Rick Springfield reminisces about his famous working class dog: 'It was love at first sight'

Rick Springfield has been candid about his mental health battles — so much so that his revelations about depression and suicidal ideation in his memoir, Late Late at Night, generated much more press attention than that tell-all book’s more stereotypically rock ‘n’ roll confessions about his sexual exploits. But in an interview conducted shortly after the May 7 release of his lockdown benefit single “The Wall Will Fall ” — an anthem about “a soul that dreams of peace” and “no longer turning a blinded eye to a heart that's cryin' to be free” that resonates even more now during a time of great social unrest — Springfield said the pandemic hadn’t directly affected his current mood.

“My depression isn't caused by necessarily by things that happen, although there are real things that can actually get you depressed,” he told Yahoo Entertainment. “Mine is more like, I'll wake up one morning and I'll just have it.”

That being said, while Springfield has since respectfully paused his online musical series with his “The Wall Will Fall” co-writer Vance DeGeneres due to the current climate in America, he has kept busy over the past few quarantined weeks, since making music is a way for him to keep a handle on his mental health. In addition to “The Wall Will Fall,” he recorded social-distancing parodies of his own songs, like “We Don’t Need Human Touch” and “Glove Somebody.” Said Springfield of the latter Instagram goof, “That's my favorite, because it actually has our dog singing along with it.”

On the subject of dogs — a subject very near and dear to Springfield’s heart — the singer recommended pet adoption to anyone struggling right now, saying, “If you want a companion during this lockdown, there's no better companion than a dog.” He fondly recalled how one of his past dogs, Gomer, helped him through some dark times. “I would get depressed and he had a big bed, and I'd go lie in the bed with him. And just holding him, it absolutely, absolutely helped,” he reminisced. “I called him a ‘Prozac on legs.’”

But of course, no canine-centric conversation with Springfield would be complete without mentioning his most well-known pooch, Ronnie. Also known as “Lethal Ron” because of his flatulence problem, the lovable mutt became a rock star in his own right when he graced the cover of Springfield’s fittingly titled breakthrough album, Working Class Dog, and its follow-up, Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, nearly 40 years ago. (Ron eventually became so famous that, upon Springfield’s manager’s advice, he was insured against kidnapping.) Springfield recalled when he first met Ronnie, during another low point in his life.

Rick Springfield's 'Working Class Dog' aobum, 1981. (Photo: rCA Records)
Rick Springfield's 'Working Class Dog' aobum, 1981. (Photo: rCA Records)

“I was actually breaking up with a girlfriend… we were still living together in a house because neither of us afford to live separately, so it was pretty damn stressful,” he said. “She got a boyfriend and then started to go over to his place, and she called me and said, ‘I just found this dog. I picked this dog up. It was wandering being almost hit by cars in the [Glendale, Calif.] library parking lot. And it looked all dirty, so I threw him in the back of my car and he's in the garage of the house.’” Springfield went home, opened his garage door, “And this little black-and-white bull terrier comes running sideways at me wagging his tail. It was love at first sight. I mean, he was my guy.”

Soon after, Springfield’s career started to take off, and Lethal Ron was along for the ride. Springfield, who had long resisted the idea of being a teen pop idol and surprisingly hated putting photos of his own handsome face on his albums, then came up with the brilliant idea to make Ron a cover star. He actually believed that Ron’s cute face might be even more appealing to the ladies, after an incident where he tried to flirt with two women on the street and they completely ignored him and fawned all over Ronnie instead.

Ronnie certainly looked like a pop idol on the Working Class Dog cover in his bespoke menswear. Springfield laughed as he told the tale of that custom canine couture. “I had to go buy the shirt myself, because my success hadn't [started] yet. We actually had enough money to have somebody make him a shirt that fit him. I walked into Big & Tall men's store…and I said, ‘I need a white button-down shirt.’ And [the tailor] said, ‘What kind, what size neck?’ And I measured [the dog’s] neck and I said, “18 inches or 20 inches” or something. [Ronnie] had big, thick neck. And he goes, ‘Well, what size sleeve?’ And I said, ‘Oh, it doesn't matter.’ And he looked at me like, what? So yeah, I got to cut the sleeves or fold the sleeves up, because [Ronnie’s] arms were about this long.”

Ronnie was a natural during that two-hour photo session, and then he graduated to the big leagues for the high-rolling, limousine-interior shoot for Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, which depicted him in open-necked playboy loungewear, swilling champagne with a couple of foxy four-legged lady-friends. “Actually, those poodles on either side were both male,” Springfield noted with a grin.

Rick Springfield's 'Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet' album, 1982 (Photo: RCA Records)
Rick Springfield's 'Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet' album, 1982 (Photo: RCA Records)

Despite having his own tuxedo at the ready, Ronnie didn’t attend the 1982 Grammy Awards ceremony, where the Working Class Dog smash “Jessie’s Girl” beat out Rod Stewart, Rick James, Gary U.S. Bonds, and even Bruce Springsteen (who’d ironically inspired Springfield’s 1978 mistaken-identity song, “Bruce”) to win Best Rock Vocal Male Performance. But Springfield saw that Grammy moment as a victory for Ronnie, who died in 1994 at age 16, since executives at his record label, RCA, had protested putting Ron on the album cover in the first place.

“I had just joined General Hospital [in the role of Dr. Noah Drake], which at that point was the most popular show on television,” Springfield explained. “And the record company is going, ‘Wait. You're on the most popular show on TV, but you want your dog on the album cover?” So I really had to arm-wrestle for that one. I finally showed them the photo and they went, ‘Ohhhh, I get it.’ And it actually was nominated for a Grammy. So, my boy did well.”

Check out Rick Springfield’s extended Yahoo Entertainment interview, in which he discusses “The Wall Will Fall,” his memoir, his favorite (and least favorite) acting roles, his forgotten ‘70s cartoon show, mental health, and much, much more:

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