In the late ‘80s, Mötley Crüe was one of the biggest bands on the planet. Their glam-metal success brought on a pretty wild lifestyle, and stories from their heyday are legendary in rock ‘n’ roll circles. But not everything was happy-go-lucky for the band members. And with the Netflix-produced Mötley Crüe biopic, The Dirt, which was released in 2019, everyone’s asking the same question.
Were Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, and Vince Neil really that crazy? Like any film, The Dirt uses some creative license—but not much. From unexpected deaths and run-ins with the police, to their infamous Sunset Strip apartment and what really happened with Ozzy Osbourne, this is Mötley Crüe.
What’s in a Name?
The wild behavior and heavy sound of Mötley Crüe was pure marketing gold in the ‘80s. Glam metal was in its heyday, and the band was, hands down, cashed in on this trend. In fact, over the years, Mötley Crüe has become one of the biggest selling artists of all time. The glam metal band has sold over 100 million albums around the world.
As for the band’s name? Well, you can thank Mick Mars for that. He suggested “Mötley Crüe” because it was the title of his favorite song that he played with his former band (White Horse). Nikki Sixx thought that the band should be named “Christmas” before he changed his mind to “X-Mas.”
Sixx’s Origin Story
Sixx’s story is a lot like many others’ in the music scene. His father walked off when Sixx was only three years old. It also didn’t help that his mother battled addiction an
d often sent young Sixx to live with his grandparents when she couldn’t be bothered to take care of him. As we all know, this didn’t exactly set the best example for the young musician.
As a teenager, Sixx was arrested multiple times for shoplifting and vandalism and was even expelled from school for dealing drugs. Sixx’s grandparents didn’t know how to handle him, so they shipped him back to his mother in Seattle—the same city where he bought his first bass with the money he made from selling a stolen guitar.
In the 2019 Netflix biopic, Dirt, Vince Neil is the voice that leads the band to stardom. The only problem? He wasn’t the original lead singer of the group. Instead, Mötley Crüe walked into the recording studio for the first album with a man named O’Dean Peterson. But immediately after recording began, Sixx, Mars, and drummer Tommy Lee realized they did not like Peterson.
Not only did Lee describe him as a “round, dumb fellow,” but he had a certain obsession with a pair of white gloves. “He was under the impression that the gloves constituted having a look, and we tried not to say anything to the contrary because he was all we had,” Lee wrote in The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.
Throwing in the Towel
Tommy Lee and Baywatch bombshell Pamela Anderson were one of the original ‘90s tabloid couples. The drummer famously married Anderson only four days after the two first met in February ’95. The couple had two children, but seeing that they only dated for four days before getting married, the union seemed destined for failure.
It also didn’t help that those… tapes… made their way to the public. By 1998, the two were already divorced. This was Lee’s third failed marriage. His first marriage was to Playboy model Elaine Starchuk, but that union only lasted a week. He then moved on to actress Heather Locklear; the two were together for nearly a decade before calling it quits.
Seeing that the whole ethos of Mötley Crüe was all about indulging in wild, immoral behavior, it doesn’t come as much as a surprise that the band members weren’t the best family men. In fact, Lee spent six months behind bars for a domestic assault incident against Anderson in ’98.
The blond beauty was even holding their young son at the time of the assault. Sadly, the feud didn’t end here. In 2018, one of the couple’s sons, Brandon, stuck up for his mom by punching Lee in the face at the drummer’s Calabasas home. So, what exactly went down?
The Feud Continues
Well, it all began after Anderson was interviewed by Piers Morgan and Lee’s 1998 arrest for spousal battery was brought up. The Mötley Crüe drummer wasn’t all too happy that his third ex-wife brought up the past, and he took out his frustration on the couple’s son.
According to TMZ, Lee had been drinking before lunging at 21-year-old Brandon—who defended himself by punching his father. However, Lee disputes this claim. “My son busted into the room and assaulted me,” the drummer tweeted. “I asked him to leave the house, and he knocked me unconscious. He ran away from the police. THAT’S the truth.”
