Johnny O'Keefe was Australia's first rock 'n' roll star. Full of energy, confidence and ambition, he was a dynamic live performer with a raw voice and an exuberant stage presence that earned him the nickname 'the wild one'. He hosted his own television shows and did much to encourage and promote other Australian rock performers, but his greatest legacy was as a performer and recording artist.
Up to 1960, O'Keefe had a taste for flash stage costumes which accentuated his wild image. An outstanding example is this bright red suit with leopard-print velvet trim. The accompanying red and gold shoes were decorated with fringed leather and studded with faux emeralds (Powerhouse Museum object 98/32/3). O'Keefe was rough, raw and loud. His talent lay in his genuine feel for rock 'n' roll and his wild, frenzied and overtly sexual stage antics. He would throw himself into each song, shaking his body and grinning at his fans.
O'Keefe adopted more conservative attire when he began hosting the ABC television show 'Six o'clock rock' in late 1959. Mental illness and the effects of a car crash in 1960 caused him to suffer memory loss, depression and breakdowns. Nevertheless he made a television comeback, but by the end of 1964 'Beatlemania' had overtaken O'Keefe. He died in 1978 but will always be remembered as the true pioneer of Australian rock.