Just when you think that the life of a rock star is everything a red-blooded young man could dream of, some rocker tells the real story and makes you thankful for your day job.
Nikki Sixx has been the bass player and songwriter for the legendary heavy metal band Mötley Crüe since the early ’80s, and with more than 45 million records sold worldwide, has enjoyed every perk a rocker possibly could, including fame, fortune and girls, girls, girls.
But while he was at what should have been the height of a legendary ride, his partying led to a debilitating drug addiction. When Sixx, who has always kept a diary, looked back at the entries from some of his hardest times, he realized there was an amazing story to be told.
“The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star,” features selected diary entries from the mid-1980s, when Sixx’s addiction was so severe that drug-fueled paranoia drove him to hide in closets. Co-written with journalist Ian Gittens, the book also features asides from those who watched (and many who shared) his struggles, including his Mötley band mates.
Bankrate spoke to Sixx about the project, and the challenges that led him to it.
Bankrate: Talk about what inspired this project.
Nikki Sixx: I’ve been keeping diaries since probably ’79. When I fill up a book or two, I drop them off at a storage unit.
So I was there, glancing at stuff from, like, 1980 and ’81, and I was this kid with a dream, talking about how I was in local bands, and how I wanted to be in a band that was like AC/DC meets the New York Dolls, or The Ramones meets Black Sabbath. Looking at these, I was like, “Wow. For a kid, I had a pretty clear vision.”
Then around “Shout at the Devil” and “Theater of Pain,” we started to pop and had hit singles and sold out arena tours, but then I started doing a lot of drugs. I was uncontrollable.
So I sat in this boiling hot metal storage unit, sweating and reading, and I kind of laughed and cried. It felt like I was reading someone else’s journals — it didn’t feel like it was me. Because in the beginning, because of where I was at in my life, I kept referring to my mom and dad, and asking were they there for me, and was it the addiction, and I was ungrateful and pissed off, and I hated my band and my band members. And I was like, who is this guy? And I was thinking that whatever that addiction and depression were at the time, during that era, they were really a Band-Aid for what happened to me as a child, which was, my father abandoned me at 3, my mother was unable to be a mother, and I lived with my grandparents.
Even though they were wonderful people, they moved a lot. We were very poor, and I felt bad about myself. If you’re a child and you’re trying to survive, you do the best you can, and you come up with all kinds of scenarios, like, is it my fault?
But those teenage years hit, with all that anger and confusion, and I did everything rebellious I could do. I drank and fought and did drugs, and then I found three like-minded guys and formed Mötley Crüe. The dream was in place, fueled by the anger, which in turn fueled the music and the lifestyle.
When I hit the time where it was spinning out of control, I was doing the very best I could to fill a hole that was unfillable. That, to me, is the important part of the story. We can talk about addiction and recovery, and I think that’s very important, but without looking back, without peeling the onion, we’re gonna have a hard time dealing with just the recovery.
Bankrate: So now that you’ve processed all this, your recovery has been solid?
Nikki Sixx: In a perfect world, I could tell you that I’m sober 20 years. But I can’t tell you that. I’m sober six years, and the reason is that for years I didn’t drink or do drugs, but I never peeled the onion.
I tried to control it, and I didn’t realize that actually being powerless is what gave me sobriety, not being in control of that sobriety. You don’t have any control over that. You have to give up before you can get up. All those psychological things, those 12-step and spiritual things, they’re very important. When people say, “one day at a time,” I used to roll my eyes and go, “Oh Jesus. Please.” Now I get it. I stay sober and do the best I can do one day at a time. That’s how I’ve set my life up.
At the end of this book, something very interesting happened to me. I went through a very difficult divorce. The end of the book was written. I was married, a photographer, in Mötley Crüe, was a father, was sober. It sounded like the perfect ending. Then my wife files for divorce, it becomes a very brutal divorce, and I was able to hold my head up, stay sober, go through it respectfully, and not do what my father did to me, which was run or not be available.
