Rumors are swirling that Guns N' Roses may reform in some iteration of their classic lineup — the five-man powder keg existing between 1985 and 1990 that produced a single studio album and a trail of destruction in its wake. However, the story of this combustible band spans 30 years of sex, drugs, fights, riots, near-death experiences, mountain lions, bitch-slap rapping, cocaine tongues and one mysterious dude with a KFC bucket on his head. Here are 50 crazy stories about one of rock's all-time craziest bands.
In his autobiography, Slash describes G N' R antics as early as Steven Adler's first tryout. "When Steven ducked out to take a piss, Izzy and Duff hid one of his bass drums, a floor tom, and some small rack toms. Steven returned, sat down, and started counting in the next song before he realized what was missing. 'Hey, where's my other bass drum?' he asked, looking around as if he'd dropped them on the way to the bathroom. … Steven never got his extra bass drum back and it was the best thing that ever happened to him."
The band's first tour, the Hell Tour, was fittingly named. Two hours north of Fresno, the band's 1977 Oldsmobile (plus U-Haul) gave out and left them hitchhiking 40 hours to Seattle, carrying only their guitars. They missed several shows and played on borrowed amps when they finally arrived.
The group endured a serious car accident upon returning to Los Angeles after their first tour. Piled into Duff's Toyota Celica, another car traveling 60 mph broadsided them in an intersection, leaving drummer Steven Adler with a broken ankle. "Duff's car was totaled and we could have been too," Slash writes in his autobiography. "That would have been a sick twist of fate: the band dying together after we'd just gotten together."
"We sold drugs. We sold girls. If one of the guys was fucking a girl in our sleeping loft, we'd ransack the girl's purse while he was doing her," Izzy Stradlin said in the book Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N' Roses. "We managed." Los Angeles city officials designated the name "Lot Number 619" to the alley behind where the band lived — a place that developed a reputation for heroin, porn, bogus drugs and whoring beyond the band's raucous parties.
According to author Stephen Davis, to prep for the Troubadour performance aimed at impressing Geffen Records, all of the band members except Axl got drunk, did heroin, snorted coke or all of the above. Geffen rep Tom Zutaut was apparently hooked regardless. The band signed a month later, and Slash blew most of his advance on more drugs.
One of Axl Rose's many tantrums came on signing day with Geffen Records. He had misplaced his contact lenses and stormed out of his home, believing someone wanted him to be unable to read the contract. Slash and manager Vicky Hamilton found the contacts (either on the floor or in a pair of pants), then found Axl down the street, sitting cross-legged meditatively atop Whisky a Go Go. The label had waited and continued on with the deal some two or four hours after the scheduled time. "'Nobody was angry. It was kind of the status quo — every day it was something like that," Hamilton told the Daily Mail.
Asleep on the couch, Axl was angered by Steven Adler, who was either cleaning up glass bottles or swinging bottles at Axl to wake him. Axl threw a coffee table, pushed Steven into a fire extinguisher and proceeded to deliver blows to his head. The two were friendly again the next hour.
At a Raji's performance, the girlfriend of Bob Forrest, lead singer of L.A. scene staples Thelonious Monster, had been in the front row spraying beer in Axl's face, causing him to be shocked repeatedly by the equipment. Axl yelled at her and pushed her away with the mic stand. Forrest returned fire by swinging a drum stand at him. G N' R and the Monster must have patched things up, since they played on a UCLA bill with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that Halloween. Years later, Forrest, now a drug counsellor, helped Adler combat addiction on Season 2 of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew
The band started their show at the Timbers Ballroom sans vocalist: Axl had confused the start time and did not show up until the end of the first song, "Anything Goes," which the band had chose for its extended, lyric-free guitar solo.
A West Hollywood sheriff pulls Slash over for a broken taillight … and finds a hypodermic needle. The guitarist is subsequently arrested and two band members bail him out for $178.
G N' R open for shock-rock icon Alice Cooper with a set performed entirely without Axl Rose — he arrived late to the Arlington Theater and was turned away. Izzy Stradlin made up lyrics, such as, "elephant dick under my arms" instead of "rattlesnake suitcase" in "Nightrain." Slash asked the audience who could come up and sing. In frustration, the band trashed the dressing room and broke all the mirrors.
