Richard Hell was an innovator of punk music and fashion. He was one of the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins. Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, has credited Hell as a source of inspiration for the Sex Pistols' look and attitude, as well as the safety-pin and graphics accessorized clothing that McLaren sold in his London shop, Sex. Hell was in several important, early punk bands, including Neon Boys, Television, and The Heartbreakers, after which he formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Their 1977 album, Blank Generation, influenced many other punk bands. Its title song was named "One of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock" by music writers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listing and is ranked as one of the all-time top-ten punk songs by a 2006 poll of original British punk figures, as reported in the Rough Guide to Punk.
Since the late 1980s Hell has devoted himself primarily to writing, publishing two novels and several other books. He was the film critic for BlackBook magazine from 2004 to 2006.