More than two decades ago--1989, to be exact--a soaring love ballad by the unlikeliest of bands hit No. 1 on the charts and won a Video Music Award for Best Heavy Metal Video.
The tune was "Sweet Child O' Mine" by notorious bad boys Guns N' Roses, an unexpected tender moment on an otherwise caustic album (the appropriately titled Appetite For Destruction, which has sold close to 30 million copies worldwide to date). True to this irony, the romance that sparked the lyrics to the tune was as troubled as the classic disc itself.
While the music to the song has been described by the other band members as a throwoff that evolved into a hit, frontman Axl Rose was inspired by it to write about his girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly.
Everly, who is the daughter of Everly Brothers legend Don, met Rose at a Los Angeles party in 1986. Then only 19 years old, she was embarking on a modeling career in New York City; he was 24 and still largely unknown--Appetite would not be released until the following year. The pair quickly fell for each other and Everly relocated to L.A.
"It was the first relationship I had had," she told People in 1994. "I felt like we were two people who didn't have much but who had found each other."
Rose cast Everly in the iconic video for "Sweet Child O' Mine," along with the other band members' girlfriends. The clip was hugely successful and nominated for two VMAs in 1989.
However, his sentimental lyrics about her, which described a woman whose smile and eyes take him to a "special" and "warm, safe" place, belied the truth about their rocky relationship.
Everly describes her life with Rose as a nightmare of physical and emotional abuse that started shortly after they moved in together. With superstardom thrust upon him suddenly, Everly says Rose took out his feelings of pressure on her, often abusing her in public in front of friends and acquaintances. She nevertheless protected him, telling People, "I always believed things would get better...My life was taking care of Axl."
By 1990, Rose had moved out. However, according to Everly, one night in April he showed up at her door and threatened suicide if she didn't marry him. The pair drove to Las Vegas to take their vows. A month later, he threatened divorce. Two months later, he allegedly beat her so badly she was hospitalized. As a form of apology, he moved Everly back into his home. By September, she learned she was pregnant. She claims Rose threw her out shortly after hearing the news and didn't help with her medical bills when she miscarried three months later.
At this point, Everly claims, she'd had enough. The marriage was annulled in 1991, with Rose allegedly attempting reconciliation for more than a year--sending flowers, cards, and even caged birds her way. However, that same year, he began a well-publicized relationship with supermodel Stephanie Seymour (who also eventually alleged abuse at his hands). Everly moved on to dating well-known names such as musician Donovan Leitch and actor David Arquette. In 1994 she filed an official suit against Rose, filled with lurid details of his bizarre actions and abuses toward her, which was later settled out of court.
Today, not much is known about Everly, who's now 46. The model-turned-housewife married Atlanta-based businessman Jack Portman in the early '90s, and has created a website apparently with the sole purpose of detracting people curious about her life.
"Since 1990, Erin has remained out of the public eye and is a very proud and fiercely protective parent," reads an intro to her site. "While appreciative of all the letters and inquiries, she asks for the sake of her children and loved ones, that her privacy and desire for a normal provincial life for her children be respected."
The site gives details of her kids' names and ages (son Easan, born in 1996; and daughters Eres and Esper, born in 2000 and 2009 respectively). A photo gallery allows a glimpse at her past modeling career--although no photos of Rose are included--as well as her family life today.
Everly's done a good job of keeping a low profile; however, determined fans have rooted out information and discussed her activities on GN'R fansite message boards. It's unclear whether she is officially divorced from Portman, but she's linked with a new man, Atlanta landscape architect Matthew Klyn. Her youngest child appears to be the product of that relationship, based on photographs and comments on Klyn's Facebook account.