Nikki Sixx interview: The Dirt, the Heroin Diaries, and the wreck of Motley Crue

Nikki Sixx in 2003
Nikki Sixx in 2003 (Image credit: Arun Nevader / Getty Images)

June 1981: singer Vince Neil beats up a drag queen in a nightclub for selling him baby powder instead of cocaine. 

November 1982: the band do a photo shoot for porno mag Oui. Drummer Tommy Lee disappears for three days with one of the models. 

June 1983: Lee meets stripper Candice Starrek at a party and occupies a bathroom with her for three days. Bassist Nikki Sixx leaves a jacuzzi session with Tommy and Candice and others naked, and rams his Porsche into a telephone pole trying to escape two groupies. He begins smoking heroin to cope with the pain of a shoulder injury caused by the crash. 

December 1984: at a party at Neil’s house in Redondo Beach, guitarist Mick Mars mixes Quaaludes and booze and tries to commit suicide by walking into the sea. Neil drives Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle on a short trip to buy more alcohol. On the way back, an intoxicated Neil crashes the car, killing Razzle

July 1985: on tour in Japan, Sixx realises he is addicted to heroin. Lee meets actress Heather Locklear (whom he will later marry; it’s his second marriage, having divorced Candice Starrek after she allegedly stabbed him with a kitchen knife). Neil is sentenced to 30 days for causing Razzle’s death, and is ordered to pay $2.6m to the deceased’s family. 

July-August 1986: Neil has a mud-pit built buy his swimming pool so that he can host mud-wrestling parties featuring girls he’s picked up at LA’s Tropicana club. (The best of the wrestlers, Sharise, will become his next wife). Sixx misses his grandmother Nona’s funeral because he’s too wasted to attend. 

December 1987: the Girls Girls Girls tour comes to its infamous conclusion in Japan, when the band wreck hotels and a Bullet train. Mars tells journalist Mick Wall that the band’s British tour is cancelled because of “snow on the roof” of the venues. Sixx returns to the US and suffers an almost fatal overdose. 

January 1987: the entire band go into rehab. A man named Matthew Trippe claims to have been Nikki Sixx’s dopplegänger who stood in for the bassist at a series of gigs. Doc McGhee, the band’s manager, pleads guilty to smuggling 40,000lbs of marijuana into the US in 1982. He gets a five year suspended sentence. 

August 1989: in Moscow to play a gig for Doc McGhee’s anti-drug charity, Lee gets into a fist-fight with McGhee over the amount of pyro Bon Jovi get to use during their set. The band fires McGhee. 

March 1990: Lee is charged with indecent exposure. 

May 1991: Neil is banned from rehearsals until he can turn up sober. He responds by flying to Hawaii with a porn star and maxing out his credit cards. He returns and checks into rehab. 

February 1992: Neil flies to Hawaii with another porn star, Savannah. They stay up for four days taking cocaine, until Savannah has convulsions and is hospitalised. Neil is fired from Motley Crue soon afterwards. 

June 1993: Mars accidentally shoots a stripper called Rebecca Mettling while messing around with guns in the desert north of LA. He pays $10,000 in compensation for the shrapnel injury Mettling suffered to her stomach. 

December 1994: Lee, recently divorced from Locklear, meets Pamela Anderson. 

August 1995: Neil’s four-year old daughter Skylar passes away due to cancer. 

August 1996: Lee and Pamela Anderson sue Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione for distributing a videotape of them having sex that was stolen from their house. The judge denies the motion, saying the tape was in part shot in a public place (in a car on the highway, and in a boat). 

And so on… Fifteen random incidents from 15 years in the life of Motley Crue. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more. The question is not whether Motley Crue were the most dangerous band in the world, it’s this: how the hell did four people become involved in so much havoc and heartache yet still, almost unbelievably, survive?

Classic Rock spoke to Nikki Sixx in 2003, at his 50-acre ranch in California. The Dirt was being developed into a film by Paramount Pictures and MTV (due for release in 2004 or 2005!), he was writing The Heroin Diaries, and had formed a band, the short-lived Brides Of Destruction, with Tracii Guns. 

The Dirt was such a huge success. Has it reinvigorated the band? 

I think so. I think that the media had been brainwashed by some kind of alternative press mentality that Motley Crue were finished; that we were basically a glam band, when we were really not. When people saw that book they went “Wow!” If you could have bred the Pistols with Zeppelin, that was more what you got with the Crüe. 

The Dirt was jaw-dropping in its reporting of your excesses, but in other parts it was quite sad and revelatory. The sections about your childhood and Vince losing his daughter were shocking in a different way. Was it a difficult decision to include material like that? 

