Many people dream of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. The adoring fans, the freedom, the money… But it’s not always what it seems. These 40 people have lived the rock star life and seen it all, but now that they’re older the difficulties of being a superstar have become more pronounced. Even so, they’ve all been part of some iconic moments in music history.
40. Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger was a world-famous sex symbol in his youth — and boy did he know it. According to at least one biographer, Jagger is thought to have slept with over 4,000 women — and, if rumors are to be believed, David Bowie. The Rolling Stones frontman has had heart surgery in more recent years, but he’s still working and even taking movie roles.
39. Joan Jett
Joan Jett is very aware of what a person has to sacrifice to be a rock star, let alone one of the biggest female ones in the industry. In 2018, while promoting the documentary Bad Reputation, the New York Times suggested, “Your primary love has been music, rather than a person.” Jett tellingly answered, “Yeah, it’s kind of sad, isn’t it? I watched it, and I was like, ‘Wow, what a life, man.’”
38. Elton John
Elton John has been through a lot in his life. Some of this is depicted in the 2019 movie Rocketman, which tells the story of his rise to fame. John really did have substance abuse problems, a sex addiction and mental health issues which led him to attempt suicide. But he’s still standing.
37. Lars Ulrich
Lars Ulrich could have pursued a career in tennis, but instead he ended up in the wilder world of rock ’n’ roll. He formed the band Metallica and became one of the most famous drummers of all time. Ulrich developed a long-term cocaine habit while touring, but he was able to beat it after reading an interview with one of his friends, Noel Gallagher of Oasis. These days Ulrich is a dad to three kids, one of which he had with actress Connie Nielsen.
36. Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is the man behind some of the most iconic rock songs of all time, including the often misunderstood “Born in the USA.” Despite having indulged in some of the most common rock ’n’ roll habits – including publicly cheating on his first wife, Julianne Phillips — by all accounts never used drugs in his whole career. Now a living legend, Springsteen is still as big as ever. In 2016 he even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
35. Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hynde, frontwoman of The Pretenders, is an artist these days. After the life she’s had, something relaxing must come as a relief. She protested at Kent State, she modelled, she once nearly married Sid Vicious for a green card, and she witnessed her friends fall into drug addiction. She was also victim of a gang rape by a group of Hells Angels, and her comments about how she blamed herself for it shocked many.
34. Richie Sambora
Guitarist Richie Sambora struggled with substance abuse issues for years, then in 2013 he simply upped and left Bon Jovi. In 2020, Jon Bon Jovi told German radio station Rock Antenne, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that Richie had his life together and was still in the band.” Sambora himself responded by saying his life was fine.
33. David Coverdale
Whitesnake’s David Coverdale is another rocker who threw himself completely into the lifestyle. But now he’s replaced the hedonism with something else entirely — meditation. He swears by it. In 2019 he told the website Loudwire that his wife once asked him, “Oh my god, what did we do before meditation?” and he answered, “Drank and did drugs. Distraction baby, distraction!” His music career hasn’t really gone anywhere for a long time — although he still makes it — but at least he’s happy.
32. Billy Idol
There’s a story about Idol that sounds too crazy to be true — but it is. In 1989 he went on what could only be called a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll tour across Thailand. During one stay in a luxury hotel, he trashed the entire room and refused to leave. The Thai army showed up, shot him with tranquilizers, and removed him. Idol is doing better these days and is far from a has-been, but he’s probably not welcome in Thailand anymore.
31. Gwen Stefani
Like many of Gwen Stefani’s contemporaries, this rocker didn’t handle mega-fame all that well. She kicked off her career at the age of just 18 and was constantly plagued by insecurities. Her divorce from Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale made headlines and rumors spread that he’d cheated on her with their nanny. Luckily there was a happy ending — in 2020 Stefani got engaged to country singer Blake Shelton.
30. Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder never turned to drugs throughout his career as a rocker, but many people around him did. His friend Kurt Cobain was one of them, and his death absolutely devastated Vedder. The Pearl Jam frontman has had problems throughout his life, including one stalker who believed Vedder was Jesus, but he survived and is still making music. Sadly, though, he’s one of the few big names of his era left.
29. Robert Smith
Robert Smith of The Cure was a hot, goth rocker in the ’80s — all black clothes and bright red lipstick. But the drugs and the huge level of fame took its toll. In 2018, speaking to The Irish Times newspaper ahead of a new album, Smith reflected, “I survived; a lot of people that I left in London didn’t.” But Cure fans are surely very glad that he did.
28. Sebastian Bach
Former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach had a drinking problem for years. In 2002 he got arrested for “terrorist threats” and drug possession after a bar brawl in New Jersey. But in 2014 he said, “I drank every night of my life for probably 25 years — every f**king night. And I loved it. But you have to make a choice of whether you wanna be in this for a long time or not be your best.”
