From the S&S archives: Hasselhoff, not his car, is a big hit in Europe
Is David Hasselhoff an American actor playing a European rock 'n' roll star?
Or is he a successful singer, basking in the afterglow of an acting career and producing one teen-based pop hit after another in Europe?
In looking for the answer, it doesn't help his image that he isn't sponsored by a major soft drink or beer company. Instead, Hasselhoff's tour is sponsored by Mattel's Hot Wheels.
But Hasselhoff isn't particularly worried about his American acceptance these days. Not while he's filling concert halls during his current 26-city tour of central Europe.
"I just think of myself as a very lucky individual who has pursued a dream and has never let go, and the dream has just gotten so big that every night it overwhelms me," said Hasselhoff, who lives in a Los Angeles suburb with his wife, Pam, and their 19-monthold daughter, Taylor Ann.
Hasselhoff, 39, talked about his dreams while lounging backstage before a concert in Cologne, Germany. He was dressed in a wardrobe borrowed from his recently revived TV series Baywatch, consisting of faded jeans, tennis shoes and a half-buttoned beach shirt.
This was midway through his Dreams Come True tour promoting his album, David, which went gold in Germany and Austria, and platinum in Switzerland. Outside, teen-age fans had started lining up for the concert five hours before the 7 p.m. showtime.
The first single off David — which peaked this fall at No. 11 on the German charts — was Do the Limbo Dance. The single stayed in Germany's Top 20 for 10 weeks in the late summer, topping out at No. 12.
With more than 8,000 people — from preteens to grandparents — packing the Cologne Sporthalle, Hasselhoff took the stage and put on an energetic show that left the sellout crowd chanting for more.
Not that his fans would get violent. The only danger faced by the security guards around the stage was in getting hit by the dozens of stuffed animals or roses thrown up to the stage.
During the two-hour show, Hasselhoff played some of his former hits, including Flying on the Wings of Tenderness, Looking for Freedom and Crazy for You.
He also performed a few songs from his latest recording, including Do the Limbo Dance, Hands Up for Rock 'n' Roll and Taylor Ann, a ballad dedicated to his daughter.
Hasselhoff's popularity in Europe began with the worldwide syndication of Knight Rider, which is now shown in 80 countries. As a spinoff to that series, Hasselhoff recorded Night Rocker, but the album fared poorly in national sales.
Then in 1987 a teen-age fan from Austria knocked on his door in California and told him that Night Rocker was the No. 1 hit in her country. "I said, 'Night Rocker?' It sold nine copies in America," Hasselhoff said.
Within two years, Hasselhoff was a regular fixture on the central European rock scene. He had toured the world previously with the KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) car from Knight Rider, which could talk and had its own personality. But that was a gimmick act; singing was not.
As the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, Hasselhoff's single Looking for Freedom shot straight to the top of the German pop charts. It stayed at No. 1 for eight weeks, becoming the biggest song of the year as it was widely accepted as an anthem for freedom and a celebration of the German unity.
That song made Hasselhoff a bona fide star in Germany — and the KITT car was retired.
On New Year's Eve 1989, Hasselhoff had his greatest thrill as an entertainer. He sang Looking for Freedom from a crane at the Berlin Wall before 500,000 fans. "It was incredible. There's no way I'll ever be able to top that," he said.
Hasselhoff would like to make a feature movie. But just as his music has been ignored in America, so has his acting.
"These people (in feature films) don't even know who I am," he said. "All they know about Knight Rider is that some guy talks to a car. But they've never even seen Knight Rider. They'd never know that there's some pretty good work there."
Hasselhoff's television roles date well before Knight Rider made its debut in 1982. His first role was in Police Story, but his first big break came when he began playing Dr. Snapper Foster in the daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless in 1976-81. Now, Hasselhoff is getting anxious for the big screen.
"I think I really, really want to do feature films. I think that's going to start to bother me a little bit, because I know I can do those romantic Cary Grant-type things," he said.
However, Hasselhoff's greatest hindrance is his own ambition and drive. He's simply chasing too many dreams, and he acknowledges that.
Baywatch, which was axed earlier this year, is coming back for the 1992 season. Hasselhoff will produce and star in it. He will also sing the title track of the series' soundtrack album. "I'm hoping that will break me in America," he said.
Producer Jack White has helped Hasselhoff create a European sound that doesn't cross over to the American market. But he devoutly believes his day will come.
"The reason I haven't made it in America is because no record label will release this music. I have songs that I know would make it in America if they were released on the right label," he said.
"I'll do it. It makes it kind of a challenge, you know? If it all comes at once, my God, I think you'd get bored with it."
And onstage in Europe, Hasselhoff sells himself, hamming it up and playing with the audience. For him, it's all in having a good time. And here, the crowds appreciate that.
"The best part is I've got aces in the hole," he said. "If I don't make it in America, I don't have to stress myself out. I can come back here."