“Damien actually made me a bass, a butterfly bass, it’s a beautiful thing. “It’s not just a piece of art to hang on a wall. The whole new album I play on it. This bass is kind of heavy for live — I don’t play Fenders that much live — but it’s beautiful”.
Flea's stepfather, Walter Abdul Urban (1941–2011), frequently invited Musicians to his house, where jam sessions would often take place. The family moved again to Los Angeles, California, where Flea became fascinated with the trumpet. He had no interest in rock music at the time; he idolized jazz Musicians like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. His stepfather was an "aggressive alcoholic", who eventually became involved in shoot-outs with police. "I was raised in a very violent, alcoholic household", Flea later said, "I grew up being terrified of my parents, particularly my father figures. It caused [me] a lot of trouble later in life." To cope, Flea began smoking cannabis at 13, and became a daily user.
Michael Peter Balzary was born on October 16, 1962 in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley, Victoria. He is of Hungarian and Irish descent. His father, Mick Balzary, an avid Fisherman, often took him fishing. When Flea was seven, his family moved to Larchmont, New York for his father's career. In 1971, his parents divorced and his father returned to Australia. Flea and his siblings stayed with their mother Patricia, who soon remarried a jazz musician. Decades later, Flea would receive American citizenship. He was first called "Flea" as a child for his seeming inability to sit still, and the nickname stuck ever since.
Flea has pursued a minor acting career since the mid-1980s. His first role was as young punk Razzle in the Penelope Spheeris film Suburbia (1984). Shortly thereafter he starred alongside the Chili Peppers, who played themselves, in the skate drama Thrashin' (1986). He played the ill-fated punker Milo in another Penelope Spheeris film, Dudes (1987). He also made an appearance in the Bruce Weber documentary film about the life and career of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker entitled Let's Get Lost (1988). He portrayed the character Douglas J Needles in Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990), though in an interview he referred to Part II as "a multi-million dollar piece of trash", saying that he was happy neither with the film nor his performance in it.
Flea has displayed a wide variety of techniques throughout the years, ranging from his initial use of slapping and popping to the more traditional methods he has employed since Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Greg Prato of Allmusic has noted, that "by combining funk-style bass with psychedelic, punk, and hard rock, Flea created an original playing style that has been copied numerous times". Flea stated in an interview, that he was influenced greatly by Louis Armstrong. Flea has been considered one of the greatest bassists of all time, with Greg Tate of Rolling Stone saying "if there were a Most Valuable Bass Player award given out in rock, Flea could have laid claim to that bitch ten years running". Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan recalls, that when he first saw the Chili Peppers in 1984, "Flea was playing so aggressively that he had worn a hole in his thumb and he was literally screaming in pain in-between songs because it hurt so bad. Someone kept coming out and pouring crazy glue into the hole." Flea's sound is also determined by what type of instrument he plays. Before Californication, he did not believe the actual bass held much significance: "what mattered was how you hit them [basses] and your emotional intent, and I still think that's the bottom line." Flea owns a 1961 Fender Jazz Bass, treasuring it for its "old wood sound".
Funk musician George Clinton was hired to produce the band's second album, Freaky Styley (1985). The strong chemistry between Clinton and the Chili Peppers was felt instantly. Flea later referred to Clinton as "the warmest, kindest man in the world". Freaky Styley was released in August 1985. It received only a bit more attention than The Red Hot Chili Peppers with roughly 75,000 copies sold by year's end. Flea was somewhat indifferent to the poor album sales as he had recently proposed to girlfriend Loesha Zeviar, who was pregnant with their child. The band hired Michael Beinhorn, their last resort among potential producers, to work on their next album. What Is This? had finally disbanded, and Drummer Irons returned to the Chili Peppers in mid-1986 after Martinez was fired. Flea, Slovak and Kiedis especially were involved in heavy drug use and their relationships became strained. Flea recalled that "it began to seem ugly to me and not fun; our communication was not healthy". Kiedis became dependent on heroin, leaving Flea and Slovak to work on much of the album's material by themselves.
From 1988 to 1990, Flea was married to Loesha Zeviar (Loesha's name still remains tattooed on Flea's chest). Together they had one daughter, Clara Balzary, who was born in 1988. Clara has been featured in many Chili Peppers books and documentaries including the band's Funky Monks documentary. She also has appeared at many shows and as a child even provided artwork for the band's T-shirts and promotional material. She has also documented the band's I'm With You tour through photographs and videos. As an adult, Clara was most recently in the short-lived band the Tints and is also an aspiring Artist and Photographer, taking the promotional photographs for the new Red Hot Chili Peppers record.