I focused on my children. I focused on my creativity. I focused on doing the right thing day by day, and my children are better children and I’m a better father for it. We’re more connected. That, to me, is amazing. Because when life hurts, people act out in different ways. Nikki Sixx’s way of dealing with pain, historically, has been pain relievers. And I didn’t do that, and I’m very proud of that. I think that’s an important point to the story.
Bankrate: So when you decided to do this project, was it for the personal catharsis, or as a warning to others?
Nikki Sixx: It has a lot of layers to it. When it started out, I was like, wow, this is a lot of people’s story. Whether they use drugs or something else, a lot of people come from messed-up situations. Most people do.
But I really want people to buy the book for whatever reason, because I’m giving money from it to a charity that helps runaways and at-risk children, which is where I was. I ended up running away from home. I was homeless for a very short amount of time, but enough for me to have the empathy and a connection to these kids at Covenant House to go, you know, I’ve been given so many great gifts, I’ve made a great living, I’ve been able to achieve all those dreams that I read about early on. When is enough enough? Let’s give something back. Let’s raise some money. So we’re helping music programs inside Covenant House. It’s sort of full circle.
Bankrate: How did you find the process of writing the book? Did you have the discipline?
Nikki Sixx: I definitely had the discipline for it. I’m actually taking a stab at a novel, because I was so invigorated by being able to write the overview of it. I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to saying, “I’m putting my head to this, I’m gonna do it.”
I love writing maybe more than anything else. Now I’m trying to train myself for a new talent, which is learning to develop characters, and have people talk to each other in novel form. It’s a different process than this book, because the diaries are the diaries. They were there.
Ian Gittens, who did the book with me, did the heavy lifting. He went in there and spent hours and hours with these people who were in my life, and disarmed them to be honest, because what I didn’t need was a fluff piece, like, me going, “day four of kicking heroin,” and then them going, “Nikki’s a great guy.” I needed them to go, “he was a dictator, an a**hole,” and for me to look back on it and go, “I was doing the best I could, because I was scared I was gonna die and lose my band. I thought I was gonna get thrown out of my own band.” And then, them going, “we never thought about that.”
Me writing in my journals, “it’s been four days since I did drugs,” and then a few days later going, “Dear Diary — I’ve been lying to myself,” and my being able to look at that as a clear-headed human being and go, that’s the insanity, right there. Because my relationship with a pen and paper ? that was my only friend.
Bankrate: How easy or difficult was it to get the people in your life back then to participate?
Nikki Sixx: God bless Mötley Crüe. They’re not scared of anything. I was like, say whatever you want, paint me as ugly or as beautiful as you want, and they’re like, right on. That was amazing.
Then, people like Slash, God bless him, he came in and laid the truth out there, and his struggles, and then managers came in and told their side of the story, and executives, and ex-girlfriends, and (former Prince vocalist and Sixx ex-girlfriend) Vanity, who was amazing. She’s an evangelist now, and she had her battle with (drugs) but she got through it. That’s a big part of the story.
But then there were a lot of people I called, and I’m not gonna name who they are, but I called them and they said, “Nikki, for you, anything,” and then they didn’t return the call. Or, I’d get an e-mail from their manager and it would say, “so and so really wants to be involved, but they don’t want anyone to know that they did the same thing.” And I was like, “Spineless, man. This is to help people out.” But they’re so concerned about their own image, they don’t care about other people. That’s what I wanted to put out there. Look how messed up this was, and look where I’m at now. That’s it.
Bankrate: What’s the status of Mötley Crüe now?
Nikki Sixx: I’m doing this project, and me and (Crüe guitarist) Mick Mars are compiling riffs and putting stuff together. That’s a long process. We’ll start putting stuff together and let the songs start to form, and probably next year sometime make a record.
One thing that’s been very important to me is, I’m very respectful of Mötley Crüe, and I’ve always asked them to be very respectful to me and the other band members — meaning, when it’s time to do Mötley Crüe, I’m not doing other stuff. When I’m not doing Mötley Crüe, I wanna be able to do whatever it is I choose to do. For me, it’s a balance between being a father; having my clothing company Royal Underground with Kelly Gray, which is doing really well; having “The Heroin Diaries” and working for the charity.
Larry Getlen is a writer in New York.