Old Habits Die Hard
This wasn’t Lee’s only fistfight that made headlines. Back in 2007, Tommy Lee went to the MTV Video Music Awards as Mötley Crüe tried making a comeback. Apparently, Lee went over to sit at Kid Rock’s table, who had just so happened to be reeling from his divorce from Pam Anderson.
Before anyone knew what had happened, Rock went up to Lee and punched him in the face. With all the cameras around, the fight was somehow not captured on camera. The two were escorted out of the building.
Long Time Coming
Apparently, this fistfight was a long time coming. According to Kid Rock, Lee hijacked Anderson’s phone one night and began sending him horrendous messages. “I did what any man would do, any man across the country, across the world would do,” Kid Rock said on The Kevin & Bean Show a few days after the incident.
“It kills me just to be associated with, to have my name in a sentence with [Lee], it honestly destroys me.” As for the drummer, he described the incident on his website, calling Rock’s punch “more of a b*tch slap.”
All for a Good Cause
After years of hard partying, Lee decided to put his fame to good use. Since 2013, the Mötley Crüe drummer has been an avid spokesperson for PETA. “Be comfortable in your own skin and let the animals keep theirs,” he says in his ad, which features Lee wearing nothing but his trademark tattoos next to the slogan “Ink, Not Mink.”
The ad was shot by Paul McCartney’s daughter, Mary, who is also a strong supporter of the cause. Lee has also sent letters to Sea World, slamming their treatment of Killer Whales, as well as to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, demanding they end their chuckwagon races.
Life Forever Changed
In 2001, Lee’s life changed drastically when tragedy struck at his son Brandon’s fifth birthday party. Amidst the chaos of the party, one of Brandon’s friends, four-year-old Daniel Karven-Veres, fell into Lee’s pool in Malibu and drowned.
Daniel’s parents, actress Ursula Karven and television producer James Veres sued the drummer for negligence, seeing that it was his house and his party. Lee was eventually cleared of all charges in 2003. “It was terrible. It was the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Lee said on 20/20. “I wish I could bring their son back. Unfortunately, it’s not a possibility.”
Helping His Friends Out
1999 was a tumultuous year for Mötley Crüe. Lee quit the band after more than a few heated exchanges in the recording studio. After Lee walked out, former Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo was asked to take his place. Castillo, however, only managed to record one album with the band—New Tattoo—which was met with lukewarm reviews from both critics and fans alike.
But despite these mixed reviews, Mötley Crüe felt that Castillo was exactly what they needed to rise back to superstardom. Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived. Just a week before the band was due to hit the road in 2001, Castillo checked himself into the hospital.
From Bad to Worse
The drummer had been experiencing intense abdominal pain and knew something was wrong. When Castillo arrived at the hospital, he collapsed and was rushed into emergency surgery. He had an ulcer that had ruptured his stomach. Luckily, doctors caught it in time and managed to save his life.
While in recovery, Castillo noticed a strange lump in his jaw, which turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma (a common form of skin cancer). The initial treatments proved successful, but, unfortunately, the cancer returned the following year. Castillo passed away in 2002. He was 51 years old.
Not Too Shabby
After the band’s first two albums, 1981’s Too Fast for Love and 1983’s Shout at the Devil, Mötley Crüe had made a name for themselves as a traditional heavy metal band. However, no one could have expected the massive hit that their third album, Theatre of Pain, proved to be.
Released in ’85, in the aftermath of Vince Neil’s arrest for manslaughter, Theatre of Pain marked Mötley Crüe’s transition to a glam metal style. It peaked at the number six spot on the Billboard Charts, and after a decade, the album went quadruple platinum! That’s not too bad for a bunch of guys with mullets.
Lending an Ear
A lot of people made a habit of crashing the band members’ various houses and apartments. After all, the ‘80s were basically non-stop parting for them. However, not all guests were welcome. One time, a no-name musician and “punk poser” was staying with the band, but his pretentious attitude was really getting on Nikki Sixx’s nerves.