In 1987 Adriana Smith caught her boyfriend cheating: That boyfriend happened to be G N' R drummer Steven Adler. So when Axl Rose invited the 19-year-old into the studio to help with some last-minute overdubs on "Rocket Queen," Smith didn't mind that her contribution would be to moan as loud as possible while she and the singer had sex. This was Smith's chance for revenge on Adler, and anyway she was drunk and thought Axl was "fuckin' magical." Axl repeatedly expressed concern with the verisimilitude of Smith's performance during the session, growling, "Come on, Adriana, make it real. Stop faking!" at one point. Smith later regretted participating in the stunt, saying the "guilt and shame" it caused her contributed to her addiction. She's now a drug and alcohol counselor.
G N' R's knack for causing controversy was apparent right from the start of their commercial career. The original cover art for their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, features the painting of the same name by Robert Williams, which infamously depicted a robot looming over a rape victim before being attacked by a larger predator. "I suggested that they come over to my house and look through some slides and pick something [else] for the cover, because I knew they were gonna get in trouble with it," the artist told Revolver. Due to the gruesome imagery, multiple retailers refused the product. The original artwork was moved within the album's packaging and the cover was replaced by the now-iconic cross and skull tattoo designed by Billy White Jr.
In the fall of 1987, Guns N' Roses played eight dates in Europe and England with fellow Sunset Strip denizens Faster Pussycat. "We were civil, not what I'd call friendly," Slash would later say of the relationship between the two bands — but when Pussycat drummer Mark Michals insisted on tagging along with the Gunners for a night of debauchery in Hamburg's Reeperbahn district, he annoyed Duff and Izzy so much that they wound up binding his mouth and limbs with duct tape, throwing him into their hotel's elevator and sending him down to the lobby. "The hotel staff dealt with him from there," Slash recalled.
If there was one thing Axl Rose enjoyed more than being onstage, it was jumping offstage. During a show at the Omni in Atlanta, Axl supposedly saw a security guard shoving a friend of his. The singer leaped into the crowd and grabbed the guard before punching him in the face. He tried to go on with the show, but the police hauled him off during "Mr. Brownstone." While Axl was detained backstage, the band soldiered on, with a roadie, Big Ron, stepping in to sing a pair of classic rock covers ("Communication Breakdown" and "Honky Tonk Women"). There were also prolonged drum and guitar solos. Axl avoided trial by pleading guilty to assault and paying a fine. Guns N' Roses would not return to Atlanta until 2006.
Tell Axl Rose he looks like "Bon Jovi" and risk getting punched in the face. A fan made the comparison in 1987 and Axl responded with his knuckles, starting a brawl in a Chicago hotel lobby. The following night, while opening for Alice Cooper, Axl shared his true feelings. "Bon Jovi can suck my dick," announced the singer. By 2006, Bon Jovi fueled the rivalry when he publicly criticized the amount of press Rose still received despite having not released an album in 13 years.
In 1987, just as Appetite for Destruction was about to take off, drummer Steven Adler broke his hand in a fistfight when he swung, missed and clocked a streetlight post. With a tour pressing, the band soldiered on, enlisting another affable time-keeper, Cinderella's Fred Coury, to man the kit.
Slash, his then-girlfriend and Steven Adler were inhaling their way through a mountain of cocaine with Nikki Sixx at the Franklin Plaza two days before Christmas in 1987. According to Adler's memoir, the drummer left the room to shoot up, and when he came back, the door would hardly budge: Nikki's purple, unconscious body was blocking it. Adler's hand was still in a cast, but he shouldered his way in, found that Slash and his girl had left, and dragged Sixx with one arm into the shower. When cold water didn't revive him, Adler started smashing the OD'd Crüe member in the face with his cast, eventually slapping him back to life. The next day, Adler went to the hospital to see Sixx, who asked, "Stevie, what the fuck happened to me last night? My face is killing me."
