Meat Loaf, the larger-than-life rocker whose 1977 debut, “Bat Out of Hell” — a campy amalgam of hard rock and Broadway-style bombast — became one of the best-selling albums of all time, died on Thursday. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by his manager, Michael Greene. The cause and location were not given.
Meat Loaf, who was born Marvin Lee Aday and took his stage name from a childhood nickname, had a career that few could match. He was a trained Broadway belter and a multiplatinum-selling megastar whose biggest hits, like “Bat Out of Hell” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” were radio staples — and barroom singalongs — for decades.
Despite his success, he earned little respect from rock critics. “Nutrition-free audio lunch meat” was how Rolling Stone dismissed “Bat Out of Hell” — which would go on to sell at least 14 million copies in the United States — in the 1993 edition of its album guidebook.
Still, some critics gave grudging admiration. In a 1977 review in The New York Times, John Rockwell wrote that Meat Loaf had a “fine, fervent low rock tenor, and enough stage presence to do without spotlights altogether.”
Meat Loaf also appeared in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Fight Club” and other films.
His death came just a year after that of Jim Steinman, the songwriter who wrote “Bat Out of Hell,” a record that brought Broadway-style, operatic rock to audiences at a time when, in the face of disco and punk, it couldn’t have been more unfashionable. The pair met when Mr. Steinman was commissioned to co-write a musical called “More Than You Deserve,” which ran at the Public Theater in New York in 1973 and 1974. Meat Loaf auditioned for the show and later joined the cast.
His girth was a frequent source of jibes from disc jockeys and magazine caption writers, though Meat Loaf was in on the joke.
Describing his meeting with Mr. Steinman to the British music magazine Mojo in 2017, Meat Loaf said he auditioned with a song called “(I’d Love to Be as) Heavy as Jesus.” Mr. Steinman, impressed, told him, “By the way, you’re as heavy as two Jesuses.”
“It was my kind of humor,” Meat Loaf recalled.
Later, Mr. Steinman was trying to write a post-apocalyptic musical based on “Peter Pan,” but, unable to secure the rights for the tale, he turned the work into “Bat Out of Hell,” bringing in Meat Loaf to give the songs the style and energy that made them hits.
The album, elaborately produced by Todd Rundgren, mingled hard-rock power chords, 1950s-style bubble gum and flashes of disco beats in songs that unfolded in multipart suites; the title track stretches nearly 10 minutes. In some ways the album resembled rock-style Broadway musicals like “Hair,” in which Meat Loaf had performed early in his career.
Its roster of backup musicians was stellar, including players from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band like the drummer Max Weinberg and the keyboardist Roy Bittan. Members of the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra contributed; the eight-and-a-half-minute “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” even includes the Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto giving a baseball play-by-play that doubled as the description of a seduction.
After “Bat Out of Hell,” Meat Loaf struggled to repeat his success. He temporarily lost his singing voice and was involved in lawsuits. Follow-up albums like “Dead Ringer” (1981) and “Midnight at the Lost and Found” (1983) were flops. He later declared personal bankruptcy.
“The problem was with a million different forces — his manager, his lawyers, his vocal cords, his brain,” Mr. Steinman told Rolling Stone in 1993. “He had lost his voice, he had lost his house, and he was pretty much losing his mind.”
His comeback came that year when he worked with Mr. Steinman on a sequel to their original hit, “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.” It included the song “I’d Do Anything for Love (but I Won’t Do That),” a No. 1 hit that in 1994 won the Grammy Award for best solo rock vocal performance.
“Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose,” released in 2006, also included songs by Mr. Steinman, who created a musical based on “Bat Out of Hell” that premiered in England in 2017.
Meat Loaf ultimately released 12 studio albums, the last being “Braver Than We Are” in 2016.
His first major film role came in 1975 in the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” in which he played Eddie, a delivery boy murdered for his brain by the cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Meat Loaf also appeared in “Wayne’s World” (1992), “Spice World” (1997) and “Fight Club” (1999). More recently, he had a role in several episodes of the TV series “Ghost Wars” in 2017 and 2018.
Marvin Lee Aday was born and grew up in Dallas, the son of Orvis Wesley Aday, a former policeman, and Wilma Artie Hukel, an English teacher. “I stayed at my grandmother’s house a lot,” Meat Loaf wrote in “To Hell and Back,” his 1999 autobiography, adding that he did not know if those stays were because his mother was busy working or because she did not want him to see his father “on a bender.”
According to his autobiography and Texas birth records, Meat Loaf was born on Sep. 27, 1947, but news reports of his age varied over the years. In 2003, he showed a reporter from The Guardian a passport bearing a birth date of 1951; he later said about the discrepancy, “I just continually lie.”
He often said that he changed his first name to Michael as an adult because of childhood taunts about his weight. In his autobiography, he said he had been disturbed by a commercial from his childhood, which he claimed had the slogan, “Poor fat Marvin can’t wear Levi’s,” though internet sleuths have cast doubts on that story.
Meat Loaf had health problems throughout his career. He had heart surgery in 2003 after collapsing onstage at Wembley Arena in London, and he told an audience in Newcastle, England, in 2007 that the concert was “probably the last show I’ll ever do” after another health scare.
In recent months, Meat Loaf had been in the news complaining about Covid-19 restrictions. In August, he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.”
He hadn’t been on the road for a full tour in a number of years. In 2013, he told The Guardian that he was definitely retiring from music after another set of farewell dates.
“I’ve had 18 concussions,” he said. “My balance is off. I’ve had a knee replacement. I’ve got to have the other one replaced.” He wanted to “concentrate more on acting,” he added, since “that’s where I started and that’s where I’ll finish.”
Although Mr. Steinman was the mastermind behind “Bat Out of Hell,” its success might not have been possible without the charisma of Meat Loaf, a point that the singer sometimes made to interviewers.
“I know there’s people out there that think I was the Frankenstein monster to Jim’s Dr. Frankenstein, but that’s not how it went at all,” Meat Loaf told The New York Times in 2019, when a production of “Bat Out of Hell — The Musical” came to New York.
“I never do anything the way the writer intended it,” he added. “Jim wrote it, but it became my song.”