On Aug. 1, 1981, grainy stock footage of a rocket launch appeared on TV screens across the country — well, in a few select cable markets anyway. With that and an anonymous five-note guitar theme, MTV was born — a channel that changed the look of music, TV and even movies in its 25 years.
And while MTV hasn’t yet gotten around to killing the radio star, it has birthed numerous video stars, a selection of VJs and random personalities that, for a time, could only have gained fame on MTV. Here’s a sampling
Though she was hired with the least on-camera experience, Quinn was among the most popular of MTV’s first generation of VJs hired back in 1981. She briefly returned to the network in 1990 as part of a program dubbed “MTV Prime,” but Quinn’s place in the pop culture pantheon was assured thanks to self-aware appearances in movies like “Tapeheads” and “The Weird Al Show.” She now hosts a program on Sirius radio with a few of her fellow former VJs.
Known for a persistent smirk that seemed to tell his audience, “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Seal was the first permanent host of MTV’s late-night alternative music incubator “120 Minutes.” Though his self-effacing, irony-laden mannerisms resonated with alt-rock fans, his stint hosting “Headbangers Ball” was mercifully brief. He briefly branched into the extreme sports spinoff “Kevin Seal: Sporting Fool;” his time with MTV was over by the mid-'90s.
Joining the tireless Kurt Loder as the second face of MTV News, Soren performed her duties with a healthy sense of red-haired gravitas. However, she may be best known for her 1992 interview with Bill Clinton where she asked the candidate on a “Choose or Lose” special, “Who’s your favorite musician?” When Clinton replied, “Thelonious Monk,” Soren responded, “Who’s the loneliest monk?” Since her time on MTV, Soren has dropped out of the public eye, free to ponder such Zen-like questions.
Downtown Julie Brown
Host of the peekaboo-camera dance party “Club MTV,” Brown and her neon-colored togs “Wubba Wubba Wubba-ed” her way into viewers hearts in the late ‘80s. Once her dance with MTV ended, Brown bounced around various brief film and television roles before posing nude for “Playboy” in 2000. In 2003, she appeared on the reality show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”
Dr. Dre and Ed Lover
Hip-hop’s dynamic duo hosted the not-as-silly-as-it-seems “Yo! MTV Raps” program throughout the ‘90s, bringing the hip-swinging “Ed Lover Dance” to a grateful nation. Ed and Dre eventually transitioned into movies with “Who’s the Man?” in 1993, but with limited success. Since the MTV days, the duo have mostly gone separate ways, with Ed appearing on TV’s “The World According to Jim” in 2001 and Dre in the 2005 miniseries “Miracle’s Boys,” which aired on the teen-oriented network The N.
Known only as “Duff” in her MTV days, the VJ rode her early ‘90s fame to modeling and acting gigs, culminating in a role as an extraordinarily high-cheekboned thug in “Dumb and Dumber.” Unfortunately, her story turns a bit darker with her 1995 diagnosis of neurosarcoidosis, leaving her partially paralyzed. In 2000, she published a cheeky memoir of her experiences, “Model Patient: My Life As an Incurable Wise-Ass.”
Briefly ubiquitous on the network as the host of “MTV Sports,” Cortese flung himself from the end of bungee cords, traveled the globe and came dangerously close to legitimizing the bandanna as a form of headgear in the grunge-tainted early ‘90s. Cortese quickly parlayed his fame and good looks into frequent sitcom appearances on shows like “Veronica’s Closet,” “8 Simple Rules” and, perhaps most memorably, as the cool yet superficial “mimbo” on “Seinfeld.”
Known for sporting one of the most majestic mullets to ever grace television, Curry and his hair went on to greater wealth after MTV. Moving into the lucrative world of the Internet, Curry registered the domain mtv.com with the hopes of becoming the channel’s voice on the web. After being sued by MTV for the URL, Curry earned his fortune through various start-ups and, to some degree, helped establish podcasting. Curry also has a show on Sirius Radio.
The artist formerly known as Lisa Kennedy Montgomery rode a snide delivery and a pair of plastic-rimmed glasses to fame in the irony-fueled ‘90s. After briefly incurring the wrath of Martin Landeau for flippant comments on the red carpet at the “Mission Impossible” premiere, Kennedy’s post-MTV life has moved into the realm of political satire, which in 2005 earned her appearances on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country.”
- Jesse Camp
Perhaps the most unpredictable of MTV personalities, Camp was the winner of the channel’s “I Wanna Be a VJ” contest in 1998. Though the Village Voice later reported some hacker-aided voting chicanery, the wafer-thin Camp became a fixture on “MTV Live.” With a raspy, metal-burned voice and a wardrobe straight out of Lenny Kravitz’s id, Camp injected an unhinged manic energy into the network’s controlled age of Carson Daly. His reign was brief, however, and since MTV his most notable appearance was in Britney Spears’ movie “Crossroads” as “Audition Applicant.”