G N' R's 1988 gig at the now-shuttered Ritz in New York City — taped for MTV — captured the band at its most primal. No performance that night was more dangerous than "Paradise City," which culminated with Axl diving into a sloshing, jostling sea of fans: The inescapable whirlpool required three stagehands to pull the singer out. When Axl finally emerged, he was shirtless, missing jewelry and, judging by a concerned glance at his left wrist, scratched up. It remains the definitive live version of the decadent anthem, with Duff squawking out harmony vocals and Slash playing a frenetic solo sprawled flat on his back.
Though it's generally believed that the title of G N' R's 1993 covers album refers to a food fight between Axl Rose and Steven Adler, Duff McKagan told writer Gavin Edwards that it's actually a reference to an 1989 sojourn in Chicago, when the crack-addicted Adler stored his coke in a refrigerator next to the band's Italian takeout containers. "His code word for his stash was 'spaghetti,'" said McKagan. He also mentioned the stash and its code name in his deposition for Adler's 1993 lawsuit against G N' R, in which the drummer claimed that the drug problems that led to his ouster were actually the fault of the band. When a lawyer straight-facedly asked McKagan to "tell us about the spaghetti incident," the bassist found himself highly amused by the sheer absurdity of the question — and an album title was born.
After their 1989 world tour, G N' R took a hiatus in Los Angeles. With nothing to keep him busy but a bottle of Jack Daniels, Slash's drug problems worsened. "It turned out to be the start of a long and nightmarish obsession with heroin that lasted from 1989 through 1991," the guitarist says in his autobiography. Hallucinations ensued, resulting in a bloody, naked run through an Arizona golf resort. After a heroin/cocaine bender, Slash recalls "Predators" with "rubbery-looking dreadlocks" chasing after him with machine guns and harpoons. In an attempt to combat the creatures, Slash punched through a glass door, later jumping through it to flee his room. Naked and afraid, Slash proceeded to use a maid as a "human shield," ran through the hotel lobby and hid behind a lawnmower as his ultimate shelter. He gave police a detailed account of the Predator attack: "I was still high enough that I told the story without a shred of self-consciousness."
Public figures from Tipper Gore to Boy George to Arsenio Hall lined up to condemn "One in a Million." Actually, just about everyone did but Sean Penn, who defended it. The lyrics of the "One in a Million" were undeniably nasty: On one verse Axl spits "get out my way" at at a group he calls "niggers"; another verse claims that "immigrants and faggots … come to our country" to "start some mini Iran/Or spread some fuckin' disease." On top of everything, Rose had a gift for explaining his most offensive moments in even more offensive ways. The N-word? "Why can black people go up to each other and say 'nigger,' but when a white guy does it, all of a sudden it's a big put-down?" The f-word? "I've had some very bad experiences with homosexuals. … [But] I'm not against them doing what they do as long as they're not forcing it upon me." Or, as the non-apology apology on the cover of G N' R Lies put it: "This song is very simple and extremely generic or generalized, my apologies to those who may take offense."
During a flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin urinated in the plane's galley. "I was drunk in the middle of this bunch of senior citizen types. I was smoking, and the stewardess came over. I told her to fuck herself," Izzy said. "I was drinking so much I had to take a piss. The people in the bathroom … man, it seemed like I waited an hour. So I pissed in the trash can instead." Police welcomed Izzy in Phoenix, arresting him on charges of public disturbance for smoking in a non-smoking section, making obscene gestures to passengers and verbally abusing a stewardess. "Next thing I know we've landed, I'm walking out and I see 10 policemen. … And I remember thinking: 'Uh-oh! I think I fucked up again.'"
Axl had become notorious for his manic-depressive nature, constantly showing up late, dipping out early and dropping off the grid without warning. While on tour in Japan, still smarting over Stradlin's airplane shenanigans, the moody lead singer locked himself in his hotel room for days and refused to speak to anyone. According to Over the Top: The True Story of Guns N' Roses, Axl ruthlessly fired a staff member for disturbing him, despite having asked to be woken up at that appointed time.
After G N' R's VMA performance of "Heartbreak Hotel" with Tom Petty, Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil jumped out of the crowd in an attempt to punch Izzy Stradlin in the face. Izzy walked away with only a cut from Neil's ring, but more beef followed suit. When Neil challenged the band to a public fight, Axl responded in the press, "Vince, whichever way you want it, man: Guns, knives or fists, whatever you want to do. I don't care."