Nikki Sixx is a rock and roll legend. As the bassist for Mötley Crüe, his very name conjures up images of hardcore partying. The band even named an album after heroin (Dr. Feelgood). But what does that lifestyle do long term? Especially for someone who says they were “made to be an addict.”
Join us as Nikki tells us about his personal struggles with addiction, how he reached sobriety, and how he reconciles being sober with his public persona.
Nikki Sixx is the international rock icon, founding member of Mötley Crüe and Sixx:A.M, three-time New York Times bestselling author with “The Heroin Diaries,” “This Is Gonna Hurt,” and Mötley Crüe’s “The Dirt,” philanthropist, photographer, and addiction recovery advocate.
In March 2019, Sixx premiered Mötley Crüe’s Netflix hit biopic, “THE DIRT” which is based on the band’s NY Times bestselling 2001 biography. The movie propelled Mötley Crüe’s music catalog, streaming, licensing, and merchandise to new heights while fueling tremendous popularity of the band with a brand new generation of younger fans. Due to the massive fan demand for live shows, the band subsequently announced a summer 2020 U.S. STADIUM TOUR and sold out most shows within just a short amount of time. Due to the global pandemic, the tour is currently set to take place in Summer 2022.
Sixx has been a long-time advocate for expanding support services for people in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), and has given testimony on Capitol Hill, made frequent media appearances to discuss his experiences, and authored op-ed’s on the subject in major publications, such as The L.A. Times, to help break the silence and fight the stigma that often accompanies SUD. It is Nikki’s strong desire to help make a change for the better with what is our country’s most prevalent public health crisis.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome everyone, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling into the show today, we have the bassist and one of the founders of the rock band Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx. Mr. Sixx is also a best-selling author and his latest book, The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx, is available now. Mr. Sixx, welcome to the show!
Nikki Sixx: Thank you very much. I’m excited to talk to you, and it was funny, you know, when the new book came out and I was talking to some people, they were like, Wow, man, you know, New York Times bestseller. And I’m like, what? Oh no, I’m not a rock star anymore. I’m an author.
Gabe Howard: Well, now, but wait a minute, you’re still a rock star. It’s just COVID sort of derailed you. Mötley Crüe and a host of other 80s bands and 90s bands, you guys were ready. I know because I had tickets and then poof, it just went away.
Nikki Sixx: Yeah, we’re definitely a hundred percent going next summer. We start way early, like in April, working and band rehearsals and stage production, wardrobe and lighting and lasers. And you know, the whole thing. It takes a lot of people and a lot of time to get it right so that, you know, when you plop down your money to buy a ticket, you walk out and you go, that was a great show. We want it to look like we just winged it like we just stepped on stage and everything was great. But the truth is, it’s a lot of work and we didn’t go last year and it was purposeful. And I think we made the right decision because a lot of people went out and had some really bad experiences. My concern was, you know, the vaccine rates were low and I just didn’t want to put our fans through it. Neither did my band, they just were like, everyone’s going to live if we wait a year. For a rock band, we’re trying to be grownups.
Gabe Howard: Well, Mr. Sixx, obviously this is not a rock and roll podcast, so I’ve got to get to the mental health stuff, and today we’re going to be talking a lot about your personal struggles with addiction and really what the public didn’t see. Now, I’m a huge Mötley Crüe fan, and even as I talk to you, I can feel the rock and roll persona, a persona that has fueled your career for decades. Is that difficult for you balancing the rock and roll fantasy that your fans love with the actual horrors that you faced with addiction?
Nikki Sixx: My dad left when I was three. My mom, by the time I was six, she was gone and I was raised by my grandparents and they’re wonderful people. Gave me a great time to dream. What I learned from my grandfather is, you work hard. You work harder than anybody else. You get there early. You leave late and you never complain. And I applied that to rock and roll. When it really became time for me to look at my life and we were in the rock and roll thing and touring and I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t have nothing. When I decided to pull my life together because it wasn’t working for me anymore, and that’s important to say to addicts out there or anybody dealing with any kind of struggle. If it’s not working for you anymore, then you need to find some help. You need to maybe go to rehab and have a community around you of people that are in sobriety that have been through some of what you’ve been through and can help you over some of the potholes on the road.
