Few musicians have lived — and died and lived again — quite like Nikki Sixx. In the three-and-a-half decades he spent playing bass in Mötley Crüe and serving as the group’s primary songwriter, he mainlined heroin, indulged any groupie’s whims and helped the band become Top 10 hitmakers. Outside of the Crüe, he’s recorded with the groups 58, Brides of Destruction and Sixx:A.M., and released the book The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, chronicling his time on the drug. Since sobering up, he’s become and advocate for educating people about opioid addiction.
In 2001, he coauthored the Mötley Crüe memoir, The Dirt, with his bandmates and Neil Strauss, and some of the book’s wildest moments have been adapted into a movie, which will premiere on Netflix on Friday. The band recently used the film as an excuse to record some new songs, including an ironic cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and to reflect on all the ups and downs they survived, from the heroin overdose that led to Sixx temporarily being pronounced dead to the car crash singer Vince Neil caused, which killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle. In a February interview, Sixx reflected on everything he’s learned about life and death.
Who are your heroes and why?
Keith Richards. He’s always kept the standards higher than anybody else. I also love so many Beat Generation writers. Look at the William S. Burroughs story; it’s not always pretty, but art wasn’t supposed to come from pretty places.
Like you, Richards and Burroughs both overcame heroin addictions. Is that another reason you look up to them?
When I was first introduced to heroin, it was like, “Oh, these writers, songwriters and painters do that.” I was young and naïve. I didn’t realize the demon it was.
What did you learn from that period of your life?
I learned that drugs are like Band-Aids and that Band-Aids don’t work. You’ve got to clean out the wound. I had to struggle with that through the fame and success. In certain parts of my life, I could have made better decisions. I feel bad for the people in my family that I scared. And I regret that when the band finally got what we wanted, we were self-destructing.
You were pronounced dead of a heroin overdose in 1987. What did dying teach you?
That it hurts to come back. My heart stopped. My body stopped. It’s like you turned the computer off and they restart the computer. It felt like I’d been fucking hit by a truck. Every single thing hurt. My hair hurt. That reboot is a bitch.
Did dying give you a new perspective on things?
I got a lot of great one-liners now like, “Jesus Christ and I both died and came back.” That doesn’t sit well in the Bible belt. But you’ve got to laugh.
Do you have a memory of being dead, like how on TV people say they saw a light?
Let’s just say there was some spiritual intervention. God knows I wasn’t the one responsible for surviving. I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. If I leaned toward anything, it would be Buddhism.
Do you look at The Dirt as a cautionary tale?
Well, it could be looked at that way. I think it’s a story of survival. It’s the story of a gang of unlikely characters that climbed a mountain together only to self-implode and have to figure it out. We really are a four-headed monster and sometimes we just fucking bite each other.
What do you hope people take away from your story?
A better understanding of who we were. We wanted to do it all differently. We were just focused on writing great songs like our idols that were aggressive like the punk bands we loved and had the melody and craftsmanship of Cheap Trick. Tommy and Vince built our drum riser. When I look at the movie I’m like, “Fuck, so much of this happened by accident but also so much of it was because we had big ideas.”
You filled the book with jaw-dropping groupie stories. What have you learned about women?
I stand 100 percent behind the #MeToo movement. I think we’re in a very great time for equality and we’ve got room to grow. Even though we were fucking animals and the shit that we did was fucking crazy and the shit the girls did to us was crazy, there was never a moment ever that anybody in the band took that as an opportunity to wield power. I’m not saying we were angels, but it was all consensual.
You’ve described your daughter as a feminist. What has she taught you about yourself?
One of the greatest moments happened when we were talking about a friend of mine who’s gay. He’s my friend. I don’t care. But I said something like, “You know my friend, Justin? He’s gay and his boyfriend is going to come over for Thanksgiving.” She said, “If he was straight, would you say ‘my friend Justin, who’s straight’?” I was like, no. Then I was like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” Then she broke down gender identification with me with a hand-drawn map. I was really grateful for that. It’s fascinating. I love it.
You had a hard upbringing with an absent father and rough relationship with your mom. What did that teach you about being a dad?
