He’s a superstar who named himself after a planet, but in spite of this Bruno Mars is remarkably down-to-earth. He started off his career as an Elvis impersonator and is now well on his way to becoming one of the biggest chart-toppers of all time. Mars’ journey to fame has been marked with highs and lows. While his laid-back demeanor doesn’t hint at his troubles, Mars has had more than his fair share of hardships. Think you know everything there is to know about this icon? Think again.
He wrote his first song at the age of four
Mars has been churning out hits since childhood. He wrote his very first song when he was just four years old and dedicated it to the most important person in his life: his mother. She told Inquirer Lifestyle that Mars was “singing even before he started talking.”
He also started playing the piano at a young age, according to his mother. “I bought him a piano when he was just two,” she said, “and he went on the piano and just started playing tunes, not just banging on it, but he’d play actual tunes!”
Mars has certainly come a long way since then, having penned dozens of hit songs.
He was the youngest Elvis impersonator
Not only did the pint-sized Bruno write his first song when he was just 4 years old, he was also the youngest Elvis impersonator at the time, which he started doing at just 2 years old as part of his parents’ band! That’s cute and all, but how big of a deal could it be? Pretty big. He was such a great tiny Elvis that he performed at the 1990 Aloha Bowl and played “Little Elvis” in 1992’s Honeymoon in Vegas. And people loved him.
He was featured in the 1990 documentary Viva Elvis, and appeared on multiple television segments, like the Pauly Shore MTV segment above and, according to Rolling Stone, he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show by the time he was just 6.
So why Elvis? He said in the Viva Elvis documentary, “I like his singing, and his dance, and his lip,” which he then of course topped off with his impression of the iconic Elvis lip. The kid was born to be a star!
He comes from a close family
Bruno Mars comes from a tight-knit family. He and his mother Bernadette San Pedro Bayot were especially close and her death in 2013 from a brain aneurysm devastated him. In 2017, Mars opened up to Latina about his loss.
“The woman who taught you to love, showed you what a woman is supposed to be,” he said, “when that goes away, a little more than half your heart goes away with it.” Mars added that losing his mother showed him “the real importance of life” and of his loved ones.”
“My life has changed,” he said. “She’s more than my music. If I could trade music to have her back, I would. I always hear her say, ‘Keep going and keep doing it.'”
He grew up poor
Mars might be wildly successful these days, but his life has been far from easy. Some of his childhood years were spent in poverty. At one time, his family was so poor that they crowded into a small home with no bathroom. Despite this, Mars said his childhood was “the best” in an interview with 60 Minutes (via ET Online).
“We had it all,” he said. “We had each other.” Mars added that there were days when his family didn’t have electricity but they stayed positive, saying “We’re gonna figure it out.”
“Maybe that’s why I have this mentality when it comes to the music,” Mars said. “I’m gonna figure it out.”
He was bullied at school
School was not always easy for Mars. As a child, his classmates would make fun of his looks calling him “Peter Pan Hyma Dingier” (Mars still hasn’t figured out the second part of the nickname).
“Even the nerds were calling me that,” Mars told Rolling Stone. “Oh, man, it was rough. I didn’t even want to go to school.” After a while, though, Mars won over his schoolmates with his natural charm and became “good friends” with the people who used to bully him.
He was raised performing
If Mars’ stage presence and smooth singing voice seem effortless, there’s a good reason for it. Music is in his blood, and the singer/songwriter grew up performing. His dad was a Latin percussionist and his mom was a hula dancer Mars told Rolling Stone, “and he put the charm on her.”
That charm brought together Mars’ parents who collaborated for years in a cover band called The Love Notes. That’s the very band that Mars joined as an Elvis impersonator by the time he was two and through which he became something of a local celebrity.
Today, Mars keeps the family tradition alive. His older brother, Eric Hernandez, plays the drums in Mars’ band. Hernandez left his career as a police officer to join the band, saying, “I knew, I was like, ‘If I don’t give this up and I’m watching some other guy play drums for my brother, that’s going to eat me up.'”
His father nicknamed him Bruno for a famous wrestler
Even as a young Elvis impersonator, Mars wasn’t going by his birth name of Peter Gene Hernandez. While he hadn’t yet adopted the moniker of Mars, he was billed in Honeymoon in Vegas as Bruno Hernandez and was presented in all his Elvis interviews as little Bruno. So where did the name come from? His father gave him the nickname as a young child after the professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino.