So, naturally, Sixx decided to have the guy hear him out. The bassist allegedly pushed the guy onto a coffee table and nailed his ear to the furniture. The story seems a bit far out, but, hey, this is Nikki Sixx we’re talking about. We wouldn’t put anything past him.
We’re Number One!
After the band collectively decided to get clean in ’89, they recorded their fifth studio album, Dr. Feelgood. Not only was the album Mötley Crüe’s best-selling album, but it is considered the band’s best studio album by fans and critics alike.
Dr. Feelgood also topped the billboard 200 charts, making it the band’s only album to do so. See, that’s what happens when you venture out on a quest for sobriety and rehabilitation. Dr. Feelgood was also Mötley Crüe’s last album recorded with Vince Neil until Generation Swine came out in ’97.
Think of the Children!
The ‘80s were a strange time. When the music video for Smokin’ in the Boys Room began making its rounds on MTV, it gained some unwanted attention from certain political figures. At the time, Tipper Gore, Al Gore’s wife, was part of an activist group called Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).
She made Smokin’ in the Boys Room exhibit A in the activists’ crusade against the depiction of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in music videos. Well, the activists’ plan backfired and gave even more publicity to the racy clip.
Not on the Same Page
For the band’s 2014 Farewell Tour, the guys weren’t exactly on the same page when it came to production styles. In the beginning of the tour, Mick Mars was asked what he thought of the pre-recorded backing vocals for bassist Nikki Sixx.
Mars was, well, vocal in his dislike of the practice. “I don’t like it,” he told Eddie Trunk in the interview. “I have to say ’60s bands were my favorite — ’60s and ’70s bands — because they were real… they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what?”
Changing His Tune?
But after commenting on Sixx’s use of pre-recorded vocals, Mars suddenly had a change of heart when Rolling Stone magazine asked for an interview. According to the publication, Mars said that supplementation on stage allowed Mötley Crüe to deliver the best possible performance for their fans.
“I’d rather hear on-key vocals than not,” the lead guitarist told Rolling Stone magazine. “I think that background vocals strengthen the band in some ways. I mean, it is what it is.” Hmmm, it sounds like a few words were exchanged behind the scenes.
Man of Many Talents
Vince Neil was the voice of Mötley Crüe during its heyday in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. However, he wasn’t always the lead singer. After kicking their original singer, O’Dean Peterson, to the curb, the band was in need of a new lead vocalist and fast.
Luckily for everyone, Neil was best friends with Lee in high school, so the rest of Mötley Crüe agreed to check out the singer’s band, Rock Candy. Fun fact: As a high school student, Neil was quite a talented athlete. He was involved in baseball, wrestling, basketball, and, in true Californian fashion, surfing.
A Second Chance
Let’s just say that the ‘90s wasn’t exactly Mötley Crüe’s decade. A string of critical and commercial flops in the early part of the decade led to disagreements among band members. It got so bad that Mötley Crüe imploded in the middle of the decade.
It seemed that things were all over for the glam metal group. Well, that is until VH1 decided to feature Mötley Crüe in a ’98 episode of Behind the Music. The segment was a HUGE hit and remains the highest-rated and most-watched episode for the series. It also brought Mötley Crüe back into the spotlight.
It’s a No for Me
With the success of the Behind the Music episode, the glam metal band decided to take the next logical step in their music career. So, that same year, they opened… a clothing store? Located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, S’Crüe stocked anything from Mötley Crüe memorabilia to clothes from both Sixx and Neil’s fashion lines.
“We wanted fans to be able to buy something they might have missed out on because they were too young,” Neil told reporters at the store’s grand opening. The singer was somewhat oblivious to the sparse presence of anyone under 25 in the crowd.
“It Was Management’s Idea”
The singer went on to explain that the whole idea for the clothing store actually started out as a museum. The band members wanted to showcase all of their self-autographed guitars and pentagram coffee tables they had collected since their breakout hit, Lime Wire, in ’81.
But with a little nudge from management, the idea was turned into a store. “It was management’s idea,” Neil said with a smile. As you may have guessed, S’Crüe was not successful. The store closed its doors after only one year.
