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Nikki Sixx talks recovery, sobriety, advocacy: ‘I’d rather be the guy that people don't think is cool than be the guy in a coffin’

Nikki Sixx at a book signing for 'The Heroin Diaries' 10th anniversary edition in 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nikki Sixx at a book signing for 'The Heroin Diaries' 10th anniversary edition in 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)

There was a time when no one would have imagined that Nikki Sixx, bassist and songwriter for one of the most notoriously hard-partying rock bands of all time, Motley Crüe, would be one of music’s leading recovery spokespersons and advocates. But then again, there was a time when people wouldn’t have expected Sixx, now age 61, to even be alive in 2020. As chronicled in his harrowing memoir The Heroin Diaries, the band autobiography and Netflix film adaptation The Dirt, and VH1’s Behind the Music, Sixx overdosed on heroin multiple times in the ‘80s — most famously on Dec. 23, 1987, when he was declared clinically dead for two minutes before being revived. But now that Sixx has been clean for nearly 20 years now, he has made it his mission to help other addicts, even if there are some Crüe fans out there who don’t think sobriety is very “cool.”

Sixx’s latest endeavor, with his other band Sixx:A.M., is the all-star Artists for Recovery charity single “Maybe It’s Time,” which features Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Slash, country star Brantley Gilbert, Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour, Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody, AWOLNATION, and Bad Wolves’ Tommy Vext. The song is part of an initiative to draw attention to the opioid crisis and raise funds for the recovery community, timed with National Recovery Month; all artist royalties from the song will go to the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation (GRI), with a matching contribution from Better Noise Music. The song is also featured on the soundtrack for Better Noise Films’ Sno Babies, a raw depiction of teenage drug addiction in a seemingly picturesque suburban town.

In the candid Q&A below, Sixx discusses the grim statistics regarding the current opioid crisis — and how he thankfully avoided becoming a grim statistic himself.

Yahoo Entertainment: So, tell me what you are hoping to so with this song and your work for GRI.

Nikki Sixx: The idea is to raise money, but also to raise the bar on the conversation. I believe that one of the biggest problems that we have with addiction is that it grows in the shadows, and people just don't feel comfortable talking about it. They're going to stay in the dark and they're just going to keep feeding their addiction, and then we have these horrible stories that we read about every damn day — people dying, doctors overprescribing, et cetera. We're hoping to get a snowball thing happening. But it's not easy talking about stuff people don't want to talk about. It's not glamorous.

Well, there are some people who foolishly think that heroin is glamorous or “rock ‘n’ roll” — you know, that idea of “heroin chic,” Johnny Thunders, Keith Richards, “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”

I subscribed to that same thing when I was in my twenties. But it ends in a coffin. It was not glamorous being an addict. Sure, I had a lot of fun in my early drinking years and all that — like Animal House brat, over-the-top, Motley Crüe debauchery. It was what it was. It was the ‘80s, and cocaine was everywhere and everybody was drinking and it was wild and fun, and you destroy your hotel room and all that s***. But now you look back, you're an adult and you have kids, and it’s like, “What can I do to debunk that myth?” I’m not talking about behavior; I'm talking actual addiction.

Nikki Sixx with Motley Crüe in 1983. (Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images)
Nikki Sixx with Motley Crüe in 1983. (Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images)

That's why I'm really proud of all the artists on “Maybe It's Time,” because it takes people that you wouldn't expect to say this stuff. And I spoke in front Congress once [in 2007] for Recovery Month, and I remember I was with [Democratic congressman] Patrick Kennedy, who’s sober. I looked out and there was like 400 f***ing cameras and reporters out there, and I thought, “I am a fish out of water, but I have no choice. For some reason, this is part of my destiny.” And I remember saying, “I’d rather be the guy that people don't think is cool than be the guy in a coffin.” That just fell out of my mouth, and it started flowing out of me, all of these things that we’re talking about now. I said, “Maybe people like me — who still can pull a crowd and make music and are thought of as ‘cool’ — maybe if some of these people can stand up and say, ‘I survived addiction, and this is how I did it,’ it will be a little ‘cooler’ to be sober.” I don't want it to be, like, “Oh, Nikki isn’t cool anymore.” I say, let's make the sober gang be the cool gang. That's the goal.

Is that message getting across?

Well, somebody once said the internet is like the Wild West of idiots. I don't read a lot of my [social media] comments, but every now and then I like to see what people are saying. And some people will be like, “OK, we get it, man. You're cashing in on your drug addiction. When are you going to stop talking about it?” And I didn't comment, but the answer is: I am never going to stop talking about it. If you're sick of me, then don't read this article. Yes, I'm going to squeeze in the leather pants and play “Kickstart My Heart” at your local stadium, but at my core, this is something that I have to do in my life.