What happened was, we decided to do a book which was all four taking turns to tell our story – our interpretations of not just our lives but also of our life in the band – separately. Then the writer Neil Strauss’s job was to take our stories and put them in line with one another. 

There were apparent contradictions, but you needed to see how the pitfalls of our past affected our futures. You had to look at a very young Mick Mars to understand in a lot of ways why he is how he is. Coupling that with his illness, you go: “Oh, okay, I get it.” Now times that by four and you start to see why Mötley Crüe is what it is. 

That’s what makes it work, over and above it being just a story of excess. 

I personally don’t look at The Dirt, or at the movie that will be coming out, as a rock’n’roll story. I personally look at it as a story of survival. It could be about racecar drivers or ball players, it could be pro wrestlers, politicians, movie stars. It was four guys who came from four places, who went through all this shit together and what it did to them. 

Has the music somehow been sidelined by the excesses of your lifestyles? 

I think that’s a fact. I think it was. I don’t think it happens so much now. I get guys like Blink 182, Sum 41, new kids off the block – not the band – coming up to me and saying our music was a major part of their lives. 

I went and saw Avril Levigne the other night – my daughter wanted to go – and the support was A Simple Plan, like a young, twenty-something, hi-energy band, and they were like: “Hey, man, your songwriting influenced us.” And they play straight-ahead, balls-to-the-wall pop. They learned from stuff like the Looks That Kill arrangement; they learned about pop sensibilities from Dr Feelgood; they learned from Wild Side.

But Mötley Crüe’s notoriety exists almost as a separate thing; it extends beyond your fame as members of the band. How do you deal with some people not knowing why you’re famous? 

I have to constantly remind myself of who I am. By that I mean… I’m so high-energy on what I’m doing. If I’m working on the clothing line, I don’t think ever that I’m in a band. When I work with Brides Of Destruction in rehearsal I don’t even think about Motley Crue. 

Every now and then Tracii Guns will break out a Motley song and I’m like: “Uggghh.” He’s like: “Why do you say ‘Uggghh?’” I’m like: “Well, I forgot…” But when I’m with Motley, nothing else matters. So I’m a kinda guy that gets really consumed by stuff. It takes all my energy. 

Do you think the other Mötley guys deal with their notoriety differently? 

I’ve always thought that Vince was like the lead singer: a rock star, the chicks, the whole thing… and it was very important to him. I think the problem with that is that when you’re not at the forefront any more you think: “Fuck. What’s my purpose?” 

And for Vince, really what his purpose is is as a singer. And I think the most important thing for Vince is to focus on the future and not on the past. He has the ability to create great things in the future. But most lead singers really hang on to: “Don’t you know who I am, or who I was or what I did?” 

Did you ever read through The Dirt and think: “Jesus, we were really dumb”? 

Dumb? Well, when you’re young you are dumb; and in our case everybody else was full of cum. We were really just having a great time. But I think that if we’d been too smart, too early, we probably would have derailed the accidents, and by not having the accidents we had in those days we wouldn’t have had the urgency that we had. 

I’m a firm believer in mistakes. I think you learn from them. If you’re colouring outside the lines, some guy goes: “Why are you painting that?” And then you step back from it and go: “Wow! That’s genius!” There wasn’t really genius in the band so much as experience – let them fuck up, let them step in shit, because the smell of shit is important for everybody’s senses. 

That leaves a huge trail of wreckage, though. Plenty of lessons not learned? 

There are. For some people there are lessons not learned. But the problem with life, as opposed to the book, is that one is spread out over 365 pages and life is spread out over 25 years. It’s hard to remember, if you step in shit in year one, that in year ten that same shit still stinks. 

But in a book, on page one you go: “Man, that guy just stepped in a pile of crap.” And then on page 22 they do it again and you’re like: “Man, these guys must be dumb.” In life it’s spread out much further, and it’s not so literal.

When you read the other guys’ stories for the first time, did any of them come as a surprise? 

It was heart-warming. And exciting that they were honest. It was obvious that everybody had done it their own way. Are there things that I think should have been done differently? Probably. But, again, they just didn’t colour inside the lines. 

How did The Dirt move forwards from a book into becoming a film project? 

We had offers from many companies, and the ones that we went with are Paramount Pictures and MTV Films. The reason we chose MTV films as partners is their distribution is not just on their channels, their reach is very deep – it’s a very young demographic to a very old demographic. Paramount Pictures obviously speaks for itself. 