Nikki Sixx: And I very simply said, you know, I choose being a father, I choose my family over my addiction. So there was never a moment where I was like, Well, if I don’t do drugs, I’m not rock and roll. I mean, I love rock and roll. I’m a lifer, but I don’t think that addiction and behind addiction comes a lot of mental health issues that you have to dig into and things that happened in your past that could be triggers. I want to be a good father, I want to be a good husband and I want to be a good human being. So I’ll go on stage, have a flamethrower in my hand and light up the stage and then afterwards, get on the tour bus and I got my family and they’re my priority. So I think you can do both. And I think that’s important because I’ve heard so many people who I won’t even name. It’s like I wrote my best music when I was high and I go, then you’re missing the point because I’ve written my best music when I was sober.
Gabe Howard: In your book, you chronicle being introduced to marijuana at age seven by a friend of your mother’s. Now, if I heard about giving illegal drugs to a child, I’d be mortified. What is that entire experience like for you now, especially as a father?
Nikki Sixx: Well, I mean, it was 1964. We lived in Mexico. My stepdad was a musician, a trumpet player and piano player for Frank Sinatra. My mom was a card dealer and she had like gone out with Richard Pryor and gotten fired because interracial relationships at that time were, like, really frowned upon. I didn’t know any of this stuff. Richard was a great guy. She met Bernie. They got married and we moved to Mexico for a year. Whatever you think the 60s were is what it was, and I was introduced to something because they were just doing it all the time. This guy said, you should try this, and I was like scared of him and I was like, OK. And I didn’t really remember this for a long time. And I inhaled and I coughed because six years old, I mean, what is that in your throat and your lungs? I coughed and think I felt a little uncomfortable and weird, and I never did it again. But later in life, I was designed to be an addict. It’s in my blood. It’s in my culture, it’s in my family, and I don’t think that led me to heroin. But it was really sad and it’s really f**ked up. And you know that guy be arrested now, right? That guy be arrested now. But you got to remember, like when we go back culturally and we look at Keith Richards in the seventies and you hear about the heroin bust in Toronto, and it just was cool. Keith Richards shoots heroin and is the coolest rock star on Earth. You know, what are you supposed to do when you’re young and you get this information?
Gabe Howard: That’s a really interesting thing that you said and you brought it up earlier where you said that people say, well, I wrote my best song when I was high or the alcohol fuels my creativity and you put a real hard stop like, well, that’s a shame. That’s unfortunate. And you don’t want that to be the message. Can you talk on that more? Because to fans, that really is the message that we have absorbed through the decades that this devil may care lifestyle breeds this beautiful rock and roll, but we’re seeing our idols are people that we grew up listening to suffer and pass away. So clearly it’s not working, but fandom still believes in this.
Nikki Sixx: Well, you know, I know it’s changed, changed a lot over the last few decades, but you know, when I was growing up, whether it was Burroughs or Makowski or Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders, the Pistols, it was like you said, you know, it was all hell’s breaking loose, and that’s what creates the magic that we’re hearing, right? I didn’t have any really great role models or I had no one to point them out to.
Nikki Sixx: So I wanted to break the pattern. I’d rather be the guy that maybe some people don’t think is cool, then be the guy in the coffin. As you said, there was a time when maybe being sober wasn’t the coolest thing in the world. Maybe be at dinner. I’m not a sober cop, so I’d be it dinner. And one person is like, oh, the glass of, you know, a nice cabernet. Next person is like, I’ll have a shot of tequila. They get to me and I go, I’ll have an iced tea and they go, good job, Nikki. I’m like, what’s that mean? Like, it’s my choice. Like, life is about choices. And once you know that you can make a change, you know, now nobody goes good job and pats me on the head. They’re like, that guy is a solid cat, and I want to be a solid cat for my fans and for my family and for my career and my band and for me. I don’t want to wake up and every day with like a belly full of anxiety and anger and stress and have to take something to deal with it. I want to be clear headed so I can write music and take my daughter to school and be there on time for things and do special events. So it sounds really sweet and kind. But you know, there’s a lot of work that goes into it, and I implore people to do the work because every time you do a little bit of work, you feel a little bit better.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing addiction with the bassist and founder of Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx. It’s fascinating because people want to, they want to be outside themselves, right? Our lives are boring, everybody’s lives are boring. Your life is probably boring, too. We just choose to only focus on the flamethrowers and the and all the cool things that, as you already admitted, takes you months to put together, but you make it look like you just came up with it. Do you think that people just take that escapism too far and they believe that it’s real? Even though, like you said, somebody needs to stand up and say, Look, it’s fake. We’re entertaining you for a few hours. You’re escaping for a few hours. But look, Spider-Man’s not real. Nikki Sixx isn’t real. These are our personas. That’s fun. But then we got to get back to the business of taking care of ourselves.
Nikki Sixx: I mean, I think Nikki Sixx is real. I think that what I have evolved into is a better version of myself, which was an offshoot of my earlier life when I was Frank Feranna. I don’t think so much that we have to go everything that you see is fake, and I’m just walk my dogs on Saturday and that whole bad ass thing. I don’t think that’s necessarily the right way to go. I think it’s like, Hey, man, I’m an artist. I’m a this, I’m a that. I struggled with this. I struggled with that. My dad and my mom weren’t present. I was never told I was loved you as a kid. They got that from their grandparents, you know, and just be open like we’re being right now, whether it’s through podcasts or interviews or social media and radio and streaming services to share your story. I mean, that’s what AA is about. It’s like sharing your story.
Gabe Howard: Sharing your story is fantastic and I know you are a proponent of Alcoholics Anonymous, but how do you feel about professional therapy? Like seeing a therapist?
Nikki Sixx: Yeah, I am a big believer in therapy if you have the right therapist. Not everybody believes in that. I found that having a person with years of experience is a great place to go and have some you time. You know, if you can find that right person, it’s helped me immensely.
Gabe Howard: Now, Mr. Sixx, in general, I don’t like to ask my guest questions that other interviewers have already asked them because I want to put new content out into the world, and I definitely don’t like to ask follow up questions to those questions. But something you said on another show really intrigued me and you said that all addicts need saving. What did you mean by that?
Nikki Sixx: Well, I mean, when I say, you know, all addicts deserve saving, that’s a message that has been passed on to me and anybody that hears it if I get to pass it on. And you’re an addict, you’re out there struggling, you’re like, Yeah, but everybody tells me I’m a loser and I don’t have any morals and I need to be closer to God. And I’m a waste of time. And you’re a piece of this and you’re a hunk of that. How are you supposed to get out of a hole when people keep shoveling dirt on your head? You know, I understand that addicts make bad decisions. I have too. But we all belong to this bigger story of life and we all deserve an opportunity. And if you can’t get it from your family, try and get it through maybe AA or an NA or therapy, or maybe you have to get out of a situation, but we all deserve that. And it changes the energy of the planet and the more people that are able to get help.
Nikki Sixx: Mental help, addictive help to help. It will change families and communities and what people do. I’ve been able to, in my recovery, do some really great stuff. I mean, I’m not even talking about my children or my wife or stuff, but I make mistakes too. You know, we’re human. We do make mistakes. Sometimes lingering message from my mom, you know, lingering message of stuff I thought from my dad. But when you’re sober and you have community or you have, you know, a way to reach other people that go through similar thing, it can kind of diffuse that. And that’s important that we do that because enough resentment, enough hell rained down on you at the wrong time or the right time. However, you want to say people can sometimes go, you know, it just was better when I was using. And, you know, families do that. Families do that. Friends do that. Communities do that. The news does that. It’s easy to put somebody down. It’s easy to kick a dog when he’s down. How about reaching down and picking pick them up? Help them?
Gabe Howard: You are a big proponent of Alcoholics Anonymous or any peer support group where people get support from people that have been through what they’ve been through. Now, I have to imagine that it was probably difficult for Nikki Sixx to find somebody who had been through what you had been through. Did you find that to be true? Because I’m just imagining you sitting in like an AA meeting and you’re like, Yeah, I’m the bassist for Mötley Crüe, and everybody else is like, OK, sure, we relate to you, buddy. Did you find that hard to get support or give support, or was it completely irrelevant?
Nikki Sixx: No, I think, well, I had a great man who’s passed away quite a few years ago, Bob Timmons, who was really important as far as helping me to understand the program and the program is not a paparazzi fest. We would go to these meetings and it’s like, Hi, I’m Nikki. I’m an alcoholic. Hi, Nikki. Next, guy. Hey, I’m Joe. I’m this. And then you get and you share and you talk. And then there’s someone with wisdom there can walk you through maybe what you’re going through, or maybe what you didn’t know what you’re going through and you leave and then you pass it on. So it was never about that. I’m pretty blue collar cat. I live in a town of 9,000 people. I grew up in a town of 4,000 people. I sought out places that didn’t have anything to do with celebrity or any of that kind of stuff, just people that were trying to stay sober or pass on the message. People that are trying to get healthy really don’t care about anything else. That hour, that hour and a half, whether it’s trying to get some tools because they want change. You know, it’s the hard work, right? I’ve put hard work into my instrument, I’ve put hard work into my lyrics, I put hard work into my books, I put hard work into my sobriety because without the sobriety, there is nothing. I’ve told my wife, my sobriety comes before anything because if I’m not sober, everything else goes bye-bye.
Gabe Howard: You said specifically that when you get clean life doesn’t swell up into a big bowl of cherries. When you get off drugs or whatever Band-Aids you’ve been using to cover your wounds that you start to hurt and ask hard questions. What was that like for you?
Nikki Sixx: I hit such a bottom to the point where I had overdosed and been dead for two minutes. I don’t see that as a war story. I’m saying that as like it can happen to you too. And now it’s happening to people left and right. I just the thing that I try to talk about is like, it’s even more dangerous now than before because you don’t even know what you’re getting. I had to face my mom and my dad and my distorted reality that I believed was real. I had to be accountable. But again, I’d like to say, if you get yourself plugged into the right community, they’ve either been through it or are going through it. You know, I remember like going to like AA meetings and I would stop over at the Starbucks and get some coffee in the meeting started at 7:00, and I drive by this where the meeting was, and there would be these people lined up at 6:30 in the morning to go in there because they needed. It’s like, Hey, man, like I quit using six days ago and I feel like I’m going to explode like an A-bomb. And this people like, Yeah, I I’ve been sober 10 years. I remember that time.
Nikki Sixx: This is what got me through it. You know, I love the idea of personal growth, and it’s not going to be great in the beginning, but it’s going to be better than it was. And every day that you apply yourself to your recovery, to your what you would like out of life and can learn to roll with the changes that are happening. Or I’m just going to take your family and friends and maybe employers time to trust you again. Just be accountable. Put the work in. Ain’t a bowl of cherries in the beginning, but man, in the end, it is a massive feast. It’s a massive feast and it’s waiting for you. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and be honest in all your affairs.
Gabe Howard: Mr. Sixx, thank you so much, I promise that when you’re on stage rocking out, I will wave from the audience and say hello. And just if you could like, maybe acknowledge me, but like, Hey Gabe, what’s up like that would be, that’d be. I mean, you don’t have to, you don’t have to.
Nikki Sixx: No, no, I have a
Gabe Howard: But I’ll be waving at you.
Nikki Sixx: No, I have a bass. I’ll paint on my bass, Hey, what’s up?
Gabe Howard: That would be awesome. Well, sincerely, thank you so much for being here. It was an awesome time.
Nikki Sixx: Thank you. It’s been great, you guys all do great. Keep doing the work, keep passing on the message and I appreciate giving me some time on your podcast.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Sixx, and thank you to our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other observations,” as well as an award winning public speaker who’s probably available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because everything is. Or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. Where ever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free, and hey, recommend the show to your friends and colleagues. Whether it’s via social media, email, text message or good old fashioned word of mouth. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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