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Cyndi Lauper in the 80s: Must-See Photos of the Pop Culture Icon Who Defined a Decade

This girl just wants to have fun! Follow Lauper's journey to becoming the 1980s wild child we love

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With her definitive Queens, New York accent and wild hair that changed colors often, Cyndi Lauper burst onto the music scene in the 80s and has proven her staying power in the entertainment arena for over 40 years.

Born Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper on June 22, 1953, growing up she often felt like an outcast, but grew to love music as an antidote to her discontent. As a child, Lauper already had an eclectic collection of musical tastes, running the gamut from The Beatles to Judy Garland.

As a preteen, she began writing and playing songs on an acoustic guitar given to her by her sister. It was actually a friend who suggested she change the spelling of her name to Cyndi to stand out from other new singers, but that didn’t convince peers to welcome her into the fold. Her unconventional sense of style coupled with flamboyantly colored hair led to constant bullying and even having stones thrown at her. “I’ve colored my hair since I was nine.”

Cyndi Lauper and iconic her bright red hair, 1984
Cyndi Lauper and iconic her bright red hair, 1984 Barry King/WireImage/Getty

At a Catholic high school in Queens, Cyndi Lauper was expelled, an experience repeated at the next high school as well. Though she didn’t excel in scholastics, she felt it important enough that she earned a high school equivalency degree.

My mother said I was an odd little kid,” Lauper has said. “I was alone a lot, but I didn’t feel alone. When I sang with those records my mom had, I’d be Julie Andrews and there was Rex Harrison sitting on my mother’s bed. I was Mitzi Gaynor. I was Enzo Pinza. I was pretty good until they sang duets.” 

Cyndi Lauper: The early days

Young Cyndi Lauper, 1980
Young Cyndi Lauper, 1980Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty

Lauper left home at 17 to escape her abusive stepfather and ended up at Johnson State College in Vermont with intentions of studying art. To make ends meet, she worked at a number of odd jobs such as waitressing, office assistant and even sang in a Japanese restaurant for a time. Her first taste of musical success was with the band Blue Angel, but the group split up after their first record album. 

Publicity photo of Blue Angel, 1980
Publicity photo of Blue Angel, 1980Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Undeterred, Lauper began singing in local New York clubs while waitressing at IHOP to meet financial obligations. It was in 1981 while singing at a New York bar that she met David Wolff, who remembered Lauper’s four octave range while catching her earlier gigs with Blue Angel. He signed up as her manager and got her a contract with a subsidiary of Epic Records. “I lucked out when I started to sing. I had already experienced failing at everything else.” 

Cyndi Lauper 80s: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” fame

Cyndi Lauper performs onstage, 1984
Cyndi Lauper performs onstage, 1984Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty

She’s So Unusual was Lauper’s first solo album, released in 1983, which became an international hit and the girl from Queens was on her way to stardom thanks to her punk image. Critics and teenagers loved her voice and singing style while youngsters just loved her overall style.

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The album spawned hits such as “Time After Time” and “She Bop,” but it was “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” that was an overnight sensation and has become an anthem for women of all ages. Thanks to the success of the album, Lauper won Best New Artist at the 1985 Grammys. True to her unconventional and rebellious nature, she was adorned with a pound of necklaces at her award ceremony — a classic Cyndi Lauper 80s moment. 

Related: 20 Early ’80s Songs That Are So Catchy We Bet You Can’t Resist From Singing Along

Cyndi Lauper shows off her music video awards, 1985
Cyndi Lauper shows off her awards, 1985Bettmann/Getty

The “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” video won at the 1984 MTV awards and went on to make Lauper an MTV staple. In preparing for the music video, the budget was abysmal, so Lauper bought furniture and painted the sets for the living room and her bedroom, handed out her personal collection of sunglasses to all the girls for the shoot and shared her personal makeup.

When that song and video came out, I was thirty. They were saying How old are you? And even then, I was like, why? You think I’m a car? You need to check under the hood and kick the tires?”

Due to her popularity and social activism, Lauper was invited to appear in the music video and sang in the choir on the song “We Are The World.”

Lauper reveals her true colors

It was 1986 — well into the Cyndi Lauper 80s — that the now established singer released her second album, True Colors. This was a banner year for Lauper, having been nominated at the Grammys for “What A Thrill” and also appearing on the Billy Joel album The Bridge, singing a duet with him on “Code of Silence,” for which she’s credited with writing the lyrics.

On top of this, a perfect meshing for Lauper’s eccentric persona was her singing the theme song for the equally bizarre Peewee’s Playhouse, credited as Ellen Shaw. 

The following year her concert film Cyndi Lauper in Paris was a huge hit for HBO. 

Cyndi Lauper TV broadcast from Paris, 1987
Cyndi Lauper TV broadcast from Paris, 1987Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty

Buoyed by her TV success, and the selling of two million copies of True Colors in the U.S. alone, she branched out to explore new creative arenas with her feature film debut in 1988’s quirky comedy, Vibes, opposite offbeat Jeff Goldblum. In it, she played a psychic in search of a city of gold in South America. Although the film was a big box office disappointment, Lauper studied with a few Manhattan psychics to prepare for the role and had a great time filming. Today, Vibes is considered a cult classic.

Related: Jeff Goldblum Movies: Why We Can’t Get Enough of the Charismatic Icon

Scene from Vibes, 1988
Jeff Goldblum and Cyndi Lauper in Vibes, 1988Imagine Entertainment/Columbia Pictures/MoviestillsDB

Never leaving her musical talents behind, she contributed the song “Hole in My Heart” for the soundtrack, but for undisclosed reasons it never made it to the final cut of the film. Lauper also played herself in the 1989 syndicated TV series The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

That was the decade for the award-winning singer-songwriter, who rose to fame and established herself as the Cyndi Lauper 80s icon we know and love with a string of pop hits. “The 80s was a really creative and brave period” she has reflected. “Remember, it was a period of ultra-conservatism, so you had to be brave people to push ahead.”

She is still known for her colorful style, expressive delivery, high pitched speaking voice and that New York accent. Her “True Colors” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” tunes have inspired her legions of fans to honor and celebrate their own true colors. You go girl!

Cyndi Lauper 80s and beyond: Fun facts

Portrait of Cyndi Lauper, 1989
Portrait of Cyndi Lauper, 1989Michel Linssen/Redferns/Getty

She loves wrestling and helped produce “Captain Lou’s History of Music” on The Wrestling Album in 1985, appearing under the name Mona Flambe. Jesse Ventura then referred to her as Mona Flamboyant. 

She is a big fan of movie great Marlene Dietrich.

Lauper was a 2010 Barbie Doll in the Ladies of the 80s Pink Label Collection along with other 80s icons, Debbie Harry and Joan Jett.

Cyndi still rocks the stage, 2023
Cyndi still rocks the stage, 2023Kerry Marshall/Getty

She was diagnosed with Psoriasis when she was in her fifties.

Lauper is in the midst of writing a musical adaptation of Working Girl and getting herself in tiptop share for a world tour next year.   


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