The next task was to find a writer. MTV and Paramount wanted to find a writer who could tackle the subject but at the same time knew the band quite well. And we chose Rich Wilkes, who’s the XXX [2002 action-adventure film] writer. First of all, he’s a huge rock’n’roll fan. He’s able to step back and go: “Wow! When Nikki was doing that, those guys were doing this, that was causing real friction, but that friction turned out to be Shout At The Devil

Or while Vince was going through this, that turned out Home Sweet Home. That writer, I think, is key. Now we have directors who want to do it. There are two reasons. One is that they go, well, it’s gonna be successful and it has so much funding. The other is that they honestly believe in it. So when the script is done and it’s been approved, then we’ll chose the right director and producer.

The raw material in the book could be treated in a lot of different ways: a black comedy, a drama, a tragedy, over the top, realist… How will you choose? 

I want it to be underground. I want it to be honest. I don’t want it to be pornographic; it’s not necessary to show every pair of tits and a flash of pussy. That’s not really the point. It’s: where did this band come from? How did it form? What made it work? How did it survive and then not survive? 

The most important theme is survival. With the book, you cry and you celebrate: “God, I can’t believe they made it.” It’s like watching a guy on a race-track almost crash and the pull through and finish; his car’s almost destroyed but he made it. “Wow! At least he made it!”

It’s going to be difficult to cast the actors. 

Yeah. But if you get the right actor and the right interpretation, you’re not gonna be sitting there going: “Man, that guy’s legs are shorter than Vince’s.” It happened with The Doors movie. I was down with that. I bought it. How is dealing with the movie business different to dealing with the music business? I’m in a very interesting position. Because I’ve been doing this so long – the band’s been doing it so long – you find that a lot of the people slightly younger than us, or the same age as us, are fans. 

So they wanna express it the way they felt it go down. No one’s like 60 years old, rolling their eyes and going: “I don’t know who Mötley Crüe is,” it’s all people our age or younger working on the film. It’s not like we’re shooting Ghandi Part 12. 

If I get pulled over by the police these days, it’s like: “Hey, Nikki, what’s going on? Now quit speeding and get outta here.” Because those guys grew up listening to my music. If I go to a pro football game, the pro ball players are like: “Hey, man, we work out to your music.” The band’s in an interesting position. We’re not like so old like Kiss, where our fans are like fifty and sixty, our fans are twenties and thirties and some are forties.

You’re working on another book, too

Yeah, a book called The Heroin Diaries, which is actually from my diaries from 1986 to 1987. 

How did you manage to actually keep a diary, then? 

Crazy, huh?! It’s source material. There’s a strain of continuity to it all that is actually quite shocking, besides all the other shit that’s happening. This guy’s playing a sold-out stadium, 50,000 people. The guy’s shooting up dope right before he walks on stage, throwing up on his own shoes. He’s shot himself up; the crowd’s going crazy; and after the show, all the things that go down… 

It’s not glamourised, it’s: ‘Today I woke up. I’m in De Moines Iowa. This is what happened. This is how I feel. This is dark.’ It begins where it ends, which is shooting up under a Christmas tree, alone. That was like: “Wow, it’s time to change.” 

Do you feel any connection with that person, your old self, any more? 

Yeah, I do. It’s almost like that person is a very dark side of my stage personality. The part that’s disturbing to me I can’t tell you about. In the book, you’ll go: “Wow!” About halfway through the book, something becomes obvious that wasn’t obvious to me until I saw the diaries. For me, when I read the diaries I was shocked. There’s a line that runs through the whole thing that is genuinely disturbing and revelatory. 

Is it a personal philosophy to reveal these things about yourself in public? When you’d been unfaithful to your wife, you posted a confession on the internet.

I’ve always been a very honest person. In a sense, I think that a confession sets you free. For me it’s interesting because how can you do something like that and not let it out? It’s like cancer. It’s like poison. Maybe it’s because I’m insane. 

We’re a very open family. My family knows about everything. We have a great relationship. It’s kind of hard-won wisdom that I can give my kids. Whether they’ll act on it, I don’t know. One of my boys, every time I park my car it’s like: “Dad, you’ve parked in the red. You can’t park there”; “Dad you’re going the wrong way on a one-way.” I’m like: “So what?!” I do it my way, he does it his way.

Going back to the early days of Mötley Crüe, the image of the band, the look, seemed to play almost as much of a role as the music. 

Our whole thing was, whatever you want us to do, we’ll do the opposite. If you manipulate the band, nobody can get close to the band. 

I used to be so rebellious. If somebody said I should do a pop record, I’d probably do a Judas Priest record. If somebody said we should sound like Slayer, I’d go write a fucking record Madonna could sing. It wasn’t even about being successful, it was about telling people to fuck off. 

