Motley Crue Backstage Secrets Hidden from the Audience
Motley Crue, known for their wild behavior and endless partying, were the ultimate bad boys of rock
Just starting out in 1981, Motley Crue were the epitome of hardcore hair metal rock
Their self-produced debut album, Too Fast for Love, sold just 20,000 copies, but the accompanying tour would catapult Motley Crue to international notoriety. The group quickly gained a reputation for hard partying and bad behavior, but it wasn't until years later that fans would discover the true story behind that first recording session in 1981. To begin with, the band turned up at the studio drunk and did their best to stay drunk for the entire three-day session. Lee also resorted to bartering sex for studio time with the sound engineer when they ran out of money halfway.
Nikki Sixx, front man and bassist, fires up the crowd on tour in Edmonton, Canada 1982
After releasing a polished, re-mixed version of Too Fast for Love in 1982 under their new label, Elektra Records, Motley Crue went on their first tour. Hastily arranged by assistant manager, Eric Greif, it was designed to be a media spectacle from the start. Greif made a habit of traveling ahead of the band to hype them up. When Motley Crue arrived in Canada to start their tour, he had them walk through customs wearing spike-studded stage outfits, carrying a bag of pornographic magazines. Edmonton customs officers were not impressed and promptly arrested the lot of them.
Motley Crue cemented their reputation for bad behavior on their first tour in Canada, 1982
Next, Greif arranged for a bomb threat to be called in to one of their Edmonton venues, with another call made to Tommy Lee, threatening him directly. When interviewed by the Canadian police, Greif and Lee both corroborated the threatening calls. A few local press outlets picked up the report, but it was Greif who really made it blow up by calling his media contacts in America and feeding them the bombastic stories. It was a brilliant strategy. Everyone was talking about Motley Crue. Greif would only confess to his role in arranging and faking the infamous incidents years later.
Motley Crue's antics included drinking onstage during sets and raising hell behind the scenes
Motley Crue was slated to be KISS's opening act for their 1983 Creatures of the Night tour. They were originally hired to play a slot of several nights in March and April, and as usual, the fans loved them. What the fans didn't know was that the havoc the band wreaked backstage led to Gene Simmons kicking them off the tour after just five nights. As it turned out, KISS canceled the rest of the tour due to poor attendance, but rumors swirled for years afterwards that Simmons actually kicked Motley Crue off the tour because they outshined KISS.
Nikki Sixx, on tour for Shout at the Devil, 1983
During April to July of 1983, Motley Crue recorded Shout at the Devil. It would become their breakthrough album, rocketing them to hair metal superstardom practically overnight. During this time, Sixx's alcohol abuse was at an all-time high, to the point that Demi Moore, (a friend of his from their time in the LA music scene together), begged him to get help. He refused and a few days later ended up crashing a stolen Porsche while drunk, sustaining serious shoulder injuries. He was prescribed Percocet to manage the pain, which led directly to his debilitating dependence on heroin.
Lead guitarist, Mick Mars, on tour in 1983 with Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne
Motley Crue wouldn't have been what it was without their iconic lineup, but there was a time when Mars was almost kicked out of the band. Ironically, it was during their rise to superstardom, right after the release of Shout at the Devil that they seriously considered letting Mars go. As the story goes, Motley Crue were on tour with Ozzy Osbourne when they began having open conversations about Mars' age, (he was ten years older), and his less than perfect drumming skills. They decided to stick with Mars, but only after Osbourne's drummer talked them out of firing him.
Sixx and Lee review their set list backstage under tight guard, Monsters of Rock, England, 1984
In 1984, Motley Crue appeared alongside headliners Van Halen and AC/DC at the 1984 Monsters of Rock Festival. At the time, no one had any idea that Motley Crue was kept confined in a locked trailer, hoisted several feet into the air, until they performed. As everyone later found out, at dinner the night before, Neil inexplicably bit Eddie van Halen, inspiring Lee to bite Malcolm Young of AC/DC and later fight David Lee Roth. Rather than kick them off the tour as the other bands demanded, the promoter devised this ingenious plan to keep Motley Crue under tight control.
With its stark cover featuring a large pentagram, Shout at the Devil caused instant controversy
Like many Motley Crue songs, the track Knock 'Em Dead, Kid off the album Shout at the Devil was inspired by a true story. As Sixx tells the story, he came across a group of Hell's Angels who, according to him, were harassing some women outside a bar. He stepped in and told them to leave, which instantly led to a short but brutally violent fight during which Sixx lacerated one of the bikers' faces with his metal chain belt. Unfortunately for him, it turned out the bikers were undercover cops, and he was immediately arrested and charged with assault.