Flea's bass playing has changed considerably throughout the years. When he joined Fear, his technique centered largely on punk rock bass lines; however, he was to change this style when the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed. He began to incorporate a "slap" bass style that drew influence largely from Bootsy Collins. However, this technique caused Flea to receive attention from the music world and was often copied, and he, therefore, felt it necessary to almost completely remove slap-bass styles from his repertoire following Mother's Milk (1989). Consequently, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) saw a notable shift in style as it featured less of his signature technique and more styles that focused on traditional and melodic roots. His intellectual beliefs on how to play the instrument were also altered: "I was trying to play simply on Blood Sugar Sex Magik because I had been playing too much prior to that, so I thought, 'I've really got to chill out and play half as many notes'. When you play less, it's more exciting—there's more room for everything. If I do play something busy, it stands out, instead of the bass being a constant onslaught of notes. Space is good."
Flea and the Chili Peppers appeared in 1990 PSA ads for Rock the Vote, a non-profit organization created to encourage 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
In 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released a black and white film documenting the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik titled Funky Monks. They have released two video concerts, Off the Map in 2001 and Live at Slane Castle in 2003—the latter of which had over eighty thousand attendees.
Flea has also appeared in television broadcasts with Red Hot Chili Peppers on several occasions. Several months before Frusciante's departure in 1992, the band performed two songs on Saturday Night Live – Kiedis felt the show was an embarrassment due to the guitarist; he believed, that Frusciante purposely played the song out of tune and incorrectly. Later that year, the band appeared in the popular animated comedy The Simpsons on the episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled". At Woodstock 1994, Kiedis proposed the band perform the first few songs in metallic suits with giant light bulbs placed on their heads. Flea was initially reluctant but eventually agreed: "... when we got to play, the Energy of the whole thing took over."
Flea was close friends with actor River Phoenix and was with him on 31 October 1993, the night he died of a drug overdose, even riding in the ambulance to the hospital with him. The song "Transcending" on One Hot Minute was a tribute to Phoenix written by Flea.
During the writing and recording of One Hot Minute (1995), Flea integrated some use of slap-bass progressions, but continued to center his technique around the philosophy of "less is more" rather than complexity: "I can't even think of anything I played that was complex [on the record]; even the slapping stuff is simple. It's original-sounding, and I'm proud of that – but what I played was more a matter of aesthetic choice." This led Flea to alter the way he wrote music by playing alone, instead of the jam sessions that would dictate how the band conceived songs: "[One Hot Minute] is the least jam-oriented record we've made. I mean, we definitely jammed on the ideas, but there's only one groove on the whole album that came from a jam, 'Deep Kick'. The rest of it came from my sitting down with a guitar or bass."
The Chili Peppers were invited by the Beastie Boys and the Milarepa Fund to perform at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in June 1996 in San Francisco. They also performed at the June 1998 Washington DC concert as well. The concerts, which were held worldwide, were to support the cause of Tibetan independence.
The band, with Frusciante back on guitar, began writing new songs during the summer of 1998 in Flea's garage. He and Kiedis were less confident in writing the album after the disappointing results of One Hot Minute. Flea had also recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years, Marissa Pouw, causing him to enter a state of depression which was only lifted when his daughter, Clara, comforted him after several weeks of crying.
Flea became interested in electronica during the Californication (1999) era and he attempted to emulate the same atmosphere given off by synthesizers into his bass playing: "I feel the most exciting music happening is electronica, without a doubt." He ultimately decided against this, acknowledging that, aside from Frusciante, the band was not moving in the same direction.
In 2001, he founded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a school dedicated to help youth progress in music, because of this. "I just wanted to fill the void that public education has cut from their curriculum. They've dropped the ball by cutting out music programs", Flea laments, "I grew up in LA public schools and was in the music department. It was really an important thing for my life, it gave me something to hold onto, and it was an important access for me. Without music I would've gotten into a lot of trouble and there are a lot of kids like me out there. I just wanted to try to provide something like what I got." Flea felt the public school system was seriously lacking in exposing children to music by drastically reducing, and sometimes eliminating, art-related programs.
In By the Way (2002), many of the bass-lines were entirely stripped of funk. Flea felt the chords Frusciante had written were not supportive of his typical technique; furthermore, he does not feel the musical direction of the record was specifically melodic, but instead "... a result of each one of us being who we are. The way we [the band] compose music is a very communal thing."