He said in an interview with Rap-Up, “Bruno is after Bruno Sammartino, who was this big fat wrestler. I guess I was this chunky little baby, so my dad used to call me that as a nickname.” He added, during an appearance on the The Graham Norton Show on BBC, “[Sammartino] was a stocky guy and I used to walk around like a little bulldog, my dad said, so he would always call me Bruno Sammartino.”
In August 2017, Mars finally had the opportunity to meet his namesake, posting on Instagram, “I was nicknamed after this professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Tonight in Pittsburgh I had the honor of meeting him!” It was apparently a good time for the both of them — CBS Sports notes that Sammartino said of meeting Mars, “I hope he’s like that in everyday life. He was the most humble, nicest guy. He couldn’t have been more respectful.”
He has fought hard against racial stereotyping
The son of a Puerto Rican Jewish father and a Filipino mother, Mars has had to work hard to fight off stereotypes. Born Peter Hernandez, Mars told GQ that in the early years of his career people would say things like, “Your last name’s Hernandez, maybe you should do this Latin music, this Spanish music…. Enrique’s so hot right now.”
While Mars didn’t want to be forced into a genre of music on the basis of his race, there’s no truth to the rumor that he adopted his stage name to hide his heritage. “I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican,” he told Latina. “My last name is Hernandez…There’s no denying that.”
Mars took on his last name because it “sounds bigger than life.” “That was it, simple as that,” he said about the reason behind his name change. “I see people that don’t know what I am, and it’s so weird that it gets them upset…You’re making a business out of these songs that I’m writing. And how are you going to tell me that this song that I’m writing is only going to be catered to Puerto Ricans or to white people or only Asian people. How are you going to tell me that? My music is for anybody who wants to listen to it.”
His sisters have their own musical group
Mars’ sisters, Tiara, Tahiti, and Presley Hernandez and Jaime Kailani Bayot (a cousin who was adopted into the family), are also making a name for themselves in the music business. They’re part of a group called The Lylas and landed a reality show in 2013. Like Mars, these women have music in their blood. “We all sang for most of our lives, but we sang separately,” Tiara told New York Daily News. “Singing with a group is a whole different thing. You have to be aware of what the sister next to you is singing, how loud you are, what key you’re in.”
She admitted that it can be “challenging” having a famous brother because “we aren’t just getting compared to other female singers, we’re getting compared to him.”
“But that’s okay,” she added. “Either way, we have to prove we’re good enough on our own.”
He’s a bit of a perfectionist
Mars’ relaxing croon might indicate that he’s an easygoing guy, but in reality he’s a driven perfectionist. “I’ve never seen someone be so meticulous in my entire life, when it comes to anything,” Ari Levine told Rolling Stone. Levine, who co-founded the songwriting/production team the Smeezingtons with Mars, knows more than most people just how demanding the star can be. “Even when we remodeled our studio, if one thing was off by an inch, it literally would drive him crazy,” he said.
Mars admitted that he is prone to yelling in rehearsals, but it’s all in the interest of creating good music.”I always tell everybody that we finally get to enjoy all the hard work that we’ve done when we play and when we sing,” he said.
Mars told NME that he often stresses out about the quality of his work. “It’s stupid things I obsess over, like, ‘Are people going to get off the dancefloor because I said something stupid about a dragon?'” he said about his album “24K Magic.” “For me, this album, I can’t do better. Right now, sitting here talking in 2016, I can’t do better. Do I hope that we’re sitting here in a year and saying that my next album is the best ever? Yeah! But for now, this is it — this is the best I got.”
He was once arrested for cocaine possession
While Mars has largely managed to avoid scandal, he was arrested for cocaine possession in 2010. As part of his plea deal, he was required to serve 200 hours of community service.
Mars later told GQ that the arrest was a reality check for him. “‘I can take this s*** away from you, young man.’ That was the lesson. You’ve slaved away for years and years and years. You’ve prepped your whole life. It’s all you know how to do. You’re a kid experiencing life…and that was the lesson: It can all be taken away. Put you in a weird place. Embarrass you.”
Maybe it’s that very lesson that has so far otherwise kept Mars out of the news for anything other than his successes.
He co-founded SelvaRey Rum
In addition to churning out hit songs, Mars is making a name for himself in the alcohol industry. The singer co-founded SelvaRey Rum which boasts several award-winners as part of its line. SelvaRey’s accolades have exceeded the goals the founders set “to create a white rum that was good enough to drink on the rocks and a natural cacao rum that would change what people expect from a flavored spirit.” Did you really expect anything less from Bruno Mars?
