of the tunnel. Her name was Katie Lee, and she was a college girl from Ohio. They met at the Peninsula Hotel's lobby, and they hit it off quickly.
Right after graduating, she moved into Joel's four-million-dollar loft in Tribeca. They were married in 2004 and began their life together. The biggest thing to know about this relationship was the age gap – it wasn't the biggest we've ever heard coming out of the entertainment industry, but it was still quite large. When they got married, Joel was fifty-five, and Lee was twenty-three.
Early Marriage Issues
After spending some time at one of the famous Betty Ford rehab centers, Billy Joel was ready to get back to his life. With a new wife by his side (though she was only four years older than his daughter Alexa), Joel started touring again.
Lee encouraged him to get back on the road and do what he loved. Katie Lee was an aspiring culinary star, and while she was making sure everything was held down at home, Joel hit the road. However, just a few months into their marriage, Joel once again ended up in rehab.
Surprises on Tour
In 2008, Joel was on tour with Elton John. Again. Supposedly, this was before they had a professional split but after Joel's breakdown on stage. It's complicated. Anyway, during this time, Joel kept seeing photos of his wife at premieres and gallery openings, and in one photo, in particular, she was dancing pretty close with another man.
Lee admitted to Joel's biographer that the photos look pretty bad, but she, just like Joel more than ten years before, denied ever having an affair. However, it was clear for one reason or another that the marriage wasn't going to work. It could have been the touring, the age gap, or something else.
Joel Still Had Hope
The marriage was unraveling before his eyes. Billy Joel, however, was still a hopeless romantic, and he wasn't about to just let this one go after such a short time. He told her that he wanted to go to a therapist, and she changed the topic to the furniture.
Joel has stated that he realized then the marriage wasn't going to last. They were divorced by 2009, and it would be at least another year before he met the person who would end up being his fourth wife. Who knows? Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.
So Far So Good
The Piano Man's fourth marriage to Alexis Roderick began on July 4th, 2015. It happened at the couple's annual party, which was quite a surprise for all of the guests. The marriage happened at Joel's Centre Island Estate in Long Island. They had a celebrity officiant, none other than New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.
It's unknown if this was what got them to make things official, but by the time they got married, the couple was already expecting their first child together. We can't stop thinking about the guests – imagine just going to a normal party and finding out it's actually a wedding!
A Growing Family
Joel is now the proud father of three. His daughter Alexa Ray Joel is now an adult and making her own way in music, but Joel and Alexis Roderick have two of their own children. They're both daughters, named Remy Anne and Della Rose. A lot of Joel's relationships have been costly – and not just for the wallet.
Heartbreak is always difficult to get through, but Joel has at least been able to translate those emotions into numerous hit songs – it's made him one of the most famous musicians in the world. Somehow, after three divorces, Joel still thinks that a romantic relationship is possible.
The First Big Hit
If you know about Billy Joel, you know about his big one. “Piano Man” came out in 1973, but the story begins before that. In 1972 Joel traveled to Los Angeles in order to get out from under a bad management door. His friends had encouraged him to go off the grid for a while, and there's nothing like traveling across the country to do so.
He found himself in The Executive Room on Wilshire Boulevard, at the piano. He was miserable, and in order to forget himself for a bit, he saw a mental image of himself as Bill Murray or Steve Martin on “SNL.” A lounge lizard, someone who's always there and is always playing.
The Song That Made Him Famous
There are lots of details that made it into the song from that period. He performed under the name Bill Martin, which is why the name appears in the song, though not as the piano man himself.
There really was a bartender named John, and customers who “put bread in my jar” often did ask him why he was slumming it in a bar. Even back then, they could realize Billy Joel was far too talented to be wasting his skills in such a nameless fashion. The song still inspires people to hit the piano and learn how to become their own piano, man or woman.
Back to the East Coast
Another one of Joel's big early successes was “New York State of Mind.” After three years living in Los Angeles, he was sick of it. He took a trip to upstate New York with his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, and fell in love with the foliage and beauty of the area around the Hudson Valley. They rented a house near West Point.
As soon as he finished touring, he got on a Greyhound bus to travel. He started writing the famous 1976 song right then and there. He was glad to be headed back home. He remembered thinking to himself that it was where he belonged.
What Happened to Those Kids?
The history behind this longest song in Billy Joel's repertoire – “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” – is a bit strange. It began after Joel was inspired by the long B-side of “Abbey Road,” which was somewhat of a parody of a song, but still, it brought inspiration.
The song was all about those kids that peak in high school and then peter out – the prom king and queen, the marriage, the divorce – it's all there in seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Joel was fascinated with the idea. If you peak too early, and you're well-known around high school, Joel thought that it was a sure thing that you were going to disappear pretty early.
Which Restaurant Was It?
As Billy Joel related to his biographer, he had an idea for a couple that meets after a long time apart. They're back in their old Italian restaurant, and they're ordering a bottle of red and a bottle of white. The song tells the whole story of the relationship.
The song was expanded into the Broadway production “Movin' Out.” The restaurant that Billy Joel used as inspiration was Fontana di Trevi, across from Carnegie Hall, a place where he frequented while he was touring there in June 1977. Joel has stated in an interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that this song is his favorite.
Empathy in His Songs
For his 1983 hit, “Allentown,” Joel wrote the lyrics first, which wasn't how he normally did it. He was originally going to write a song about Levittown, where he grew up, but there wasn't much to write about. He switched to the nearby Allentown, which had been hit hard by the changing world.
Joel emphasized with people who had trouble finding work or staying in a job. He knew what it was like to do meaningless hard work for a low wage. So, this song was dedicated to the hard workers who won't ever see their names on the marquee.
The Canceled Book Deal
In 2011, Billy Joel announced that he was going to release an autobiography, along with writer Frede Schruers. The book was going to be called “The Book of Joel: A Memoir.” However, in March of that year, Joel decided against publishing it. Maybe he thought there was more to his story.
He officially canceled the deal with publisher HarperCollins, which must have been another financial blow – according to “Rolling Stone,” HarperCollins had purchased the book for 3 million dollars in 2008. Much of the information from this article comes from information that would have been in the book.
Trust the Music
The book was an emotional ride for Billy Joel. It detailed his failed marriages, his money problems, his battles against substance abuse, and everything in between.
Joel himself explained his thoughts on reneging on the book deal: “It took working on writing a book to make me realize that I'm not all that interested in talking about the past, and that the best expression of my life and its ups and downs has been and remains my music.” So far, he's still in his relationship with his fourth wife, and we hope that for the Piano Man, the fourth time was the charm.