The bus accident that killed Johann Hölzel went largely unnoticed in the English-speaking world, but in the Strasses and Allees of his native Vienna, February 6, 1998, was something like the Day die Musik Died. Johann Hölzel, after all, was not the name by which most of the world knew him. To pop fans from Germany to Japan, he was Falco, the man behind “Rock Me Amadeus” and “Der Kommisar” and possibly the biggest star to emerge from Austria since Herr Mozart himself. Seventeen years after his first international breakthrough, Johann “Falco” Hölzel died on February 6, 1998, when his rental car was struck by a bus while he vacationed in the Dominican Republic.
The song that made Falco’s name internationally was “Der Kommissar,” a paranoid tale of youthful rebellion that was almost entirely inscrutable to non-speakers of German. “Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?” nevertheless entered the vocabularies of millions of New Wave fans around the world, sending the song to the top of many European pop charts in 1982 and making history by doing so. In the United States, where the original version of “Der Kommissar” barely dented the Hot 100, Falco would accomplish the same historic feat four years later, when “Rock Me Amadeus,” a German-language tribute to that other famous Austrian, shot all the way to #1 on the Billboard pop charts in the spring of 1986. And what exactly was Falco’s history-making achievement? Well, not only did “Rock Me Amadeus” make him the first Austrian to top the U.S. pop charts, but it also earned Falco the unlikely distinction of scoring the first American #1 pop hit by a male rap artist. Yes, that’s right—it wasn’t Doug E. Fresh or Kool Moe Dee or Kurtis Blow or Run-D.M.C. but an Austrian in a powdered wig who first brought hip hop—of a sort—to the top of the pops.
There were other hits for Falco in the years to come, but nothing approaching the international success of “Der Kommissar” and “Rock Me Amadeus.” He appeared repeatedly in the upper reaches of the German and Austrian charts in the late 80s and 1990s, but albums like 1988’s Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood) somehow failed to gain traction elsewhere. During his history-making career, however, Johann Hölzel sold an estimated 60 million records worldwide. He was only 40 years old when he died on this day in 1998.