In many ways, fact-checking a movie about Mötley Crüe is a ridiculous task, especially a film that says right off the bat it is merely “based” on a true story. It’s also a film that breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience that things didn’t happen quite as they’re being presented. The whole thing is also based on a book that bassist Nikki Sixx now claims has at least one story – in which he writes that he “pretty much” raped a woman – was “possibly greatly embellished or made up.” He also claimed he was on drugs during the interviews with writer Neil Strauss and doesn’t remember much of that time.
That begs the question: If the four members of Mötley Crüe were drunk or on drugs throughout much of the Eighties, might their memories of that time period be a little hazy? Ozzy Osbourne has always claimed to have no memory of the famous story in The Dirt movie and book where he sniffs a line of ants in front of the band. But he was also blackout drunk back then. Can any of these people be trusted to have legit stories or are some of these famous tales merely the product of hopelessly compromised memory banks?
Pushing all those questions aside, The Dirt (which hit Netflix on Friday) actually gets a lot of the band’s history right. Tommy Lee and Sixx may have had pouffier hair than their onscreen counterparts, but the filmmakers went to great lengths to capture the look and vibe of the Eighties Sunset Strip scene. Much of the action onscreen sticks pretty close to the version of history presented in the book. There’s nothing as egregious as the inaccuracies in Bohemian Rhapsody, which shows Queen writing “We Will Rock You” in the Eighties and breaking up before Live Aid. But there are still many moments, big and small, where The Dirt deviates from the known historical record. Here’s a look at 14 of them.
1. Tommy Lee’s First Encounter With Nikki Sixx Is a Bit Off
The movie shows a teenage Tommy Lee going to see Sixx play a show with his band London at a Sunset Strip club and then bumping into him afterwards at a Denny’s. Sixx tells him the band is over and he is looking to start a new one. He invites Tommy to try out as his drummer even though the only experience he mentions is playing in his high school marching band. In reality, he was the drummer in a group called Suite 19 that Sixx had seen in concert and found very impressive. They met at the Denny’s specifically to talk about forming a new band. Nothing about it was random.
2. It Erases Their Original Lead Singer From History
When Mötley Crüe first went into the studio to record their earliest demos, Vince Neil wasn’t yet their singer. It was a fellow named O’Dean Peterson who, according to Tommy Lee, had a voice somewhere between Ian Astbury of the Cult and Klaus Meine of the Scorpions. But Nikki didn’t like his attitude and Mick Mars thought he was a hippie, which was basically a death sentence for a member of Mötley Crüe. They threw him out and history has basically forgotten that he ever existed. This movie does the same thing. (Though he still appears onstage occasionally in Los Angeles to cover the band.)
3. They Didn’t Meet Vince Neil at a Backyard Party
When Neil first comes onscreen in The Dirt, he’s singing Billy Squier’s “My Kind of Lover” at a backyard party while the women up front go insane for him. (Let’s overlook the fact that “My Kind of Lover” wasn’t even out at the time.) And while he was in a cover band back then, the first meeting took place at The Starwood in West Hollywood. Neil avoided the band for a lot longer than the movie suggests, as they had to basically stalk him for weeks before he even agreed to an initial jam session. And they didn’t play “Live Wire” at their first jam because Nikki hadn’t written the song yet.
4. Tom Zutaut Didn’t Sign Them That Easily
In the movie version of the Mötley Crüe story, a young A&R rep from Elektra signs the band after talking to them for about 30 seconds at a bar. The only thing that slows the process down is the woman under the table trying to give him a surprise blowjob. In real life, the band created their own label, Leathür Records, solely to put out their own music before they ever met Zutaut (played by SNL’s Pete Davidson). When he initially approached the band, they were extremely suspicious and made him buy them many free meals throughout a long courtship. They were also accepting offers from Virgin. Zutaut did eventually sign them to Elektra, but it took a lot more than a quick hello at a bar.
5. Doc McGhee Didn’t Meet The Band At Their Apartment
In one of the movie’s most meta moments, the group’s future manager Doc McGhee is first seen when he knocks an unruly party guest to the floor with his fist. Mars then turns to the camera and says, “This didn’t actually happen. Doc never came to this filthy shithole. We met him at the Santa Monica Civic Center after a show. He also brought his partner, Doug Thaler. Doug was a good guy and it’s kinda shitty he got cut from this movie, but I think this is as good a version as any.” At this point, Thaler – seen briefly standing by Doc at backstage door – literally vanishes from the screen. But hey, give them credit for acknowledging they are changing history and literally erasing a major player.
6. Vince Neil Didn’t Have Sex With Tom Zutaut’s Girlfriend Backstage at The Forum
Minutes before the movie version of Mötley Crüe take the stage at The Forum in Los Angeles, Neil has sex with Zutaut’s date in his dressing room as her leopard-skin bikini rests on the door handle. First off, they didn’t play The Forum until 1985 and this appears to be sometime in 1983. But Vince did have sex with Zutaut’s girlfriend that year. And she was wearing a leopard-skin bikini. But it happened at the US Festival, not the Forum. And it was after the show, not before. Movie Zutaut says “it hurt really bad” when he learned about it years later, but real-life Zutaut said the woman didn’t mean anything to him and he found the incident more amusing than heartbreaking.