Another One Bites the Dust
Vince Neil owned a football team in 2015. He purchased the Las Vegas Outlaws, who played in the Arena Football League. Seeing that he was quite the star athlete in high school, the glam metal frontman thought he had what it takes to own a sports team.
Apparently, Neil didn’t learn from his past business venture failures. His ownership was so disastrous that within 14 weeks, the league had to take over the team, which was facing major financial troubles. Maybe it had something to do with Neil’s promise to bring in the “hottest, sexiest” cheerleaders the league ever saw? The singer’s mind was clearly elsewhere.
Dr. Feelgood’s Bar and Grill
Neil was never one to let a money-making opportunity pass him by, especially when it came to the Mötley Crüe brand. In 2008, a decade after the band’s failed clothing store, Neil decided to open up Dr. Feelgood’s Bar and Grill in Palm Beach. The restaurant had a good run, surprisingly.
But even still, it shuttered its doors in 2013. While the bar and grill still has a few locations scattered around the U.S., its very existence was in limbo for some time. The rest of the Mötley Crüe band members were reluctant to let Neil use their intellectual property and refused to sign off on the name for nearly two years.
Lights, Camera, Action?
As the ‘80s came to an end, the members of Mötley Crüe were riding high. At the height of their popularity, you would think that movie producers would be chomping at the bit to cast Sixx, Neil, Lee, or Mars in their films. Well, that just wasn’t the case.
The band members saw little to no screen time. In fact, Neil was offered a brief cameo role in Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, as a citizen who needed protection at the climax of the movie. Unfortunately, his scene didn’t make the final cut.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
In the band’s early days, Mötley Crüe attracted some rather interesting characters. Lee was particularly known for his girlfriends, several of whom were a bit reckless when it came to personal property. One of those girlfriends, known as “Bullwinkle,” was known for her destructive fits of rage.
The relationship was reportedly so troubled that it frightened Vince Neil. On one occasion, Lee jammed the door to keep Bullwinkle out. But there was no stopping her. She used a fire extinguisher to break through the apartment window and get inside. The police were called, and Neil spent the night hiding in the bathroom.
The members of Mötley Crüe were just as famous for their music as they were for their rather disgusting Sunset Strip apartment. The place they called home was a den for sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. But you know who was not that big on sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll?
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The band members were cited for refusing to clear the garbage off their back porch. Sound gross? Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “The health department had to evacuate the building because there was so much trash and rats, bugs and cockroaches,” Nikki Sixx told reporters in 2019.
One Nasty Apartment
Sixx refers to the infamous two-bedroom Sunset Strip apartment as a hellhole. “The problem was, where we lived was 100 ft from the Whiskey A Go Go. If someone is playing there, we would hang out, have drinks, everyone would then come back to our apartment,” the bassist continued.
The apartment had no windows or doors because they had been kicked in by either the police or strangers. “This spot was, like, apocalyptic.” The band members threw trash and even TVs from the windows onto the street eight feet below.
The Next Best Thing
But garbage wasn’t the band’s only problem. The apartment’s cockroach infestation was so bad that every time the boys cooked, they turned the oven on high for ten minutes to kill any critters that might have gotten stuck inside.
It got so bad that the owner asked them to take care of the infestation. But instead of buying proper pesticide, the guys decided it would be a good idea to use the good ‘ole lighter fluid and hairspray trick to create a makeshift blowtorch. As the band rose to stardom, they trade in their rotting apartment for nicer pieces of real estate.
Off to the Bar
In the early days, Mötley Crüe’s source of inspiration was booze. In fact, the glam rockers recorded their debut album, Too Fast for Love, over the course of three crazy days. And, yep, you guessed it: They were intoxicated the entire time.
At the time, the band had been selling out show after show, but they couldn’t find a label to sign them. “So, we solved that problem by creating our own label, Leathür Records,” Sixx explained in The Dirt. “We booked time in the cheapest studio [we could] find… Together, we spit out Too Fast for Love in three drunken days.”
Hey, You’re Fired!