I just wonder, why is it so hard for people to want to talk about this? We don't need to live in shame. We just don't need to live in as addicts — that just drives us deeper into our addiction. We're worth it. People that are dealing with mental health issues, that are depressed, it’s worth it to help them so that they don't think suicide is an option. Addicts are worth it so they don't think a life of drugs is “glamorous” and then they lose everything along the way. I don't know how the f*** I ended up on this path, but I'm here now.

When you wrote an op-ed, which got a lot of traction, about this subject for the Los Angeles Times in 2017, you said, “All addicts need saving.” And I agree with that, of course — but thought it was sad that that needed to even be written, like that wasn’t a given. You also wrote, “No one is a junkie by choice.” But maybe why there's still this stigma about addiction: People think addiction is a choice, and that addicts are just selfish screw-ups.

Yes, this is a real problem. There's a song on the first Sixx:A.M. album called “Accidents Can Happen,” and it tackled a subject that was important to me. I had been sober for four years or something at the time — I'm coming up on 20 now. But at that time, I fell off the wagon. And I couldn't find a hand to pull me out of the hole. It's like, everybody immediately started covering me with dirt — everyone was like, “What's wrong with you? You had it together. Don't you know what you're going to do to your band? You're going to let down your fans. What about your mom?” The list just kept going. And I felt so bad. Thankfully there were some people in my life; I went back to a man named Bob Timmons who really helped me and had helped the Stones and Aerosmith. Sadly, Bob is no longer with us, but he was like an angel. So, I wrote the song “Accidents Can Happen” about that, because looking at the reuse rate on recovery, it's staggering. If people think they're going to have an “a-ha!” moment and never, ever use again — well, chances are that probably won’t happen. It took me a few tries, though I don’t recommend that, because people die along the path.

Have you had any “a-ha!” moments?

I had two. One was when I had my second overdose within 24 hours in 1987. I woke up and I kind of feel like I had a spiritual intervention, but I can't really pinpoint it. But I wrote about it in my diaries, which I went back to 10 years later and was like, “Whoa, I didn't imagine that.” Because I wrote that morning what I felt — and I didn't have any withdrawal at all. That was so interesting, like I was set free somehow. I took it for granted, and I was at work in a really solid program, and that's when I slipped. So then it was getting back into the program, putting myself in rehab. Even though I didn't really necessarily need rehab for withdrawal purposes, I needed a break from all the people around me and I needed some positive influence. And I found the keys right to my future there. I decided then that I would do everything in my power to keep passing this along.

In your L.A. Times op-ed, you were pretty critical of the Trump administration at the time, and how it was handling this crisis. That was three years ago. Did you hope that there would have been more progress by now?

Look, I'm not a politician. So, I found that being too critical towards any administration wasn't serving our goal. I have a lot of criticism that I could add to this, but I think it's not best for me to be the person that talks about that, because I don't have the experience in it. I don't care if you're red or blue — just please help. That's my message: Please help. Yes, I lean liberal; I mean, I'm a musician and an artist. And I believe that whatever you affiliate yourself with, it doesn't matter. Not everybody thinks like that, but that doesn't mean we have to be enemies. I don't agree with a lot of what's happening with this administration — and I'm being kind when I say that. But how am I going to help people that do support this administration, and want to support us, by alienating them? That's a big frustration we have. This divisiveness that we're dealing with in our country right now is not going to help addicts at all.

You mentioned that sometimes you get grief on social media for speaking out about the opioid crisis. I’m curious if any fans have given you flak when you have been political, like you were in that op-ed. Some of your peers, like Axl Rose or Sebastian Bach or Dee Snider, have gotten backlash for expressing liberal or anti-Trump views.

I have more people that will comment stuff like, “Hey man, I'm two years’ sober. Thanks for your book.” Or, “I just got my mom into rehab. Thanks for your story, because that helped me feel like I could make a difference.” I try to pay more attention to that stuff. If I get into a pissing match with every single person that disagrees with me, I think we're going to miss the target. I've learned that from being a little too bold. I mean, we could do a whole interview where I would tell you my opinion on this administration, and other administrations, but I'm not a politician, I’m a rock star, and people don't want me to talk about stuff like that. They tell me to “stay in my lane” and just stick to playing bass. I don't really want to just stick to playing bass, but I don't want to alienate and have a mudslinging contest. I want people to focus on the message that we're talking about right now. Yeah, we take s*** for it, but you know what? You take s*** whatever side you're on right now. That's the whole problem.