Beloved Hanoi Rocks drummer, Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, died in a horrific car crash in 1984
On December 8, 1984, Neil invited the British group Hanoi Rocks to his home in Redondo Beach. After several hours of drinking, he left with Hanoi Rocks drummer, Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, to make a beer run. While returning home, Neil, who was drunk and speeding, slammed into another car, instantly killing Razzle and causing life-changing injuries to the occupants of the other car. Neil eventually served a shocking 18 days in prison for vehicular manslaughter. Although the horrible accident became international news, it was a full week before it was reported in the local papers and the British press.
The album art for Theatre of Pain also featured a pentagram, but not as prominently as before
When Theatre of Pain was released in 1985, it was an instant hit, peaking at No.6 on the US Billboard 200 and spawning the hit tracks, Smokin' in the Boys Room and Home Sweet Home. But behind the scenes, things were not great. The building tension between the band members was exacerbated by Neil's recent accident. Razzle was well-loved and the band's reputation suffered because of their collective involvement in his death. Sixx's heroin use was also intensifying at this time, which led to difficult recording sessions and heightened creative differences. The band was beginning to come apart.
Motley Crue's Theatre of Pain tour was a worldwide success, but Sixx was in a downward spiral
The release of Theatre of Pain was followed by an equally successful world tour which wrapped up with a European leg in early 1986. Motley Crue staged several shows in England that February, playing to sold-out crowds and positive media reviews. However, Sixx's heroin problem was now wildly out of control and one night, after playing a show in London, he overdosed in his hotel room. His sole companion at the time, his dealer, panicked and dumped the unconscious rockstar in the bins behind the hotel. Luckily for Sixx, he was found and managed to survive the ordeal.
Motley Crue parties backstage on the Welcome to the Theatre of Pain tour, 1987
Sixx continued to ramp up his heroin use over the next year, keeping a daily heroin diary to track his intake. Despite the ever-increasing tension, Motley Crue managed to record and release a new album, Girls Girls Girls, in May 1987, with a supporting world tour. On Christmas Eve that year, less than a week after the tour wrapped, Sixx overdosed on heroin again, this time actually dying in the ambulance before being revived by the paramedics. McGhee and Thaler brought him home from the hospital, only to watch in horror as Sixx proceeded to immediately shoot up again.
After years of nonstop partying, Motley Crue went to rehab in 1988
1988 was a quiet year for Motley Crue fans with no tours or album releases, and only one small show with Ozzy Osbourne in the fall. That was completely down to managers McGhee and Thaler, who knew they had to intervene in their clients' spiraling addiction issues. A planned European tour was quietly canceled because the managers genuinely believed that the band would end up dying on the road. As early as January 1988, they decided to send Sixx to rehab, with the rest of the group following shortly behind, a collective choice for the good of the band.
Motley Crue was one of six American bands invited to play the Moscow Music Peace Festival, 1989
Rehab worked. In August 1989, Motley Crue was booked to play at the Moscow Music Peace Festival. Held over Aug 12 and 13, 1989, during the Cold War period, the festival was conceived as a way to ease East-West tensions and to raise funds to help people fighting addiction. At the show, Motley Crue found out that McGhee had given his other act, Bon Jovi, top billing and access to pyrotechnics, something they were denied. Lee, who claimed to be sober until that point, chugged down some vodka, punched McGhee in the face and fired him on the spot.
Their first album after getting sober, Dr. Feelgood was Motley Crue's only No.1 album
A month later, under Thaler's sole management, Motley Crue released their best album to date, Dr. Feelgood. Released on September 1, 1989, it streaked to the top of the charts and was a huge critical and commercial success. The fans loved it. Unfortunately, despite reaching what would be the pinnacle of their career, the cohesiveness of the band was eroding away. To maintain their sobriety and to mitigate the now burning tensions between them, each musician recorded their part separately. The album ended up being a hit, but Motley Crue was falling apart, and the fans had no idea.
Vince Neil with his daughter Skylar, shortly before she died
1992 brought Motley Crue fans the shock announcement that Neil was quitting. Neil's issues with Lee and the rest of the band soon became common knowledge. He returned five years later after his manager staged an intervention that got Neil and the band talking again. Fans were thrilled to see him back, but few knew that in the intervening years, Neil had lost his four-year-old daughter to a devasting childhood cancer. In 1999, he sued Boeing Inc. for using the area near his home as a dumping ground for plutonium and uranium, believing it caused his daughter's rare cancer.
