Mötley Crüe was a hard-rocking band, and Nikki Sixx, the bassist and cofounder, may have been the hardest rocker of them all. He chronicled it all in his New York Times best-selling memoir The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. To call it a tell-all is an understatement—some of the stories and photos were so raw and graphic that they even gave Sixx pause.
“There are some diary entries that I asked the publisher, like are you guys sure you want all of this?” said Sixx. “But it is real.”
The book graphically details his spiral into an addiction that quite literally killed him. “For two minutes in 1987 I was pronounced clinically dead from an overdose,” he wrote in a powerful op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
Ten years after it was published, Sixx’s book is still a must-read, but not just for metal heads seeking dirt about the hard-rock scene. In the context of America’s opioid epidemic, it serves as a manual for understanding the realities of a public-health crisis that killed more than 42,000 people in 2016.
While Sixx has many things on his plate—photography, developing a musical based on The Heroin Diaries, writing music with his band Sixx:A.M.—he has recently become a vocal spokesperson on ways to combat opioid addiction. He’s lived it, after all. In addition to the op-ed, he has called on President Trump to follow through on the White House’s interim report, which urged a greater focus on treatment for addicts, education about pain management for doctors, and called out the drug manufacturers for their role in the crisis.
Sixx consider himself “one of the lucky ones,” but he is not one to do things quietly and has no plans to stand on the sidelines while overdose deaths continue to pile up. Instead, he is speaking out, becoming one of the few celebrities to lend his voice to the cause, and he’s hoping others will join him in his crusade.
We caught up with Sixx in New York City to talk about using hard-fought lessons to combat the opioid crisis.
Fast Company: You have been really open about your experience with heroin. What made you decide you to come forward?
Nikki Sixx: I mean, when I found those original journals, it jarred me, because I was so far gone. As they say, it’s daily recovery. I don’t think about heroin or cocaine or alcohol daily anymore, but I’m aware that it’s there. I found the journals, the diaries and scratches of paper in these boxes, and I called my manager and asked if it would be career suicide to release these. But I am in Mötley Crüe, so I don’t know if there is such a thing as career suicide. [Laughs.]
The idea was to pull all the stories from the people in your life that you’ve been around when you were sober, and when you were using, and what it was like for them—band members, mom, sister, grandparents, ex-managers and such. That really is a lot about what recovery is about—sharing your story. That’s what that book was about. If you go to prison and you talk to the people in prison, they tell you these hardcore stories. It’s real. I was just being honest.
FC: In the ’90s, there was a lot of heroin use and “heroin chic” that went along with it.
NS: There’s nothing chic about it. It’s like smoking. There’s nothing cool about it.
FC: What made you want to address that?
NS: We were coming up on the 10-year anniversary of The Heroin Diaries, and I really wanted to go back in and address it again. As we age and as we evolve, how do you deal with things like I went through [with] a lot of surgeries from performing ? I had to have my hip replaced, I had two hernias, rotator cuffs fixed, blown-out knee. You’ll see a lot of pro-football players in their 50s and they are pretty banged up. It’s the same thing with rock n’ rollers, especially the ones that went out with more of a punk-rock attitude and really threw themselves into it.
So you know I had to get surgeries and deal with pain management, and I thought it was a good time to talk about that, because a lot of people are getting addicted or re-addicted from prescriptions. They are too loose with writing prescriptions. They’re writing too big quantities of prescription, and I just thought it was a good time to kind of re-open this conversation with what’s going on. A lot of people in theirs 20s are right in the midst of the opioid crisis, whether it’s them personally or family members or friends. It’s a good conversation to have.
You mentioned heroin chic and that opium den seems glamorous. You think of Keith Richards and Johnny Thunders and rock ‘n’ roll and models. But you know what it is? It’s a casket. It’s a fucking casket, and every single time, you either get off or you die. And I want to talk about that.
FC: Do you have any idea why so few people are willing to come out now about the opioid crisis?
NS: Like any time we can crack the top on the bottle and get the conversation going, more people will step up to the plate. And I know, at one point, that the new administration had talked about “it’s an opioid crisis,” so they were going to really focus on that. But last I checked, there hadn’t been much done. I do hope other people would jump on and share their experiences, and we’ve been trying to do that. We created a heat map on our web page, and you can check in there and you can see these hotbeds of addiction, and you can talk about your experiences. The audience was really open to that, and we’re finding that, when we can, we’ll talk about it and talk about it in solution-based ways, and not really glamorizing stuff.
It’s the prescription thing that’s really severely scary to me. It’s the scariest. I had to go to the street to get it. We were just partying, and then it turned into an addiction. But now the kids are just taking, just carrying in their pocket. It is a pill. You can wrap it up in a tissue, and stick in their backpack and no one knows. It’s not like a syringe, or they’re smoking and some and chasing the dragon. So there’s there’s a lot of opportunity for really horrible things to happen in secret. A lot of the young kids are getting into it and they’re trading it in the schoolyard.
When I was growing up, some kid we knew had a joint and it was like, “Wow, that guy’s got pot.” Now there’s kids that have pockets full of Oxy, and it’s really scary, and a lot of them are dying. That’s what’s happening in the opioid crisis.
FC: Having been through addiction and come out the other side, how do you dissuade people from ever getting started?
NS: I’m trying to say this in a non-narcissistic way, but musicians have draw. My goal is to be someone who people can look at and go, That guy’s been around for a long time and he’s clean sober and he’s still cool. He’s still writing cool music. He does radio. He paints. He does photography. I would like sobriety to look pretty cool. There’s got to be some kind of cool role models, especially for young kids.
I would love to see some young artists in their 20s and 30s that have experience to talk about this, because they really have the audience’s ear, especially on social media. If you have a voice, if you have a profile, use it. And obviously, I wouldn’t want people to talk to people who have no experience with drugs, like the DARE thing in the U.S. No one really believed the housewives who told the kids not to do drugs. We thought it was funny.