‘Ringo, Shut Up!’: The Drummer’s Cringeworthy 1980 TV Interview
Ringo Starr’s appearance on The John Davidson Show in the summer of 1980 was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
By this point, the drummer was immersed in the second act of his career. Now more than a decade removed from the heights of Beatlemania, Starr was enjoying life as a solo artist and had branched out into the world of acting.
His latest project was Caveman, a slapstick comedy in which he played the lead role of Atouk. While doing publicity for the film, Starr stopped by Davidson’s program, a talk show that featured guests from the world of entertainment. The appearance was plagued from the get-go.
As Davidson began waxing poetic about the Beatles and each members’ career after the band’s breakup, Starr walked onstage, abruptly cutting his own introduction short. The drummer then proceeded to snap Polaroid selfies with the host, as well as the show’s other guests, actress Karen Grassle (Caroline on Little House on the Prairie) and singer Andy Gibb.
It quickly became clear Starr was out of sorts. The drummer seemed to be slurring his speech as he dodged Davidson’s questions, often speaking over the host.
“I want to talk about your childhood,” Davidson noted. “My childhood?” Starr responded. “Yes, you must have started somewhere,” the host replied. “I started in the womb,” a defiant Starr smirked.
Even the workings of the TV production itself seemed to be distracting to the rocker. At one point he openly asked, “We’re on [camera] three now, are we?” garnering some giggles from the studio audience. “They keep moving. What is this, guess the camera?”
Starr’s refusal to engage in an interview began wearing on Davidson. When Starr turned to the other guests and asked them how they were doing, the host responded, “They’re trying to follow this dialogue, and they’re having trouble doing it.”
The few times Starr did answer questions, his responses were short. On several occasions, he decided to turn his attention to the studio audience, asking if they were enjoying the program, rather that talking to Davidson. The first time he did this, he was met with cheers; by the third or fourth time, it had changed to an uncomfortable spattering of applause.
Things didn’t get much better when Barbara Bach, Starr’s then-girlfriend and costar in Caveman, joined him onstage. Starr continually interrupted his future wife, barely letting her answer any questions. When another of the film’s stars, football player John Matuszak, joined the conversation, he did his best to diffuse the situation by complimenting Starr on his work in Caveman.
“[Starr] is the energy of our film, he’s what made our film go,” the NFL star declared. At this point, the drummer lit up a cigarette and began smoking.
Watch Ringo Starr's Interview on 'The John Davidson Show'
Still, Matuszak was a steadying force for the segment - albeit, a temporary one. The football player-turned-actor gave well-spoken and thought-out responses, seemingly righting the program’s ship - that is, until Starr began interrupting again, prompting Davidson to yell, “Ringo, shut up!”
The episode would air substantially edited, with Davidson adding separately taped intros and outros, describing Starr as an “interesting personality.”
“[Starr] showed up either high or drunk or something,” Davidson recalled of the experience decades later. “He was on planet nine. It was irritating to me because I couldn’t even talk to him.”
Indeed, Starr was in the midst of a difficult era, one filled with drug and alcohol abuse. Caveman would be released in April 1981, with Starr and Bach marrying shortly afterward. The two entered a detox and rehab facility in 1988, leading the couple to a life of sobriety ever since.
“[I thought,] ‘I don’t know how you do anything if you’re not drunk’ - that’s where I ended up,” Starr later explained of his alcohol use to Rolling Stone. “I couldn’t play sober, but I also couldn’t play as a drunk. So when I did end up in this rehab, it was like a light went on and said, ‘You’re a musician, you play good.’”
Ever since, Starr credited his clean lifestyle for helping him to stay healthy and happy, focused on his “peace and love” mantra.
As for Davidson, his talk show was short-lived. Still, the host enjoyed a long and successful television career, which included stints overseeing Hollywood Squares and The $100,000 Pyramid. Despite their cringeworthy encounter, the host holds no ill will toward Starr.
“I’d like to meet him under other circumstances,” Davidson admitted to radio station KMET in 2021. “I think he’s a wonderful talent, and I didn’t get a chance to really see that when he came on my talk show.”