Name at birth: John Ravenscroft
John Peel was a disc jockey on BBC's Radio 1 whose 37 years of broadcasting out-of-the-mainstream acts helped popularize reggae, punk and hip-hop in Britain. Peel got his radio start in the United States in the early 1960s, working in Texas, Oklahoma and California. In 1967 he returned to the United Kingdom and began a late-night program, The Perfumed Garden, on a pirate radio station called Radio London. Later that year he was hired by Radio 1 and began a show called Top Gear. Peel's genuine interest in a wide variety of musical styles and his low-key on-air personality helped make him one of the most popular and influential broadcasters in the U.K. In 1986 he began what were called The Peel Sessions, studio recordings of little-known bands that were then packaged and sold as EPs and LPs. In addition to his show on Radio 1, Peel hosted a radio magazine, Home Truths, on Radio 4, which first aired in 1998. He is credited with helping the careers of dozens of bands and artists, from Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and David Bowie to The Ramones, Joy Division and The White Stripes. In 2003 he agreed to write his autobiography, but in 2004 he died suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation in Peru.