Steven Adler should be dead. According to his mother, Deanna, Adler's "cast-iron constitution" kept his heart pumping when she found him on his bathroom floor, after a "speedball" (an injected shot of heroin and cocaine) caused him to collapse and shake so violently that he caved in parts of his face and popped out a couple of teeth.
Adler nearly met his maker on another occasion in 1996, when he suffered what many believed was a cocaine-induced stroke but what Deanna describes, in her newly released book Sweet Child of Mine: How I Lost My Son to Guns N’ Roses, as the byproduct of a heroin overdose. He probably also should have died when he swallowed 100 pills of Valium; instead, he got a great night's sleep. That's also in Deanna's book, a bizarrely maternal and slightly less epic version of Mötley Crüe's The Dirt that's full of diary entries from a woman who was part mother, part Betty Ford rehab specialist, part business manager to her son.
The following interview was conducted over the phone with Deanna and Steven Adler on March 8. I began by asking about details of the book that were left vague, which I wanted to investigate for the fans. I also confirmed that the book's cover photo was taken by Marc Canter, during a soundcheck at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1988, when GNR was opening for Aerosmith and Deep Purple. (You can catch some of the footage in the video for "Paradise City," when Steven was the height of his powers, before the fall.)
By the end of our conversation, I had uncovered some of the stories behind the rise, fall and final comeback of Guns N’ Roses’ most beloved drummer.
Was Sweet Child of Mine always going to be the title?
Deanna: Yes, that was the title from the beginning. It just shows the unconditional love between a mother and her son. I also wanted it to tell the mothers out there to be there for their children, and hopefully they’ll survive. I'm very lucky my son is alive today.
In the book you describe yourself as their "first fan," where you would bring GNR home-cooked meals, "Deanna Dinner," like eggplant parmesan for Axl. Describe the scene at GNR's Gardner space behind Guitar Center.
Steven: Dude, it was a shithole! She was blown away. She’s very clean, so imagine, she was seeing cockroaches, toilet bowls with I dunno what, skanky chicks everywhere, fucking drugs and alcohol. It was a rock & roll party 24/7. It was disgusting. But the ’80s were a good time.
Deanna: I’d bring the food in, drop it off and leave.
Steven: She would come there, pick up our laundry, bring us burgers from Sunset Grill. The guys really appreciated it, but it was too much for her eyes! We didn’t have too many pots and pans, so there was one bowl between the five of us.
You heavily criticize the big pharmaceutical companies in your book. Other than Steven, was this the inspiration behind writing Sweet Child of Mine?
Deanna: It’s part of the purpose of writing it. It’s been about a year since Prince died. And I saw in People that Prince overdosed on drugs, and that he was being treated by Dr. [Howard] Kornfeld. Which was the same doctor that was treating Steven up in Marin County. I just wanted people to know that doctors can sometimes overprescribe their [patients].
Steven: He was stealing from me ’cause I was so out of it. He’d just write shit up. And my business manager would hand him the money.
Deanna: He had prescribed 63 different prescriptions in a 30-day period to Steven. ... Now why would you give a known drug addict so many prescriptions?
It says in the book that your problems in the studio during the recording process of Use Your Illusion were largely due to pharmaceuticals you were taking to sober up. Is this true?
Steven: No, I don't want to talk about it, but it was an opiate blocker I was taking, and you’re not supposed to take those when you have opiates in your system. You'll get violently sick, and I had to go into the studio and got sick. It’s just what happened, and my life changed from there. I call it the “Pete Willis” syndrome [after the former Def Leppard guitarist]: He drank too much one night, and came into the studio the next day and found out he didn’t have a job anymore.
Did drugs like heroin, the way acid inspired The Beatles, help fuel your creativity at all on Appetite for Destruction?
Steven: No, not really. I wasn’t doing heroin in the early days. I’d just smoke pot and drink a little. I mean, the first time I drank I got sick at my mom’s house and threw up in front of her friends at a Tupperware party. I never drank like that again until I got older, when I wanted to kill myself. And believe it or not, killing yourself is a difficult thing to do.
Tell me about your first drum kit.
Steven: I just always wanted to do things my way. I bought my first or second drum set for $1,100 when I could have gone to Guitar Center and bought a standard set for $250. I ended up just using three of the eight drums that I bought. It was a Tama drum set, like the one the drummer of Triumph used at Ozzfest. I got it at a music store in Granada Hills, and used my paychecks to pay for [it] from when I was a busboy, 7-Eleven employee, an employee at a computer chip warehouse. Me and my girlfriend Lisa used to sell candy at parades, or popcorn at the Rose Bowl.
Tell me what inspired some of your drumming on Appetite for Destruction?
Steven: Peter Criss from KISS. Roger Taylor from Queen, especially him. I stole from everybody. I just did it my way, and it worked. I remember even at our worst shows, we were so fucking great. When we got in a room together, it just clicked.
Deanna, you describe a big chunk of your life "battling the addiction of battling [Steven's] addictions." Is this still a constant struggle for you?
Deanna: I’ve resolved myself, really. I’m just his mother now, and he’s my son. I don’t tell him what to do, but he’s a different person now. Honestly, the more I would tell him to go to rehab, the worst it got. I was nagging him. The only person that can help a drug addict is himself; at least, that’s how it was for my son.
How did the resentment of being kicked out of GNR affect Steven's life?
Deanna: I think it hurt him because he went deeper into drugs. When I found out he wasn’t in the band, we were watching the MTV Music Awards and Axl said that Steve was not in the band anymore because of drugs. We didn't get it, because it was like the pot calling the kettle black. I told my husband that I couldn’t go to work the next day because now everybody knew that Steven was a drug addict. I would deny it then; I lied so much. I actually write in the book that I believed the lies after a while.