Well, you say you're not a politician, but would you ever go into politics? I actually think that if it was something you wanted to pursue, you’d be pretty good at it.

I would be too worried if my checkered past — but then, look at our president! [laughs] But seriously, I consider myself to be the worm on the hook for a lot of what we're doing right now. I don't think it's my job to be political about it, but I will definitely help push the wagon up the hill for as long as I've got it in me — and that's forever. I care, and I want to make a difference because without my own recovery, without my own sobriety, I would be dead. And what a shame that would be that I never got help or I never had anybody around to support me and I missed all these beautiful opportunities — those beautiful children that I've had, the music that I've gotten to written, the photography and painting and books. And so, I think that the most important thing for me is if there's anybody out there dealing with what I was dealing with, or some version of it, if we can help them see there's a door and give them a key, that's enough for me. I don't need to be paid for my services or patted on the back or given an award.

At the start of this interview, you mentioned doctors over-prescribing. People probably associate you more with heroin use — I mean, you wrote a memoir called The Heroin Diaries —but prescription drugs are as big, if not even more dire, a problem right now.

Yes, I think that having these conversations is important, because there's a light on that field as well — you got a guy that goes to the doctor broke his arm, they cast him up and they give him a 30 script of pain pills. Why are doctors doing that? Why? Is it for the money? Is it the insurance company is turning a blind eye? We have a lot of questions that we're asking. When I was doing my radio show Sixx Sense, I was interviewing Dr. Oz and we were talking about this subject. And he said what I already knew, but it was nice to hear a doctor say it, which is that it only takes seven days to develop an opiate addiction. After seven days, you will not take your pain pill and you will feel horrible — and you don't really know what that is, but that's withdrawal, the beginning of the withdrawal. It just gets worse and worse, the longer you're in it, the deeper you're in it, the more you're using, to the point where when people go through withdrawals, they have complete loss of all their bodily functions. A lot of times, they will die from the withdrawal alone. I really don't know why doctors are over-prescribing. I don't understand it.

You've had some rock-related injuries and surgeries. I don't know if you were given prescription drugs for the pain, but if you were, how did you avoid that slippery slope and not get hooked, since you have a a history of addiction?

Yes, I had to get my hip replaced from jumping on one leg onstage; ironically, the other hip was like a 25-year-old’s, which made me laugh. I've blown both of my knees out from jumping off the top of amps for 40 years. And both of my shoulders and a bicep had to be reattached, basically. So I've been through a lot of surgery and a lot of rehabilitation. For me, it was a couple of days of pain medication instructed the doctor, and then I'm going to go to Tylenol. And then I'm going to start my physical therapy. And my diet has to be clean. I was very clear about this, but I can tell you, I know more people that don't have that success, that don't go to the doctor and give these parameters. You should never be prescribed more than like seven days, maximum. In my opinion, I think they should be doing just three days, and then you go back and maybe get another three days, and then cut down to maybe something weaker — if it's a really bad surgery. But when you just put somebody on an opioid, they are going to become an addict. And then when the doctor finally says, “OK, I can't prescribe anymore,” this is when people go to the street. People have gone to the streets that didn't even know what the streets were about. I know a story of a high school kid in California, a football player that broke his back, who was over-prescribed and ended up going down to really shoddy part of Hollywood — an area that I know unfortunately very well, from my past — and he scored some heroin and didn't really know what he was doing. And it was laced with fentanyl, and he died. This was the star of a football team. So this more prevalent than not. And that's why we have to talk about this. If somebody doesn't broach the conversation, then someone who went in for knee surgery becomes an addict because they didn't have the information.

I’m know The Heroin Diaries is being turned into a Broadway musical, although that’s on hold right now due to the coronavirus. But I've read the book, and when I did, to be honest, I didn’t think, “Wow, this would be a great musical!” It's so dark, almost too dark, almost like, “Whoa, I can't believe he actually published this!” So, once it’s safe to return to Broadway, how are you going to turn this raw, brutal memoir into a musical that tourists, who could buy tickets to any show in New York, will enjoy and not be turned off by?

My hope is what Rent did for AIDS and HIV, the Heroin Diaries musical will do for opiate addiction, which is open the damn conversation. The music with Sixx:A.M. is a big driver, of course, but we also get into hope. … You see redemption and recovery and sobriety and how life is beautiful. I can't think of a better way to tell a really horrid story. Like I said, it’s a hard conversation to have. Nobody wants to go to dinner and have this conversation that we're having right now. But I think more people should.

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