27. Shirley Manson
Shirley Manson’s life hasn’t always been easy. The Garbage singer suffered bullying as a child, which crushed her self-esteem. Then, as she became an adult and a rock superstar, she fell into drug abuse, toxic relationships and self-harm. But now she’s happily married to Billy Bush, the guitar tech for Garbage, and still writing songs.
26. Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis Cocker hated the spotlight. After his band Pulp hit the big time he started having panic attacks and turning to drugs. These days he’s much happier. As he told the Independent newspaper in 2014, “Drugs can take you to places that you would normally have to do something to achieve, but I think on balance you’re better off working to earn your happiness.”
25. Michael Stipe
As frontman of R.E.M., Michael Stipe had access to whatever drugs he wanted. But then it all came crashing down. The AIDS epidemic of the ’80s terrified him so much he knew he had to stop, and then one of his exes was killed in a car crash. In horror that he couldn’t feel emotion over her death, Stipe got sober and still is.
24. Robert Plant
By 1988 Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant had had enough of the rock ’n’ roll drug life. That year he told the radio station WNEW-FM, “I just found that my whole personality had really changed, and I became quite paranoid about things and really possessive.” He did however add, “I’m not trying to live a clean, pure life or live to be a hundred.” But he’s 72 now, so he’s getting there. And he’s still a successful musician.
In 1993 Sting told Q magazine that he and his Police bandmates “went through our cocaine stage which was totally stupid. It’s the most mindless, pathetic drug. It’s God’s way of telling you you’ve got too much money.” Now things are calmer for Sting. The Police may be long gone but his music is still popular. Oh, and he still has a lot of money.
22. Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart got up to some very wild stuff back in the day. And there are still some pretty salacious urban legends about Stewart which the older, less hedonistic singer is quick to debunk. And despite battling with prostate cancer since 2016, he’s still going strong and releasing new albums.
21. Annie Lennox
The Eurythmics vocalist didn’t want to live the traditional rocker party lifestyle, but her life was wild in other ways. After years of questions about her relationship with bandmate, Dave Stewart, she married a German Hare Krishna monk — but they soon divorced. She married again, to film producer Uri Fruchtman, and after one tragic stillbirth went on to have two kids. In 2016 Stewart said of her to Event magazine, “Annie is wonderful but she’s tortured.”
20. Perry Farrell
In 1993 Rolling Stone listed Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction as their “Rock Star Most Likely to Die in the Next Year.” Thankfully, they were wrong about that. Instead, Farrell became a dad and got off drugs. In 2020 he told The Guardian newspaper, “I understand now that you can’t be a father and be completely f**ked up all the time.”
19. Vince Neil
Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil has a string of arrests on his record right up to the present day. The reality-TV star has been in trouble for several instances of assault, driving under the influence more than once, and perhaps most famously a drunken car crash in 1984 which killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas Dingley. Unfortunately, chances are that it will be that, rather than the music, which Neil is remembered for.
18. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s been making up life stories since the beginning of his stardom, so it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Did he work as a New York prostitute, was he a heroin addict? Only he knows for sure. But these days he’s known as a radio host and Nobel Prize winner rather than a wild man, and in 2020 he even released a new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways.
17. Steven Tyler
For years Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler was the archetypical rocker. He sung, boozed and smoked his way into stardom, and had a long line of girlfriends. But one of those was Julia Holcomb, who was 16 and thus underage when Tyler met her. Worse, he gained guardianship of her from her mother and introduced her to rock’s seedy underbelly. She left him in 1977 and still talks about their relationship with regret. Suddenly he doesn’t seem so cool.
16. Paul McCartney
The history of the Beatles is, as everyone knows, a pretty wild one. In 2018 McCartney even told the Sunday Times newspaper that during one spate of drug-taking that he “saw God, this amazing towering thing, and I was humbled.” Now, McCartney is — alongside Ringo Starr — one of only two surviving Beatles and has a net worth in the billions, so maybe it really was a sign.
15. David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth’s time with Van Halen has been a rollercoaster to say the least. The band practically competed with other rockers to see who could lead the most hedonistic and/or self-destructive lifestyle. Luckily, Roth got out of it okay. And despite occasional arguments with the other band members, he toured with them in 2012 and paid tribute to Eddie Van Halen when he died in 2020.
14. Johnny Rotten
Anyone called Johnny Rotten must have led a pretty wild life, right? The Sex Pistols frontman, real name John Joseph Lydon, did it all and in some cases is still doing it — his very public spat with Marky Ramone on a punk panel in 2019 nearly resulted in a fight. Unfortunately his personal life isn’t going well. His wife Nora tragically has Alzheimer’s, and Lydon has become her full-time carer.