When I first had children, it was very important to me that I was not like my mom or dad. I was still carrying around that resentment in a backpack, weighing me down. Then I found I stayed in relationships longer than what was healthy because I didn’t want to be my mom and dad. I thought staying in an unhealthy relationship would be better for the kids because I thought breaking up a relationship would feel like abandonment to them. I was wrong in that. I wish I had a few more years under my belt before I made some of the decisions I made so I could have made healthier decisions based on an actual blueprint of who I am as a man.
What are the most important rules you live by?
There’s a line in our song “Primal Scream”: “If you want to live life on your own terms/You gotta be willing to crash and burn.” I always think about that with every decision I make. It’s not a negative statement; it’s more of a motivational statement.
When’s a time you made a decision that crashed and burned?
When Vince [Neil] quit after Dr. Feelgood, I wish our managers and lawyers had the strength to say, “Guys, time out. You’re one of the biggest bands in the world. Nobody is fired and nobody is quitting.” Maybe we needed to make that record that we did without Vince but not call it Mötley Crüe and come back and do Mötley Crüe. We were burnt the fuck out. But we made a great record and we went out on that tour and there was fucking no one there, dude. Every band has hills and valleys.
What did you learn from putting out an album with a different lead singer?
I learned that your fans fell in love with you for a reason. If I want to do something really too far away from who we are, it only confuses the fans. I did a band called Sixx:A.M. and people liked it because I wasn’t saying, “This is the new Mötley Crüe.”
Tommy Lee and Vince Neil both quit Mötley Crüe and came back. What’s the secret to reconciliation?
It’s important to listen and to understand how you got there. You need to learn to give and take.
You’re from Los Angeles. What’s the most L.A. thing about you?
Unfortunately, I think I’ve picked up the word “dude.” I hate using that word, and I’ve used it. I’m sure that’s not what Keith Richards would say.
What’s the worst thing about being in Mötley Crüe?
Everybody thinks you’re an animal. Sometimes when I’m working on stuff, I have conversations with people and they’re like, “Yeah, dude. You’re in Mötley Crüe.” That doesn’t mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m up for the conversation. I’m very liberal. I’m the definition of the fucking snowflake for Republicans.
You once watched Ozzy Osbourne snort a line of ants. What did you learn from him?
Ozzy is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met. But when Sharon wasn’t around, it was like a five-person gang. It was always like, “He topped us again.” I remember the day he walked into our dressing room in a dress. He didn’t act like anything was wrong. We were like, “Fuck, I gotta get a dress now.” He was a role model … for rock & roll.
“I’m very liberal. I’m the definition of the fucking snowflake for Republicans.”
What were your favorite books as a kid?
I used to really love adventures stories like Daniel Boone. Stuff about trapping and trading furs in the Wild West. Then I discovered the Beat Generation writers and it was like the lid was blown off the can.
What have you been reading lately?
I just reread Kids by Patti Smith. I enjoy following her on Instagram. She squeezes every drop of joy out of everything. She’s so inspirational. She comments back to people, so I’ve commented a couple times but she’s never commented back to me. I don’t think she’s a Mötley Crüe fan.
What have you learned from not being hip?
I don’t know what’s hip anymore. I’m not going to change my hair to fit in or start dressing like everybody else. I’m not interested. I just continue to try to become better. I take bass, guitar and vocal lessons. I’m studying writers.
What’s the most indulgent purchase you’ve ever made?
Probably my wife’s shoe collection. It’s fucking painful. I’m like, “Hey, baby. Check out this 1963 Fender Jazz Bass, all original.” She’s like, “How much was that?” I tell her and she comes home with one pair of shoes that’s the same price. I’m like, “Whoa, whoa. Shoes versus a vintage instrument?” Her shoe closet is like a garage.
What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
Besides the obvious, which is “don’t do heroin,” I’d tell myself to expand my ideas into other creative areas. I remember taking a bass lesson, and this guy was like, “We’re going to do a C-major scale.” And I’m like, “I just want to learn how to play ‘Telegram Sam’ by T. Rex.” I never went back and I wish I had. If I gave my younger self any advice, I’d be like, “Take on some challenges that later will be very fruitful.”
What’s the worst part of success?
Just being away from home. I’ve missed so many birthdays and holidays. I remember having Thanksgiving dinner in a Hilton fucking bar, and they were serving turkey sandwiches and beer. I guess that reared its head in our song “Home Sweet Home.”
Yeah, but when you put that song out, you had to go on tour to promote it.
Good point. I fucked up.