Also Credited As:Leonard Albert Kravitz
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Born May 26, 1964 in New York City, Leonard Albert Kravitz was the son of Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985) and Sy Kravitz, an NBC television news producer. He was blessed with exotic good looks that only deepened with age due to his Bahamian, African-American, Native American and Russian Jewish roots. Unlike his parents, he also evidenced a musical talent from birth. Mastering multiple musical instruments, including the guitar and piano, Kravitz came into contact with many jazz greats due to his father's sideline as a music promoter, including having Duke Ellington play "Happy Birthday" for the youngster's fifth birthday. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1974, where Kravitz sang with the California Boys Choir and the Metropolitan Opera and began to supplement his musical education with rock.
Intent on pursuing a career as a musician, after graduating from the music program at Beverly Hills High School, Kravitz came up against record label execs who found his multicultural appearance and far-ranging musical style too difficult to package. Blending a love of vintage classics with a forward-looking funk, Kravitz cut an impressive but unusual figure both in and out of the recording studio, and went through several iterations as he attempted to find his niche, including going by "Romeo Blue." He had his first taste of national fame when he and his similarly beautiful bohemian girlfriend, actress Lisa Bonet of "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) and "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993) fame suddenly eloped. They were married on Nov. 16, 1987, Bonet's 20th birthday, causing a tabloid sensation that increased when she gave birth to their daughter Zoë Isabella Kravitz on Dec. 1, 1988.
For many, Bonet and Kravitz were the ultimate free-spirited, effortlessly cool couple, and their relationship inspired Kravitz musically. He dropped the name "Romeo Blue" and took back his real name, creating an album inspired by both the future and the past, 1989's Let Love Rule, which showcased his amazing musicianship and performance chops. Bonet directed the music video for the title track as well as writing lyrics on two cuts, and Kravitz soon cemented his presence as a hot property around the world, opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie. In 1990, Kravitz earned another boost when he co-wrote and produced Madonna's "Justify My Love," which became an enormous hit on the heels of a global controversy about its explicit video.
The controversy did not end there, when Ingrid Chavez recognized many of the lyrics as a poem she had written for Kravitz, so successfully sued to be credited as a songwriter. This, in turn, sparked rumors of Kravitz's infidelity with both Chavez and Madonna. Although he denied any such misbehavior, he and Bonet separated in 1991 and were divorced two years later. After producing Vanessa Paradis's self-titled album, he released his follow-up to his moderately successful debut, 1991's Mama Said. Written about his breakup with Bonet, the set became his first album to reach the Top 40 and fueled his biggest hit, the aching plea for reconciliation, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," which hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album also featured Kravitz collaborating with some of the industry's biggest names, including Slash on "Always on the Run" and Sean Lennon on "All I Ever Wanted."
Kravitz's dreadlocked appearance was never more iconic than with the title track video for 1993's multiplatinum Are You Gonna Go My Way, which saw him reinventing glam rock in his inimitably unique way, winning an MTV Video Music Award and a BRIT Award in the process. He earned further hits with "Believe," "Is There Any Love in Your Heart" and "Heaven Help/Spinning Around Over You" and sparked the envy of millions when he built a house and recording studio on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. In 1994, he teamed up with Stevie Wonder to cover KISS's "Deuce" for KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved and the following year released his first Top Ten U.S. album, Circus, which spun off the hits "Rock and Roll is Dead" and "Can't Get You Off My Mind."
Kravitz's next album, 1998's 5 saw him add a digital element to his music and subsequently earn another huge hit, "Fly Away," which went to No. 12 on the Billboard charts, hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom and enjoyed a lucrative afterlife in multiple high-profile commercials. For his performance, Kravitz won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. He made further headlines for shaving off his signature dreadlocks. He won his second Grammy for his cover of The Guess Who's "American Woman," which was featured on the soundtrack of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (1999) and featured a popular music video starring Heather Graham. Heavily in demand as a producer and collaborator himself, Kravitz produced and lent his vocals to "A Different World" alumna Cree Summer's 1999 album Street Faërie and contributed to Michael Jackson's 2001 album Invincible.
Kravitz's most successful album, however, was his 2000 Greatest Hits package, which went to No. 2 on the charts, sold almost 11 million copies worldwide, and won him his third Grammy for "Again," which hit No. 4. Around that time, the musician was involved in a bizarre incident when Miami police handcuffed him while he was en route to the gym with his trainer because they claimed he matched the description of a bank robbery suspect. The Miami police later sent officers to his home to apologize, but Kravitz explored the inherent racial profiling undercurrent of the situation in the song "Bank Robber Man" for his 2001 album Lenny. The album's most popular single, "Dig In," won Kravitz his fourth Grammy, and he also placed the cut "If I Could Fall in Love" on the "Blue Crush" (2002) soundtrack. Besides his solo success, Kravitz continued to enjoy success as a journeyman producer-musician and added a cover of "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)" to Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
As 2004's Baptism dropped, Kravitz was romantically linked to actress Nicole Kidman and the song reportedly about her, "Lady," became the CD's biggest hit, appearing in a string of GAP commercials where Kravitz crooned it to Sarah Jessica Parker. Although the album only went gold and other singles "California," "Storm" and "Where Are We Runnin'?" failed to make much of an impression, Kravitz remained a vital figure in the industry and embarked on the successful "Electric Church" world tour, as well as opening for Aerosmith on their 2005 tour. Endlessly creative, Kravitz also launched a design firm, Kravitz Design, focusing on interior and furniture design, but maintained a steady presence in the music world, appearing on compilations, touring and making acclaimed special concert appearances. As he began a mini-tour to promote 2008's It Is Time for a Love Revolution, Kravitz was hospitalized for bronchitis, which continued to disrupt his performing schedule.
Although he already had several film appearances under his belt, including a fun voice role as a newborn baby in "The Rugrats Movie" (1998) and multiple cameos as himself, Kravitz made his proper live-action film debut as a kind nurse who offers the troubled titular teen (Gabourey Sidibe) support in the Oscar-nominated drama "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" (2008). Although his role was brief, Kravitz made a strong, smoldering impression, earning a Best Supporting Actor Image Award and Black Reel nomination, as well as sharing ensemble acting wins from the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Black Reel Awards and ensemble nominations from the Screen Actors Guild.
Returning to music, Kravitz released 2011's Black and White America and was made an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, one of that country's highest cultural awards. He earned an even higher-profile screen role when he was cast in the small but crucial supporting role of Cinna, the suave, goodhearted stylist to Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who secretly harbors revolutionary beliefs in the eagerly anticipated film adaptation of the dystopian thriller "The Hunger Games" (2012). Based on the immensely popular trilogy by author Suzanne Collins, the project generated worldwide buzz and seemed poised to join the pantheon of massive international film franchise smashes. Kravitz reportedly took on the role, based on his fondness for the film's star, Jennifer Lawrence, who had befriended his actress daughter, Zoë, on the set of their own film "X-Men: First Class" (2011).
By Jonathan Riggs