Sylvia Rhone, head of Elektra Entertainment Group, was relieved to get Motley Crue off the label
When Motley Crue cut ties with Elektra Records in 1998, they walked away with something few musicians can boast of, even today. Unlike most of their peers in the industry, Motley Crue retained the rights to their entire catalog of music and their masters. It made big news at the time and was believed to be a masterful piece of contract negotiation by the band's manager. However, rumors soon started circulating that the group won the rights to their music by deliberately making an unholy nuisance of themselves until the label, desperate to get rid of them, caved.
Tommy Lee and wife Pamela Anderson were often spotted partying at LA's famous Viper Room
While the band continued to tour and record new music under their own label, their collective legal troubles were worsening. In 1996, Lee attacked a photographer outside the Viper Room in L.A. When the case finally went to trial two years later in 1998, Lee shocked the courtroom when he briefly exposed a swastika tattooed on his upper arm. The plaintiff, who was Jewish, believed it was a deliberate act of intimidation on Lee's part. Lee publicly denied the tattoo's existence but did admit to it in the privacy of the courtroom. He later had it quietly removed.
Married in 1995, Lee and Anderson's tumultuous relationship often played out in the public eye
In 1998, Lee went to jail for six months for assaulting his estranged wife, Pamela Anderson. Motley Crue had to turn down several shows during this period due to Lee's legal situation, including Ozzfest. The band also had to deal with the bad publicity Lee's arrest had generated. When Lee got out, he released Greatest Hits with the band and went on tour with them, but he'd already decided to quit in jail. After each show, he'd go straight to his trailer and work on new material. In 1999, Lee officially quit Motley Crue, shocking fans the world over.
Well-known and well-liked, Randy Castillo played with Ozzy Osbourne before joining Motley Crue
Lee's spot was filled by an old friend of the group, Randy Castillo. He had toured with them when he played for Ozzy Osbourne and fit well with the band. They recorded New Tattoo together, which was released in 2000. Unfortunately, Castillo had to pull out right before the album tour. Kept quiet at the time, Castillo was undergoing treatment for a duodenal ulcer, when doctors discovered he also had terminal cancer. Castillo passed away in 2002, aged 51. In the aftermath of his tragic death, the band went on hiatus, focusing on solo projects for a few years.
Mick Mars performed through excruciating pain caused by a hereditary genetic condition
Mick Mars stayed with the band until his ultimate retirement in 2021, playing hundreds of shows over his long career. But it wasn't as easy for Mars to be onstage as it was for his bandmates. Nick suffered from an extremely painful arthritic condition which had affected his mobility from the time he was seventeen. While Mars was open about his diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis, he kept the growing severity of the condition to himself. In 2001, after Motley Crue went on hiatus, he went into seclusion, only emerging three years later after intensive treatment to rejoin the band.
Motley Crue with their original managers, Coffman, Greif and Stein in the early 80s
When Motley Crue reunited in December 2004, they had definitely toned down their hard partying ways, but trouble still followed them in the form of endless lawsuits. Played out in the courts and far away from the public eye, these cases mainly involved contract disputes. Key among them was a 2008 lawsuit the group fielded from their one-time manager, Burt Stein, who claimed that his years-old contract with Motley Crue entitled him to almost 2% of their earnings. The claim must have had some merit because rather than being dismissed, the case was settled out of court.
Lee struggles to keep up with his fellow marching band drummers at the University of Nebraska
They also brought lawsuits of their own. In 2007, the entire band, with the exception of Lee, filed suit against Lee's manager, claiming he had led Tommy into ventures that made the band look bad. In particular, they were referring to the short-lived and much panned reality show, Tommy Lee Goes to College. Ironically, Lee was a producer on the completely staged show, so he was creatively behind a lot of the decisions that the band claimed had damaged their image. Eventually, the suit was settled out of court, but no-one really knew about it until years later.
Motley Crue announced their retirement in 2014, playing their final show on New Year's Eve, 2015
Motley Crue announced their retirement in the summer of 2014, with plans for an epic farewell world tour lasting till the end of 2015. True to their word, Motley Crue performed their last show on December 31, 2015. The individual members of the band continued to tour and work on solo projects, but they were contractually obligated to never perform under the Motley Crue name again. However, the contract does allow for the band to record and release new music under their name, so fans might have some fresh Motley Crue material to look forward to someday soon.