He was an Aussie Pop Star for a Moment

Even with the world at your feet, in the 1970s an underage sex scandal is enough to leave you destitute for the rest of your long and lonely life. Born of humble beginnings in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill, the performer who came to be known as William Shakespeare fell as quickly as his meteoric rise to Glam Rock fame.

Singing in bands from his early teens, John Cave sang remarkable falsetto. Coming to the attention of powerhouse Aussie music producers Vanda and Young, the team packaged 26 year old John in glitter and boots and gave him 2 top selling singles in as many years. Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You and My Little Angel were being hummed in most Australian homes across 1974 and 1975. His debut album sold 375,000 copies.

Propelled to further stardom by the Australian TV music show Countdown, John Cave even made the shortlist to head-up AC/DC, also in development at the time by Vanda and Young. His manager advised him against taking the job, asking whether he wanted to remain a star, or just play in a pub band for the rest of his career.

But it was the police knocking at his Melbourne hotel room door after his second hit single that first slid William Shakespeare into decline. Charged and convicted of carnal knowledge with a 15 year old girl from his Melbourne fan club (he denied the charges), he was placed on probation for 24 months. Parting ways with his record company, he never had a hit single again.

Less than 2 years after it ignited, his stardom was extinguished.

Lured by alcohol, his depression was no better following 3 weeks of Deep Sleep 'therapy' in 1978 at the infamous Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney. Doing what he could, he subsequently sang at clubs for a while under the moniker of Billy Shake.

The retro revival of the 1990s saw a bit of a resurrection for William Shakespeare, with booking agents and TV producers tracking him down to make nostalgic appearances, little of which paid any real dollars.

Homeless, he was living in his car at the time. By the turn of the century, the decline had continued. He was a broke 52 year old, destitute and living rough across the road from the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah, apparently in the oval’s then shabby ticket booth and toilets. He said staff from the club used to check on him and bring him food.

They did however seek assistance for John Cave, which came in the form of Support Act, a charity which helps musicians who have fallen on hard times. They found him government housing, where William Shakespeare lived the rest of his days.

In an article by The Sydney Morning Herald in 2009 he said, "I got a royalty cheque the other day for 13 bucks.” As the performer, he earned no composing royalties, so when his performing ended, so did his income.

John Cave (William Shakespeare) Sydney Morning Herald 2009
John Cave died in October 2010. At 61 years old, he had almost kicked his alcohol habit, down to just one beer in the evening. He succumbed to a heart attack that ended his life.

There’s no doubt the world today is tough on old rockers who enjoyed their ‘heyday’ in the 1970s. Avoiding scandal, some transition well and become both national and generational icons. Others just fall through the chasm of the years, sometimes suffering alone, in the hope that the sun might one day rise again on their genius, and shine another light on the glitter of their now ill-fitting Glam Rock costume.


For assistance dealing with child abuse: BraveheartsKids Help Line

For assistance dealing with depression: Lifeline


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