His mom taught him how to cook
Mars can write, sing, and dance, but that isn’t the end of his talents. In an interview with Just Jared, he revealed that his mother taught him how to cook. His favorite foods reflect his Filipino and Puerto Rican cultural background.
Mars said that his mom would cook for him when he was growing up and that his favorite dish was chicken adobo (the national dish of the Philippines). He also enjoys the Spanish rice made by his paternal grandmother which he described as “yellow rice with olives, peppers and a whole bunch of other stuff.”
He donated $100,000 to victims of Typhoon Yolanda
You may remember back in November 2013 when the storm known internationally as Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, where it was known as Typhoon Yolanda. CNN called it “one of the strongest storms recorded on the planet” and it occurred the month after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the island.
Many vulnerable populations lost their homes and, just a few months later in March 2014, Mars decided to do what he could to give back to his mother’s native Philippines. The Philippine Star reported that while Mars was in Manila for his Moonshine Jungle Tour, he presented the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc.’s Bantay Bata 163 with a donation of $100,000 “to assist and care for children affected by the supertyphoon, and help bring back the esteem and morale of orphans who lost their homes and families.”
It makes sense that he would want to give back to the kids as The Philippine Star noted that Mars “visited and bonded with the children of Bantay Bata during his first tour to the Philippines” three years prior. In addition to his monetary donation, Mars was also one of the stars to take part in a charity album for the Philippines after the typhoon. As reported by GMA News, all proceeds for “Songs for The Philippines” were donated to the Philippine Red Cross.
He donated $1M to help with the Flint water crisis
As his celebrity has increased, so have his charitable donations. In response to the Flint water crisis — wherein cost-cutting measures in Flint, Michigan resulted in water tainted with lead and other dangerous toxins — Mars announced at an August 2017 concert that he donated $1 million to aid the victims in Flint.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Mars announced his donation during a pause in a song toward the end of his concert, dedicating the donation to “our brothers and sisters in Flint.” In a statement released by Mars (via Rolling Stone) he said, “I’m very thankful to the Michigan audience for joining me in supporting this cause,” adding that the passage of time doesn’t mean people aren’t still in need. “Ongoing challenges remain years later for Flint residents, and it’s important that we don’t forget our brothers and sisters affected by this disaster. As people, especially as Americans, we need to stand together to make sure something like this never happens in any community ever again.”
He isn’t great with technology
For someone with as much studio credit as Bruno Mars, you’d think technology would be second nature by now. It turns out, we all have bad technology days and Mars might just have more of them than the average person.
If Twitter is any indication, it seems to have all started somewhere around December 2011, with a frustrated Mars exclaiming, “Took me an hour to change my icon… F*** you technology!” In August 2012 he asked, “what is instagram?” and in July 2016 revealed he still didn’t know how to change his Twitter photo.
Then it all came to a head when, as Teen Vogue reports, his fans started roasting him on Twitter in August 2017 for his frequent use of collages. When Twitter user @nycdevotee93 said, “y’all wait until @brunomars learns he can add more than one pic in a tweet,” Mars responded, “Wait what?” and the hilarity began. At first Mars defended his collages against the barrage of teasing, saying, “First of all there’s nothing wrong with my collages! I’ve received thousands of compliments and I’m looking forward to posting more. Thanks,” but eventually he admitted that his collages aren’t so great after all. It’s okay, Bruno, we still love you.
He doesn’t need a lot backstage
You might think that one of the most popular artists of our time might be a bit of a diva. After all, there’s lots of talk of expensive taste in his songs, like lobster tails, strawberry champagne on ice, and Versace. But when it comes to backstage Bruno Mars, you’d be wrong.
During his recent appearance on a “Carpool Karaoke” segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Mars revealed that there’s only a few things he really needs backstage. “What do I want in my dressing room?” Mars said, “Some booze, some water… wet wipes.” Corden was incredulous and asked, “That’s it? Wine and wet wipes?” to which Mars responded, “That’s it… that’s the next album… wine and wet wipes.”
He wants his music to speak for itself
Bruno Mars is still a young man, so we can expect to see even more hits from him in the future. The singer rarely does interviews, preferring to let his music speak for itself. He told Zane Lowe of radio station Beats 1 (via Complex) that he wants to be known for his work.
“I hope that my music does the talking,” he said. “I just want to do music. I don’t want to be known for any…scandals or controversy. I want to be the guy that brings joy to your life through his music. That’s it. And I want to go home. Throw on some Netflix and live a life.”
Who could argue with that?