Do you think Steven realized he was hurting you? Did he even care?
Deanna: He didn’t care. When you’re on drugs, you don’t care what anyone thinks, or feels.
Do you think the stream of income from the Appetite royalties contributed to Steven's drug abuse?
Deanna: It was actually a blessing, because if he didn’t get those royalties, he’d probably have ended up in the streets.
What was the experience like being a cast member on VH1's Celebrity Rehab and then on Sober House?
Steven: It was one of the best experiences of my life. Dr. Drew was so wonderful. He gave me an opportunity and I made the effort. I kept drinking, but my body eventually conquered the alcohol. The next thing to conquer? The goddamn cigarettes. That’s the worst. I quit heroin and crack but I can’t quit smoking.
Did you think those shows exploited Steven's addiction for ratings?
Deanna: First of all, Dr. Drew's a great guy. I share this story in the book, but I got a call from the producers about Steven wanting to see me as part of a “Family Weekend” episode. But I hadn’t talked to Steven for six months. So they told me he wanted to make amends with me. So I went, and the moment I walked into that room, I knew I was in big trouble. If there’s one thing I know, it’s my son’s face, and he didn’t want to make amends. They wanted me to be on the show for a little bit of drama. So he accused me of stealing millions of dollars from him, but I didn’t get it. I was driving a 10-year-old car, so why wasn’t I driving a Cadillac? But you know something, I saved every receipt and canceled check, so when Steven sued me for the money, I had proof.
The story of Steven suing you is in the book. What happened?
Deanna: They couldn’t prove that I stole a dime. Well, the lawyer that he hired was a drug dealer’s lawyer. But that’s what happens when you’re dealing with a drug addict. It was never Steven, it was the drugs.
What was the turning point when Steven finally got sober?
Deanna: It was three to four years ago. He went into rehab, it was also a mental hospital, and something just happened. And he stopped. It was his rock bottom.
Steven: I mostly got off the heroin and the crack once I was arrested on [Sober House]. It was a turning point because it forced me to stay in rehab. I’ve only done heroin or crack once in the last nine years since that show.
Were you worried Steven could start using again after he hurt his back and couldn't take part in the GNR reunion show at the Troubadour?
Deanna: I thought about it, but I was wrong. He’s so much stronger today. But he really did hurt his back, he had to have surgery. So sure, I thought he’d go back on drugs because he was so hurt, but he didn’t. We just talked about this ... he’s not gonna play anymore unless it’s a great big band or something, but he’s gonna do benefits and things like that.
Where were you that night and how did you feel?
Steven: It was hurtful. I was very bummed, but my back was fine at the time; it was just too many rehearsals. But I wanted to do it, and I guess it wasn’t meant to be. But I’m thankful. Last year I got to play in front of at least 400,000 thousand people, so I'm blessed.
When Steven got the call and played with GNR in Cleveland for the first time on the reunion tour, you described it as "his dream come true." How do you feel about his life today?
Deanna: I can’t even tell you how proud of him I am. He just wants to live in peace with his beautiful wife. He’s just such a different person. All his friends are clean and he’s just living life to the fullest.
What did it feel like to finally reunite with GNR?
Steven: I’m thankful I got to do what I got to do. It was the best time of my life. I got to end my career in a successful band, which is a hard thing to do these days. My generation is now classic rock, so I’m stoked to be related to bands like Queen or Rush or Aerosmith. That’s what every musician dreams of. Like on the way here, me and my mom got in the car, and the first thing we heard [on the radio] was “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and it’s so cool to be able to hear yourself 30 years later. I got to live that dream.
What's your next "dream"?
Steven: Nothing is planned [regarding Guns N’ Roses]. But I want to open a 180 retreat to help people with resentment and addiction problems based on The Four Agreements. It's a great book by Don Miguel Ruiz, and it basically changed my life. It helped me get back to being the happy-go-lucky person I was before I had this abusive relationship with life.
Are you religious? Has faith helped you recover at all?
Steven: If people wanna believe in Buddha or Jesus, that’s wonderful. But my belief is I’m a part of God, so if I treat myself good, then I’m treating God good. And I’m happy.
What was the hardest story to relive or write about for the book?
Deanna: When he was up north with Dr. Kornfeld. We didn’t know what was going on, but every time I would call, the facility would tell me he was sleeping, or unavailable. He wouldn’t talk to us. And he was being drugged by a team of people. He was renting the house, he was paying for a team of people that were over-medicating him. When he left Marin County and came down to L.A., the first thing he did was score drugs.
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Do you have any regrets or things you'd change about your rock & roll life?
Steven: I would never have done drugs or drank. Such a waste of time. I also wasted so much of my life over resentment. I’ve been doing studies about it, and a lot of the reasons for addiction is resentment. I’ve had a lot of resentment about things that have happened to me that I didn’t think was fair, but it is what it is. Thirty years later, I can accept it.
What's the biggest misconception people have of Steven Adler?
Steven: That I was a terrible drug addict, the worst person in the world, and that I got kicked out of the most dangerous band in the world ’cause I was more dangerous than them. But it was a good time, and I’m happy today.
Have you read your mother's book? Do you plan to?
Steven: I’m afraid to read about all the damage and pain I’ve inflicted. But her writing this book and me writing my book allowed us to get all the feelings out. Like when I was a young teenager I was sexually abused by an older guy, but I couldn’t have said that until I wrote my book, but it’s helped a lot of people who’ve read it.
Deanna and Steven Adler will be at the Barnes & Noble at the Grove on Wednesday, March 29, at 7 p.m. for a book signing.