7. Tommy Didn’t Meet Heather Locklear The Night of Vince’s Car Accident
In the movie, Lee meets Heather Locklear at a house party the night of Neil’s drunken car crash that killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley. They actually met backstage at an REO Speedwagon concert after his accountant introduced them. The movie does get right, however, that he initially confused her with Heather Thomas from The Fall Guy.
8. John Corabi Has The Ability to Speak
After Neil left the band, they hired John Corabi as their new singer and cut a new album that they supported with a tour. Throughout all of that, he used his mouth to sing and even engage in conversations with actual words. Movie Corabi, however, seems to be incapable of this. He’s got the haircut right, but at no point does he demonstrate an actual ability to speak and not a single note of his music is heard. It’s quite possible some scenes were cut where he’s more than just a smirking guy in a couple of brief scenes. (Corabi is played by Anthony Vincent, an actual heavy metal singer best known for his 10 Second Songs series.)
9. Securing The Rights to Their Publishing Was Much More Difficult Than Portrayed
Zutaut serves as the physical embodiment of the entire Elektra label in The Dirt. In the movie, he meets Sixx at a bar shortly before Neil rejoins the band and tells him the label is giving him back the rights to his publishing. This actually happened in 1998, after Generation Swine tanked, and only following a long, nasty battle with label head Sylvia Rhone. By this point, Zutaut had left Elektra for Geffen and had no involvement with any of this.
10. They Didn’t Fire Doc McGhee Over An Incident With Nikki’s Estranged Mother
The movie begins with an adolescent Sixx battling his inattentive mother and basically pledging never to speak with her again after he leaves home. Near the end, McGhee surprises Sixx by bringing his mother to the lobby of his hotel. He’s furious and fires him on the spot. What actually happened is that McGhee organized the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989 with Bon Jovi, the Scorpions, Osbourne and Mötley Crüe. He told the Crüe that everyone would play truncated, no-frills sets. But when they showed up, not only were they placed on the bill prior to all the other acts, but Bon Jovi were doing a full set and had pyro. They fired McGhee on the spot and went with Thaler on his own, at least until the Corabi album bombed.
11. Mick Mars Didn’t Get Hip Replacement Surgery Until 2004
The timeline gets hopelessly muddled around the time the band reunites with Neil and the events of 1996 to 2005 get all smashed together in a very confusing fashion. In the film, Nikki and Tommy meet up with Mick before they mend their relationship with Vince and greet him as he leaves a hospital following hip replacement surgery. It’s sometime around 1996 in the movie timeline, but he didn’t get the surgery until 2004.
12. The Reunion With Vince Neil Was Much, Much More Complicated
Movie Vince seems to spend his entire post-Mötley Crüe life sitting in the same bar. There’s not even a hint that he tried to launch a solo career. When the guys show up at the bar after getting Mick from the hospital 10 years in the future, they sit down and hash out a reunion over drinks and make sobby amends. The whole thing wasn’t even remotely that simple or sweet. The band wanted to make another record with Corabi and only met with Neil very reluctantly at the urging of their managers. They actually met up with him at a Hyatt with a team of lawyers and managers around them. It was extremely tense, but Neil eventually agreed to stop by the studio and hear their in-progress record. Corabi was still involved at that point and briefly thought he’d remain as a second guitarist, but that made little sense and he was quickly pushed out.
13. The Whole Pamela Anderson Thing Happened
Lee married Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson in 1995 after knowing her for just four days. They had two children. There was a sex tape. He was arrested for assaulting her and spent six months in prison. They divorced in 1998. She accused him of giving her hepatitis C. All of this insanity got about 10,000 times more attention than anything the band did in the Nineties, but there’s not even a single mention of her name in the movie. Lee is shown punching his girlfriend on a tour bus in the Eighties after she repeatedly calls his mother a “cunt” and stabs him in the shoulder with a pen.
14. The Nine Years Between 1996 And 2005 Isn’t Some Amorphous Blob of Time
The movie cuts straight from a tearful group hug at the fictional Vince Neil bar reunion right to their real-life manager Allen Kovac (playing himself) knocking on their dressing room doors shortly before a big arena concert. It is implied that this is right after Vince rejoined, but they’re basically in their 2005 reunion tour outfits. There’s no mention of 1997’s Generation Swine, Tommy quitting the band in 1999, 2000’s New Tattoo, the death of replacement drummer Randy Castillo in 2002 and the band’s decision to go on hiatus that same year. It’s somehow 1996, 2005 and all points in between all at once. But at least it doesn’t show them writing “We Will Rock You” in the Eighties.