R.E.M.'s first full-length album, 1983's Murmur, cemented their reputation as critics' darlings and made Stipe an underground icon -- his cryptic, often unintelligible lyrics were analyzed with Talmudic fervor, and his thrift-store image was copied by countless acolytes. Despite little mainstream airplay, 1984's Reckoning reached the Top 30 and with the darkly beautiful follow-up Fables of the Reconstruction, the band earned increasing MTV visibility for the videos "Can't Get There From Here" and "Driver 8." Stipe himself directed the video for "Fall on Me," the lead single from R.E.M.'s fourth LP, 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant; thanks to producer Don Gehman, Stipe's vocals resonated with newfound clarity, revealing a growing awareness with sociopolitical concerns (among them environmental issues and American foreign policy). 1987's Document was R.E.M.'s commercial breakthrough, buoyed by the Top Ten hit "The One I Love"; with Green, the band's debut for new label Warner Bros., Stipe for the first time ever allowed one of his lyrics ("World Leader Pretend") to be reprinted on the jacket sleeve. Released on Election Day 1988, the album was R.E.M.'s most pointedly polemic to date, although the hits "Stand" and "Pop Song 89" also reflected the band's wry sense of humor.
Following the Green tour, R.E.M. took an extended break, during which Stipe focused on his film company C-00, produced material for local discoveries like Vic Chesnutt and the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, and lent guest vocals to a variety of projects. R.E.M. returned in 1991 with the chart-topping Out of Time, which generated the Top Ten hits "Losing My Religion" and "Shiny Happy People"; the elegiac masterpiece Automatic for the People followed and as alternative rock took over the pop charts, the band (and Stipe in particular) was widely acknowledged among the chief inspirations behind a generation of new artists. While touring in support of 1995's Monster, Stipe was temporarily sidelined by hernia surgery; he returned to complete the tour and two years later, R.E.M. resurfaced with New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Outside of his musical activities, in 1998 Stipe published the photo collection Two Times Intro: On the Road With Patti Smith; he also worked with his new feature film production company, Single Cell, which in 1999 yielded the acclaimed Being John Malkovich and American Movie. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi