Nikki Sixx talks memoir 'The First 21,' the sister he never knew, and learning to 'maybe have some empathy' for the father who abandoned him

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Motley Crüe bassist and primary songwriter Nikki Sixx is already the author or co-author of three explosive rock ‘n’ roll tell-alls — The Dirt, The Heroin Diaries, and This Is Gonna Hurt, all of which chronicle his life before and after forming his platinum-selling metal band. But in his newest book, The First 21, the self-described “documentarian” explores his pre-Crüe years — starting with troubled childhood and ending with the “mic drop” moment when the musician, who was born Frank Feranna Jr., legally changed his name to distance himself from the father who left him when he was a toddler.

In one of the new book’s most astute observations, Sixx, who kicked drugs for good in 2004, writes: “You might think that when you get clean, life swells up into a big bowl of cherries, but the opposite happens when you get off drugs. ... You start to hurt and ask the hard questions.” As Sixx dove into the writing process for The First 21, he started to ask more questions about his father’s abandonment, and he began to realize that the situation wasn’t as black-and-white as he’d long assumed.

“I got sober after [Motley Crüe] did the Dr. Feelgood album, and then we were talking about doing the follow-up record, and I remember [record producer] Bob Rock calling me and saying, “So what are you going to write about now, Sixx? Like, everything's great,’” Sixx recalls. “Then I go, “Sure, externally— but I still lay my head down in a 10,000-square-foot-jail cell.’ So, I was working through it. I did so much therapy. Oh my God, I think I was a therapy junkie! … And this book gave me an opportunity to really look at my family and my life, and maybe have some empathy for my dad.”

One of the family secrets Sixx learned more about was the bombshell revelation that his father left “right around the time that my sister Lisa, who was born with Down syndrome, was sent to a home [by Sixx’s mother, against Sixx’s father’s wishes]. And no one in my family had said that's why he left. My uncles said something may have made Frank, my dad, ‘really angry’ and he left. And you know, my part of that is, ‘Yeah — but he left me behind!’ So, how do I have empathy? And how do I try to look at it from a 10,000-foot view?”

Sixx never really knew his younger sister Lisa, who spent most of her life in institutions and died at age 39. The first time he really saw her was in a casket at her funeral, in 2000, and he learned from a conversation at her memorial service that she had actually known and asked about him, and was even a fan of rock music. But his memories of why she ended up in a facility, and why he was kept from her all these years, were fuzzy at best.

“The doctor said she should not come home. I'm 2, I think,” he begins. “And my dad and my mom decided to bring her home and take care of her. So, she was with us in San Jose, Calif., where I was born and my sister was born, for 11 months. And I kind of dug into this a little bit and I'm like, ‘Could have I done something different?’ But every time I talked to family members, it was like, ‘You can't go see Lisa because it upsets her.’ … I have a lot of regrets around that, you know, but I realized I got a lot of wrong information. So, that was an opportunity in this book to clarify.”

Sixx says the book’s investigative process “opened up the floodgates in a lot of ways. About four years ago, I was at my aunt and uncle’s house … And I said, ‘Can I just, like, ask you something? You know, my mom said’ — and this is my mom's sister, Harlene – ‘said that my dad was an alcoholic and a womanizer and a drug addict, and he was a bad guy.’ So, I that's what I thought. Nobody ever contested that. And then I asked them, ‘What was my dad like, as far as these things?’ And my uncle and my aunt go, ‘I don't think I ever saw your dad even have a beer.’ I was like, ‘Ooh, are you effing kidding me?’”

Sixx’s father died long ago, which — as mentioned in The First 21 — Sixx learned during a particularly destitute time during his pre-fame Hollywood years, when he desperately tried calling his dad to ask for money, only to find out that Frank Sr. had passed away a couple of years earlier. Sixx wasn’t just looking for a loan, however — he was also yearning for some kind of paternal reconnection. And he’s since wondered what might have happened if his father had still been alive and had answered the phone that day.

“I think I was in an explosive time in my life, and depending on how that conversation went with him, if it would have been like, ‘I miss you so much’ or ‘My son, I want to help you, I'm going to come to L.A., I want to see you,’ I'd have been like, ‘Wow.’ But that conversation never happened,” Sixx muses. “And I'm sure he loved his son. But the question is, did he love me enough to go against my mom, who was, um, challenged? We don't know. I'm OK leaving some of these I's not dotted and T's not crossed, because I don't want to make up stuff. It's OK. I think a lot of people that have talked to me after they read the book have said, ‘Man, I can see so many parts of my family in there as well.’ … So, I'm enjoying this [book-release rollout], because it's not a rock ‘n’ roll tale.”

Sixx admits that he could have “just slayed” his mother, with whom he obviously had a fraught relationship, in The First 21, but he refrained. “It's not necessary. She's passed away. God bless her. She did the best she could,” he says. “I guess in the ‘60s, my mom was pretty wild. She had me at 17. It is what it is, man. That's my story. And I guess I turned lemons into lemonade.”

Check out Yahoo Entertainment’s full, extended Nikki Sixx interview below, in which also discusses sobriety, fatherhood, moving to Wyoming, and the future of Motley Crüe:

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— Video produced by Anne Lilburn, edited by Jimmie Rhee