In retrospect, it’s interesting. We never used the same logo twice. It always changed. It was organic. It just evolved that way. There was a big jump between the first album and Shout At the Devil, and then to Theatre Of Pain

You changed things constantly. 

It was gut instinct. It was gut and boredom. You do Too Fast For Love, you tour around. As you do that, everyone’s engrossed in it, copying it, and we’re writing new songs. We’re writing Shout At The Devil, Looks That Kill. We’re not even thinking about Too Fast For Love, we’re fucking bored with it. We put out Shout At The Devil and it’s like, oh my god, what a shock. But we’re like: “What do you mean what a shock? We’re already working on Theatre Of Pain.” We were already over Shout At The Devil before it even came out."

How much were you leading the other guys in the band in terms of the aesthetics and the creativity? 

We were definitely a band, and in a certain way everybody had things that were very important to them. The important thing that I did was to be obsessed with rock’n’roll. That probably led to me thinking: “Wow, that would look cool.” Or sound cool. Most of the guys would probably sit round with guitars and play guitar riffs, and I would go round thinking about what we could demolish.

A great combination of personalities. 

It was. That was fluke, but it’s something that great bands have. You look at The Who. Everybody needs a Mick Mars or a John Entwistle – a great player who doesn’t do much. The Rolling Stones had Bill Wyman. You had the Keith Moon or the Tommy Lee that all bands need to have. 

All bands have to have the singer, the Vince Neil, the David Lee Roth, the Roger Daltrey. And then you need to have the architect, the Pete Townshend

You started a scene on LA’s Sunset Strip that became a sort of cultural wave. 

I wasn’t even aware of it, though. 

You didn’t notice that everyone was dressing like you, the Crue, and sounding like you? 

No, that’s fucking stupid. You see someone like Poison and you’d just go: “Man, that’s fucking lame. What are they doing?” When you’re a Superbowl champion you’re not aware that you’re winning it. You’re not aware until the next season. People look back and go: “Fuck, man, you guys were on fire last year.” And you don’t feel any different this year than you did last year, but that year was maybe more powerful. 

So when were you aware that you’d won the Superbowl? 

I think just recently. For me it was interesting. I was talking to Courtney Love one day, and she said that Kurt was a huge fan of Motley at first, that he used to listen to Livewire all the time. 

Did you get the feeling back then that you were treating people badly? 

I kind of felt like everybody was there for us. This was our playground. We make the rules. So if you don’t wanna play, get out of the playground. So we didn’t think that we were being bullies, but I guess we probably were. Where everybody else was like, “I want to save the world and feed all the hungry”, we would say: “We wanna do all the drugs and fuck all the chicks.” It’d be like: “You can’t say that!” But we were brutally honest bullies, I guess. 

I had no experience of living with a mother, or having any kind of relationship with my mother, so in respect of women I felt, well, fuck chicks. They’ve always abandoned me, I’ll fuck them and fuck them over before they can fuck me over. It was an interesting way of looking at things. Now, if one of my boys pipes off to my wife I’m like: “You don’t talk to women like that.” My wife will say to me: “That’s good, coming from you!” But that was then and this is now. I want to teach my boys right. You have to break the chain or the cycle.

How do you look back on a character like Doc McGhee? 

Doc McGhee and Doug Thaler. God bless them. They did so much work for the band. But to be honest with you, you could have thrown the shit against the wall and it would stick. 

I don’t see any brilliant marketing. You just had to be in the right place at the right time and keep this train on the track for as long as possible. And, no disrespect to them, if you were there the first time the Stones came to America, or The Beatles came to America, it didn’t matter who was the fucking manager. 

Is it fair to say that Doc McGhee was a slightly shady character? 

I think we all have our little skeletons, right? Doc’s a driven, determined businessman. He’s got a huge heart and tons of fire, and he did what needed to do in order to do what he needed to do. 

Trust me, Doc is less shady than ninety per cent of people. He never tried to fuck us over, he never tried to screw us out of money, he never tried to take our publishing. He was our management. He managed the band. He’s working with Kiss now. That’s a marketing thing. It’s less of a band and more of a brand. 

It would have been almost impossible to do that kind of thing with Motley back then. 

Yeah. If a tour starts June 1, you need to go back 60 days, have the artwork ready… We’d be impossible to get hold of. So the T-shirts would show up, we wouldn’t be happy with them. He’d go: “You just lost a half a million dollars on Tshirts.” I’d say: “So what?” 