13. Anthony Kiedis
Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis has had a pretty wild life. He’s fought a long battle with substance abuse, plus he’s no stranger to dangerous behavior and trouble with the law. His bandmate Flea has been shocked by his friend’s actions, telling The Guardian in 2019, “The rationale of someone who’s a drug addict is disingenuous and hollow and misguided.” Even so, Kiedis still performs with the band.
12. Noel Gallagher
Back in the ’90s Noel Gallagher was the British poster boy for rock ’n’ roll excess. Times have changed now, though. In 2020 the Oasis star said on the Funny How? podcast that he had “crazy years” but British tabloids exaggerated their stories about him. Either way, he’s not doing that kind of thing now, just making music with his band High Flying Birds. Chances of an Oasis reunion are alas, increasingly slim.
11. Jon Bon Jovi
In 2007 Jon Bon Jovi talked to People magazine about his regrets. He said, “I did the drug thing very young and wised up very young too, because I was into drugs a little too much.” However, marrying and having kids has helped settle him. More recently he’s helped his own daughter, Stephanie, with addiction after she had a heroin overdose.
10. Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop freely admits that his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle eventually caught up with him. In 2017 Rolling Stone asked him if he missed taking drugs, and he immediately responded, “Oh god, no.” Later in the interview he was typically defiant of anyone who wanted him to finally put on a shirt and wondered out loud if he’d make it to 70. He did… And continues to go shirtless on stage.
9. Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana before he was the frontman of Foo Fighters, so he’s seen and done it all. Now he’s an aging rocker but an extremely popular one, still doing live shows and entertaining fans online. In fact, in March 2020 he launched a new Instagram page specifically to share “ridiculous moments” from his life.
Bono once had a brief almost-liaison with none other than Freddie Mercury. According to the U2 frontman himself, during the Live Aid show in 1985 Mercury flirted with him backstage, despite Bono being married and more or less a stranger. There’s plenty of good Bono stories thanks to his many years of music and activism. In fact, he’s probably better known for the latter now.
7. Tommy Lee
Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee had such a wild life it was even featured in the band’s Netflix biopic, The Dirt. For a start, two of his wives — out of four — were famous in their own right: Pamela Anderson and Heather Locklear. There’s even a sex tape of Lee and Anderson still floating about somewhere. And then there were the drugs. In 2020 a more sober Lee told the Telegraph newspaper, “There were no consequences. Excess seemed to be just a daily thing.”
6. Debbie Harry
Even before becoming famous Debbie Harry had a bewildering life. She survived a coma when she was still a child, she befriended Andy Warhol, and she thinks at one point she narrowly avoided becoming a victim of Ted Bundy. When she was older she took heroin and was the victim of a stalker. Happier now, she still tours and has plans to continue acting.
5. Axl Rose
In 2012 Axl Rose told CNN he thought the record industry was “an ugly business.” He should know. At one point Rose nearly cost Guns N’ Roses a record contract due to a tantrum — he also threw a coffee table at the band’s drummer Steven Adler. Rose is still a performer, but some think he’s allowed vanity to run away with him and had major plastic surgery.
4. Billy Joel
Like many of Billy Joel’s fellow rockers, the singer has completed some stints in rehab. The first time, in 2002, didn’t take. Fortunately, the second time, three years later stuck. Now the older, sober Joel still sells out New York’s Madison Square Gardens, despite not having released any new music in a while. He tells his audience he’ll play “the old [stuff],” and they still go totally nuts.
3. Courtney Love
The Kurt Cobain-Courtney Love romance is a famous but controversial one. Both were addicted to drugs and Love would make headlines for all sorts of bad behavior. She’s also had a strained relationship with their daughter Frances Bean Cobain. But in February 2020, she announced that she’d been sober for 18 months. And she still makes music too.
2. Keith Richards
Keith Richards’ reputation for hedonism and weird behavior is legendary. It sounds too crazy to be real, but Richards really did snort his father’s ashes like a drug. A milestone came in 2018 though when he quit drinking. He told Rolling Stone, “It was time to quit. Just like all the other stuff.” Luckily for fans though, he didn’t quit the actual music, and still releases new songs.
1. Ozzy Osbourne
Even Ozzy himself thinks it’s incredible he’s still alive. The singer turned reality star spent half his career drinking, taking drugs, falling off motorbikes and yes, he really did bite the head off a dead bat onstage. Turns out there’s actually a scientific explanation for why he survived, though — he has a genetic mutation that gives him a high tolerance to illicit substances. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean he’s immune to illness. In 2019 the rocker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.