Guns N' Roses? It was more like welcome to the jungle

How drummer Steven Adler survived 20 years of drug addiction

By Robert Collins, February 17, 2011
Steven Adler: ‘I had a stroke, a heart attack and I was in a coma'

Steven Adler: ‘I had a stroke, a heart attack and I was in a coma'

Steven Adler knows he is lucky to be alive. Two decades of heroin and crack cocaine addiction will take a toll on the toughest constitution.

"I tried killing myself," he admits. "It is not easy! A human body can put up with a lot. I had a stroke, a mild heart attack and I was in a coma for four days - all at once. My doctor said I would be brain dead or lose the left side of my body. I was blessed because I can still play drums and I didn't lose my brain. Not completely anyway. I lost a lot of my speech. I'm 46 now. Most of the people I knew when I was growing up didn't make it past their 20s. I beat myself up for 30 years and I came out of it semi-OK, so at least I've got that going for me."

Adler can laugh at his own expense now. That boundless enthusiasm for life that has been his constant companion since defeating his demons.

Twenty-one years ago Adler was musical royalty; one-fifth of Guns N' Roses, the biggest and best hard rock act of the 1980s. Widely labelled as "the most dangerous band on earth', Guns N' Roses upped the ante to effectively destroy what would subsequently be called "hair metal". They ditched the makeup and turned everything up, leaving behind a critically acclaimed masterpiece, Appetite For Destruction, still the best selling debut album of all time.

With the music came a distinctly decadent Los Angeles lifestyle. Appetite For Destruction's lyrics of easy sex and hard drugs were borne from experience, and Adler partied harder than anyone - so much so that in July 1990 the drummer was fired from a band full of drug addicts… for excessive drug use. It was the beginning of a downward spiral that took Adler more than 20 years to recover from.

"I always knew I was going to be successful," Adler insists. "And I never doubted we were going to be huge. I wasn't expecting to get kicked out of the band. I was just doing the same drugs that the other guys were doing. Growing up, you didn't read about the throwing up blood, the ODs, the not being able to get on stage. Taking drugs was what I thought I was supposed to do, and that's what I wanted to do."

Adler chronicled the many highs and near fatal lows in a fascinating autobiography, My Appetite For Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N' Roses. Adler held nothing back, whether detailing orgies orchestrated by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, the crushing realisation that he had been sacked by those he considered his best friends, or the desperation and self-loathing of addiction, including smoking a crack pipe as his mother drove him to rehab.

He was sacked from a band full of drug addicts.. for excessive drug use

"Writing the book was emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually healing," he declares. "I got to put everything in my life on paper. At the beginning of the book I talked about hanging out in nightclubs as a teenager and getting sexually abused by older men. I thought that if I said those words out loud I would feel worse and people would think bad of me. It was the complete opposite. It was like a huge weight was lifted off of me. Now the setbacks are behind me and it's my opportunity to move forward."

Moving forward included repairing his relationship with his family. Unrelentingly rebellious as a youngster, every time his mother kicked him out of the house he was taken in by her parents. Those grandparents are the first people thanked in the book's dedications - and there is a photo of them taken at the 13-year-old Steven's barmitzvah.

"Like every young person you do what your family wants you to do," he explains. "My grandmother was very spiritual, and she thought doing Jewish things was important for my life. They weren't important for me, but she was older and wiser. She passed away 15 years ago but now she's my angel. She's with me and she helps me constantly. She believed in things and I believed in her."

Part of Adler's physical and psychological revival is his commitment to his new band, Adler's Appetite, which is coming to the UK this month. It is a chance for fans to enjoy old favourites from Guns N' Roses' heyday, paired with a few new tracks from the mature and newly sober rockers.

"When I'm on stage playing with my new band it totally reminds me of back in the day playing clubs on Sunset Strip. And the new songs go over just as great as the GnR songs. Every night we think, 'God help whoever has to open up for us'. We don't care if we play for two or 2,000 or 200,000 people, you're going to get the same thing."

There is a refreshing openness about Adler. Having put his life together after two decades of crippling addiction (including a harrowing appearance on American reality show Celebrity Rehab with Doctor Drew), this is a man delighted to have reached middle age and still moved when people tell him how his old band changed their lives.

"Why do you think we were so successful?" he stresses. "Because it was the five of us. We had something special. We had a bond. No matter how much bulls** there's been all these years, there's one thing that Axl [Rose] and his lawyers can never take away, and that's that we were five brothers who achieved the goals we had since before we were teenagers. And what do brothers do best? They fight with each other! I don't hate them now. My wounds are healed. It's a shame that Axl and Slash won't talk. Every day they don't talk is a day that magic isn't being created. Even if we just did one tour, one record, one song together, the gods want to hear it."

Two decades of squabbling, egos and legal battles makes a reformation of the original Guns N' Roses' line-up unlikely. Still, Adler makes a convincing argument why it should happen.

"There's all the love I receive around the world. I have heard Appetite For Destruction is the soundtrack to my life' in so many languages. And there's the money we could make. The whole thing could make billions of dollars. All we have to do is get on stage with each other for 90 minutes. And I want to finish what I started. Thank God for putting these jackasses in my life."

Adler's Appetite tours the UK from February 22 to 27. For more details 'My Appetite For Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N' Roses', is published by Harper Collins

Last updated: 11:04am, February 17 2011