Or we’d ask: “How can you sell the T-shirts for that much money? How much does it cost to make them?” He’d say: “Four dollars.” And how much does it cost to sell them? He’d say: “A dollar.” So we’d say: “Great. Sell them for five bucks!” He’d say: “What about you?” I’d say: “Okay, sell ’em for six bucks.” He’d say: “Fuck that, they’re 35!” I’m like: “Fuck off!” We didn’t like the whole greed machine.

But that’s one of the parts where we were kind of stupid. People do wanna buy the album, they do wanna see a recognisable logo. But we’re not Iron Maiden, we’re not Kiss. We change with our emotions, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a lot of people’s minds, Mötley Crüe ended after Dr Feelgood. How do you feel about that? 

Would it have been great if we’d done Dr Feelgood and then Dr Feelgood and then Dr Feelgood? I like the fact that we crashed and burned. To me that’s a hell of lot more exciting than, here comes the band with their twentieth record; smiling in their photos. Fuck that. I would never know if the band would make it on stage or not – I would walk backstage and not know whether there might be blood where Tommy and Vince had punched each other out, or if they’d be sitting back there having a great time. 

That made for a great rock band. Dr Feelgood was this really huge, pinnacle moment. But for great drama? Get rid of your fucking singer. Bring in another guy who looks different, sounds different, and do something totally different. 

Do you think you had a craving at that time to be recognised for something other than Motley Crue? 

Absolutely. The thing is, if Vince was an easy character to get along with, none of this would have ever happened. Much of Vince’s demise and fall and fuck-up is based in alcohol. As was mine. But some people learn from their mistakes, or at least try to, and some people just keep going down the same road. The band were like, we just can’t take this fucking guy any more. He’s not in the same band as us. And it was great to get a guy that was in the same band as us. But that doesn’t necessarily make for better music.

What do you make of Vince now? 

He’s the same animal, isn’t he? He hasn’t changed at all. And God bless him. That means that he’s truly being himself. But to come back around again, I don’t think Tommy could take it any more. It’s very frustrating for him. It doesn’t really affect me. 

He [Vince] was recently in the press, slamming me. And nothing he said made any sense. We’d sat down and said, okay, we’re gonna do a movie. We’re not gonna tour unless the original band’s back together. So let’s get everything moving forward with the movie. 

In the meantime, I was going to write songs for other people, maybe do another band. He was going to do what he wanted to do, basically tour solo stuff. Tommy was going to do his solo stuff, and Mick was just going to take a break from it all. Everything was right on track, and I pick up a newspaper and it’s ‘Vince Neil Slams Nikki Sixx For Not Touring’. I’m like, did I miss something? We’re doing what we said we’re gonna do. It has to be water off a duck’s back. I’ll call Tommy up if the movie’s a hit and I’ll ask him if he wants to do the tour. If Tommy says no, I won’t even call anyone else. 

If Tommy says yes, I’ll call Mick up. If he says his health’s not good enough, we won’t do the tour. I don’t know why Vince gets all flustered with me. I’m the guy who does the day-to-day business for no extra money. When the cheques go out, everyone gets the same money, but I do ninety per cent of the work. Tommy called me up not long ago and said: “How do you do it, man? You bust your ass and get nothing more out of it.” Well, because I love it. I don’t resent it at all.

In a way Vince’s is the saddest story of the four. He had the tragedy of losing his daughter in the middle of it all. And yet you all changed except him. 

On the back of one of my bass guitars, it says: ‘Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.’ And I’ve found that to be true. If I don’t learn from something, I do it again. I’d been off drugs for a long time, and you’d think that I would have learned. 

But I made a mistake. I went back to it for a very short amount of time and I screwed up my family, I screwed up my life. It was a really horrible time, but I had to take that lesson. If you continue to do it, I call that insanity. 

Is it disconcerting to keep reading those rumours that you’ve died? 

They seem to go round at least once a year. Just fucking get it over with, man! I’ve read my own obituary. I at least know what they’re gonna say. I just have to be sure that they put my grave where no one can piss on it, because there are people who wanna do that.

This feature originally featured in Classic Rock 57.

Jon Hotten

Jon Hotten is an English author and journalist. He is best known for the books Muscle: A Writer's Trip Through a Sport with No Boundaries and The Years of the Locust. In June 2015 he published a novel, My Life And The Beautiful Music (Cape), based on his time in LA in the late 80s reporting on the heavy metal scene. He was a contributor to Kerrang! magazine from 1987–92 and currently contributes to Classic Rock. Hotten is the author of the popular cricket blog, The Old Batsman, and since February 2013 is a frequent contributor to The Cordon cricket blog at Cricinfo. His most recent book, Bat, Ball & Field, was published in 2022.