If you grew up in the Nineties, this cameo in ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ is probably your first memory of Bacharach
When the sad news of Burt Bacharach’s death came down Thursday morning, your first memories of the songwriting genius likely depended on your age. If you grew up in the Sixties, you probably remember the hits he wrote with Hal David for artists like Gene Pitney, Dionne Warwick, and B.J. Thomas. Children of the Eighties are likely more familiar with Christoper Cross’ “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight,” and the Dionne Warwick charity single “That’s What Friends Are For.”
But if your pop cultural awareness began in the Nineties, it’s very likely you first became aware of Bacharach in 1997 when you entered a multiplex to see the Mike Myers movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The key scene comes midway through the film when the unfrozen Sixties spy is struggling to adapt to life in the Nineties. As Bacharach’s 1965 classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love” plays in the background, Powers drives alone through Las Vegas, gets mocked at a bar by a group of young friends, attempts to play a Byrds CD on a record player, pumps up a Reebok Pump shoe until it explodes and he’s covered in powder and learns that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Mama Cass are all dead. (Note: He repeats the cruel urban legend that Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. It was heart failure.)
He grows more emotional when he catches up on the past 30 years of world history, including the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of apartheid. But then he takes Elizabeth Hurley’s character on a drive down the Las Vegas strip on the top of a double-decker bus. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says to the camera. “Mr. Burt Bacharach.” And there indeed is Bacharach, wearing a tuxedo, playing the song on the piano. He’s only on camera for a few seconds, but it’s one of the most memorable cameos in the Austin Powers trilogy.
Right around this time, Bacharach was working with Elvis Costello on their brilliant collaborative LP Painted From Memory. And they both appeared in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me to perform their new rendition of Bacharach’s 1969 classic “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” as Powers serenades Heather Graham in the streets of London. Bacharach doesn’t appear in 2002’s Austin Powers in Goldmember until the end credits when he once again sings “What the World Needs Now Is Love” at the piano.
There have been persistent rumors about a fourth Austin Powers for the past two decades, and Myers said last year that he can “neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a project.” Should it happen, it just won’t feel the same without a Bacharach moment. He was the tender heart of the Austin Powers franchise, and he’ll be missed dearly.