April 17, 2021

FAVE BIOGRAPHY – The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

When it comes to learning about some famous person’s life through book or film, my passion for biographies lies with those about rock musicians. And while there are many, many great books to read, films on the other hand have been for the most part rather disappointing.

Let’s face it. There are some truly awful rock biopics. Oliver Stone’s bizarre take on Jim Morrison in The Doors, the miscasting of Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and the total nonsense of the Dylan flick I’m Not There, make for three of the biggest klunkers.

But, despite having to overcome fact that actor Gary Busey had a physique that did not quite resemble his real-life subject matter, The Buddy Holly Story turned out to be the rare exception. While losing 32 pounds and donning his trademark black hornrims wasn’t quite enough to make him totally convincing as Holly, his singing and performing as Buddy was good enough to make the film a huge success and earn him a Best Actor nomination from the Academy.

In fact, so good a musician was Busey, yours truly had the pleasure of seeing him perform on two consecutive nights with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street in Philadelphia for encores of Holly’s “Rave On.” It was pure hysteria for 20,000 fans of the Boss.

Buddy Holly died when I was just three years old and it wasn’t until I was a teenager before I discovered his musical legacy. I remember reading a story about the Grateful Dead titled “Buddy Holly in Reverse” not having a clue who he was. I learned fast just how important and influential he was.

Buddy’s fast rise to fame, the depth of his catalog in his short career and his promising musical future cut short, all made his story ripe for the big screen. For the most part, the film sticks to the truth which is one of the keys to its success. Only music nerds will point out some of the factual omissions, and of course there is some unavoidable overdone Hollywood drama. But, in the end it is such a wonderful tale right up to the tragic ending that Don McLean called “the day the music died” in his song “American Pie.”

And to get to spend two hours with the great songs of Buddy Holly! The Academy liked this as well, giving the film the award for Best Original Song Score.

Years later in 1987, another great rock biopic, La Bamba, came upon us with a look at the life of Ritchie Valens, who was on the plane that fateful night with Holly. In that film’s final scene, we see Buddy Holly portrayed by singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw who unlike Busey, really looked like Holly. Still, I don’t think that anyone could have captured the life and charisma of Buddy Holly the way that Gary Busey did.

I was really saddened to read that neither Buddy’s widow, Maria Elana nor the owner of the Buddy Holly catalog, Paul McCartney, did not care for the movie. In the case of Maria Elana, that’s a shame since the love story between her and Buddy was presented so beautifully in the film. I guess to each his own, but I’m ready to watch this movie over and over again and celebrate one of rock’s true legends.


  1. A former supervisor of mine grew up in Iowa, and his older brother was at the Clear Lake Winter Dance Party. 😦
    Buddy Holly passed before I was born, but I had the pleasure of seeing the original Crickets perform in a small night club in the early 1980s. They had just released an album called “T-Shirt” and were promoting it. This is my favorite song from the disc:

  2. Mike, I haven’t seen it yet, but after reading your review I want to. I’ve always liked Busey and am interested in learning (the easy way) about Holly’s life by watching.

    I’m glad you mentioned, “I’m Not There.” In a bit of synchronicity I borrowed this from the library last week and gave it all of 30 minutes before I said, I’m not watching any more of this pretentious garbage, sorry that’s my opinion only but I see you weren’t impressed with it either.

    Another good review of a need-to-see-now film.

  3. This is an excellent pick. My favorite scene is at the Apollo when Buddy and the Crickets win the crowd over. It is an entertaining movie. I love Buddy and I also caught the Buddy play that toured…
    Although I think Busey is nuts…he was great in this role.

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