Alex was a sensitive poet/songwriter who worked in a grocery store by day and sang lead in a rock and roll band at night. He was in love with Rita, a dispatcher for a beer distributor who played saxophone in the band, and along with the others, he dreamed of finding success as a member of the Heights. The group’s hopes were cruelly crushed, however, when Fox canceled The Heights after just three months due to declining ratings.
Jamie Walters, the actor who brought Alex to life, was also the lead vocalist on the show’s theme song, “How Do You Talk to an Angel”. In a rather cruel twist of fate, the song became a smash hit, spending two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, just as The Heights’ final episodes were airing. At 23, Walters found himself both an unemployed actor and the official face and voice of a one-hit wonder.
Fortunately, his second chance at fame came a couple years later when he was cast as Ray Pruit, a carpenter and the lead singer of the Peach Pit After Dark house band, on Beverly Hills 90210. Walters quickly became a fan favorite, and in 1995, he released a self-titled album. Although it peaked at #70 and fell off the Billboard 200 album after four months, it did produce a Top 20 hit. “Hold On” spent half a year on the Hot 100, eventually peaking at #16.
Then things went bad.
When I was a kid, I saw a movie called Nightmare in Badham County, about two female college students who get arrested for trespassing by the sheriff of a small town they were passing through. Things go from bad to worse, with them eventually spending a month of hard labor in a prison camp, but the scene that stuck with me long after the movie was over was when the sheriff, played by Chuck Connors, took one of the girls out of her cell and raped her off-screen.
I don’t know that I had even been aware of Chuck Connors before that horrible movie, but from then on, I couldn’t stand to see him in anything. Even as a young child, I understood the difference between real life and pretend, but his face exuded such an extreme sense of evil—regardless of the role he was playing—that I couldn’t bear to watch him, and it’s entirely due to Badham County.
When Jamie Walters first appeared on Beverly Hills 90210, his character was a sweet underdog, embraced by Tori Spelling’s Donna and harassed by Tiffani Thiessen’s Valerie. But by the next season, he had turned into an abusive boyfriend who threw Donna down a flight of stairs. For a television series, the character provided conflict and controversy, but for a singer whose good looks and sensitive pop music appealed primarily to young women, the damage was extensive.
How do you sell love ballads to an audience that sees you as a terrifying abuser of nice girls?
Walters released albums in 1997 and 2002, but they didn’t chart. According to his website, he’s working on a new album, and the beginning of this year he starred in VH1’s well-received Confessions of a Teen Idol with several other actors and celebrities, so with any luck, he’ll make a comeback soon. But for now, the firefighter/paramedic with three daughters and a son remains a one-hit wonder twice over: once as the lead singer of the Heights, and once as a solo recording artist.
And for better or worse, he’ll probably be remembered most for being the horrible guy that pushed that sweet girl down the steps back in the days when Beverly Hills 90210 ruled the country.
// Notes from the Road
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