In September 2005, the Chili Peppers performed "Under the Bridge" at the ReAct Now: Music & Relief benefit which was held to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. $30 million was raised during the live event which was broadcast across the world on various television networks and online.
After another two-year world tour, the Chili Peppers wrote their ninth studio album Stadium Arcadium (2006). Unlike By the Way, both Flea and Frusciante were more musically conjoined, when writing the record. They found inspiration in Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen among others. The double album was ultimately released on 9 May 2006, to generally positive reviews, selling over seven million copies in less than two years. In November 2007, Flea's $4.8 million Corral Canyon home in Malibu was burnt down by a wildfire. The location was not, however, his primary residence and at the time of its destruction was being rented to musician and Producer Butch Walker.
In October 2008, Flea (along with his daughter Sunny Bebop) appeared in a Vote for Change ad voicing his support for Barack Obama for President of the United States in the upcoming election.
Regarded as one of the best rock bass players of all time, in 2009, Rolling Stone's readers ranked Flea the second-best Bassist of all-time in their top ten poll, ranked behind only John Entwistle and ahead of Paul McCartney. In a 2010 poll, conducted on the BBC Two series I'm in a Rock 'n' Roll Band!, Flea was named the Bassist in the ultimate fantasy band alongside Freddie Mercury on vocals, Jimi Hendrix on guitar and John Bonham on drums.
In 2011, Flea appeared in the documentary, Bob and the Monster. The film details the life of musician and drug counselor Bob Forrest.
The Chili Peppers performed a free concert in downtown Cleveland, Ohio on 15 April 2012, in support of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
Flea has been very outspoken towards guns and gun violence, sometimes speaking about it during Chili Peppers shows. He often expresses his anger on his Twitter page. In 2013, he said "why anyone would ever want to own an automatic weapon I will never ever understand. it's a pathetic useless concept for sick people. Automatic, semi automatic, I don't care. I'm against em........ Melt em all down turn em into sculptures there is no need for them on earth. In many countries, the cops have no guns and they do perfectly fine. No civilians should be allowed to have guns. none. and I don't think the cops should have guns either. change the constitution". Following the racially motivated Charleston church shooting in June 2015, Flea again voiced his anger towards gun violence saying "You are kidding me. This is too much. Humans are an over rated species. Sick. God help us." and "The USA land where any sick MadMan can easily get a gun. disgusting, deplorable, unbelievable."
The 2014 film Low Down, also starring Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, and Glenn Close, marked Flea's first acting role in 14 years. The film was directed by Jeff Preiss, who previously worked with Flea on the 1988 documentary Let's Get Lost. In 2015, he provided the voice of the "mind cop" Jake in the Pixar film Inside Out.
In 2015, Flea appeared as himself in the Amazon Prime series, Highston. He also played Eddie No-Nose in Baby Driver in 2017.
From “The Getaway” world tour beginning June 2016. Flea was back on the road with three Custom Shop Fender Jazz basses.
Flea had a cameo appearance in a 2017 episode of the FOX series Family Guy, titled " Peters Def Jam ". In a scene where Stewie said to his dog Brian that thanks to him, there's a recurring flea Problem in Stewie's room, Flea enters and drops a bass line on his guitar. He asks Brian if he wants to hang out, but Stewie kicks Flea out of the room.
In February 2018, Flea released a passionate and revealing op-ed through Time magazine about the current Opioid crisis as well as his own personal history of drug addiction which for most of his career he had been very private about. Flea hoped that by exposing his past issues with substance abuse that his stories could possibly help others battling their own addictions and raise more awareness on the need for those in the medical community and the government to help those in need. "I’ve been around substance abuse since the day I was born. All the adults in my life regularly numbed themselves to ease their troubles, and alcohol or drugs were everywhere, always. I started smoking weed when I was eleven, and then proceeded to snort, shoot, pop, smoke, drop and dragon chase my way through my teens and twenties," Flea said. Flea finally kicked his addictions in 1993; however, he revealed that in 2014 when he broke his arm in a snowboard accident he nearly had setbacks due to Oxycontin that his Doctor prescribed for him "My Doctor put me back together perfectly, and thanks to him I can still play bass with all my heart. But he also gave me two-month supply of Oxycontin. The bottle said to take four each day. I was high as hell when I took those things. It not only quelled my physical pain, but all my emotions as well. I only took one a day, but I was not present for my kids, my creative spirit went into decline and I became depressed. I stopped taking them after a month, but I could have easily gotten another refill. Addiction is a cruel disease, and the medical community, together with the government, should offer help to all of those who need it."