Mötley Crüe’s first big break came when KISS invited them to open on their world tour. Over the years, KISS had built themselves on the reputation of a wild lifestyle, but Mötley Crüe was just too much for them to handle. Gene Simmons saw the band as bad for business and fired them after just a few shows.
Still, the experience gave the young glam metal band a glimpse at what its future would hold. “[Kiss] gave us our first taste of playing up and down the coast and on big stages,” Sixx later explained. “We’ll always remember that. They’re fond memories.”
Kickstart My Heart
The band’s mega-hit, Kickstart My Heart, was inspired by Sixx’s near-death experience in the ‘80s. He was declared legally dead for about two minutes but was miraculously brought back to life by paramedics. Former Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler was there that night when it happened, and, apparently, that’s not exactly what happened.
Sixx had been using drugs when Adler noticed something was terribly wrong. With his broken hand, Adler dragged the bassist into the shower and turned on the water. “I started slapping him in the face with my cast,” he explained in 2018. And next thing you know, the purple in his face just disappeared.”
A Major Wake-Up Call
Soon after, the paramedics arrived and began performing CPR. So, the story wasn’t exactly Pulp Fiction-esque as Sixx described it in the song, but Adler doesn’t care. “He got a hell of a good song out of it. It is entertainment, after all,” he laughed.
You would think that being declared legally dead would be a wake-up call for the Mötley Crüe bassist. The very first thing that he did when he recovered from his overdose was more drugs. Thankfully, Nikki Sixx has cleaned up his act in recent decades.
Friends in Low Places
We don’t know what it is about egos, booze, and rock n’ roll that makes guys want to urinate in inappropriate places, but Mötley Crüe sure makes a case for this being a universal truth. During their Girls, Girls, Girls Tour, the band had quite the nasty habit of going to the bathroom on the floors of their hotel rooms.
It may not have been clear to the band, but it sure was clear to everyone else: The boys of Mötley Crüe had a problem. In fact, the European leg of the tour was canceled in fear that the band would not survive, and the guys were all sent to rehab.
Messing With the Wrong Crowd
The band’s 1983 hit, Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid, is a song about getting into a bar fight. Unsurprisingly, the song was based on, you guessed it, a bar fight. It all went down one night when Sixx, Neil, and their partners, Lita Ford and Beth Lynn, were walking home from the Rainbow Club one night.
The bassist noticed a group of bikers hassling some young women. “We asked him to stop. He glared at us and told us to f*ck off,” Sixx wrote in The Dirt. No one tells Nikki Sixx to f*ck off.
You’re Under Arrest
Sixx took off his chain belt, ready to fight. One of the bikers bit the bassist’s hand “through to the bone.” And then, just like that, the brawl was over when one of the bikers took out a gun and arrested Sixx. Apparently, he was an undercover cop working a case.
After his girlfriend sold her Firebird Trans Am for some cash, Sixx made bail, met up with the band, and played a show a few hours later. Later that night, the bassist pulled out a pen and paper and began venting about the incident.
Is It Fact or Fiction?
One of the craziest rumors surrounding Mötley Crüe involves a contest between the band members and Ozzy Osbourne. The object of the contest was simple: who could do the grossest thing before the other gave up. The two toured together in the late ‘80s, and let’s just say that it was a match made in hell.
“We thought we had elevated animal behavior to an art form,” Sixx wrote in The Dirt. “But then we met Ozzy.” Apparently, this contest culminated in Sixx drinking his own bodily fluids. Ozzy doesn’t confirm or deny this happening since he can’t remember a thing.
A Crashing End
In December 1984, Neil invited Finnish glam metal group Hanoi Rocks to party with him and the rest of the Mötley Crüe guys. The party stopped when partygoers noticed that Neil had run out of beer. So, the singer, along with Hanoi Rock’s drummer Razzle Dingley, went out to restock.
Both men were drunk and, on the way back, they crashed into another car. Razzle was killed instantly, and both occupants of the other car sustained serious brain injuries. Neil was charged with a DUI and vehicular manslaughter but managed to get out of jail after only serving 15 days.