Vince Neil jokes that it was his long blond hair that prompted Tommy Lee and Nikki Six to recruit him as the lead singer of Mötley Crüe. The '80s hair metal band built its bad-boy reputation on hits like "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Dr. Feelgood," and their sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Singer and musician. Born as Vince Neil Wharton on February 8, 1961, in Hollywood, California, to Odie and Shirley Wharton. The family moved around greater Los Angeles several times during Neil's childhood, passing through Inglewood and Watts before settling in Glendora. There, Neil attended Royal Oak High School, where he met Tommy Lee, a drummer and future Mötley Crüe bandmate. Neil was much more interested in music and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle than in school, and he was eventually expelled for fighting and drug use. He even lived for a time in Tommy Lee's van after getting into too much trouble with his own family.
During this time, Neil became more and more engrossed in the resurgence of hard rock that would later define the 1980s Los Angeles sound: "I was born and raised in L.A. and all of a sudden the music scene just burst into Hollywood. … And we were lucky enough to be one of the young bands that were up and coming at the time. It was a cool scene. The streets were packed with guys who were in bands or wanted to be in bands, and with girls who wanted to meet a guy who looked like he was in a band."
Birth of Mötley Crüe
In 1980, Vince Neil joined a band called Rock Candy as a vocalist and began touring the L.A. club scene with his new act. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee and bass guitarist Nikki Six began rehearsing together as Mötley Crüe on January 17, 1981, along with guitarist and vocalist Greg Leon. When Leon opted out, Lee and Sixx approached Vince Neil about joining the band, but Neil was reluctant to leave Rock Candy. A few months later, though, after watching his Rock Candy bandmates pursue their own side projects, Neil finally signed on with the Crüe.
Neil, Sixx, Lee and guitarist Mick Mars soon recorded 1981's Too Fast for Love, launching Mötley Crüe's rise toward stardom. In the same year, Neil married his first wife, Beth Lynn, with whom he later had a daughter, Elizabeth Ashley, in 1983. She was his second child; he had a son, Neil Jason Wharton, with a girlfriend in the late 1970s.
The band's debut album was quickly followed in 1983 by the quadruple-platinum-selling Shout at the Devil. The Crüe's music was equally heralded, and derided, for its open praise of sex, drugs, drinking and violence. With his long blond hair, shrieking falsetto, and outrageous costumes and makeup, Vince Neil epitomized the hair metal front man. "I had the longest hair in high school," Neil says, jokingly claiming that it was his hair that made Tommy Lee and Nikki Six interested in his vocals, not to mention their shared love of women and Jack Daniel's whiskey.
After three years of touring, hard partying and excessive drug use, Vince Neil's lifestyle caught up with him in 1984. On December 8 of that year, the legendary Finnish metal band Hanoi Rocks arrived in L.A., and drummer Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley and some of his bandmates spent the day with Neil in Redondo Beach. After hours of constant drinking and drug use, Neil and Razzle decided to make a run to a local liquor store. Neil, driving drunk, lost control of his car and veered into oncoming traffic. Two passengers in the oncoming car he smashed into suffered serious brain damage, and Razzle Dingley was killed.
The events of that night continue to haunt Vince Neil, both privately and publicly. At the time of his arrest after the accident, Neil's blood alcohol level was 0.17, far above the California legal limit at the time of 0.10. The singer faced charges of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. In July 1986, he received a relatively light sentence of 30 days in jail, five years' probation and 200 hours of community service. He also paid $2.6 million in damages to the victims' families. Neil was out of jail in 15 days on good behavior and spent the rest of his sentence in rehab.
In 1985, with Neil's legal case still pending, Mötley Crüe released a new album, Theatre of Pain, dedicating it to the memory of Razzle Dingley. In the same year, Neil divorced Beth Lynn and met a woman named Sharise Ruddell at one of his "Naughtie Nightie" parties, in which he would invite female mud wrestlers over to wrestle in his house to entertain guests. Sharise came as a wrestler and eventually became Neil's wife and mother to his daughter, Skylar, before the pair divorced in 1993.
Following his brief jail term, Neil and the Crüe released the widely popular Girls, Girls, Girls set in 1987. Shortly after the album was released, Nikki Sixx overdosed on heroin. Although he was legally dead for several minutes, Sixx miraculously revived and regained full consciousness. After that brush with death, the entire band went into rehab and then released their biggest album ever, Dr. Feelgood, in 1989.
Breaking Up the Band
Vince Neil went solo in 1992 after a series of heavily publicized disagreements with his bandmates, later saying that he "never really had a voice" when it came to Mötley Crüe. Lawsuits followed, and then came 1993's Exposed, Neil's first solo album. In Vince Neil's telling, the true story of Mötley Crüe's breakup will never be fully revealed because everyone involved has a different version of what happened. "We're still family. We still, basically, love each other. It was a business decision for me. When I was — depending on how you look at it — fired or I quit the band, I was a part of Mötley Crüe Inc. And I chose not to come back into that. I looked at myself as a free agent on a football team. I didn't have to be worried about any corporate decisions. All I had to do was show up and sing."
Neil followed Exposed with Carved in Stone, but the album's production was put on hold as his daughter, Skylar, fell seriously ill with stomach cancer. Skylar died tragically at age 4 in 1995, and Vince Neil set up the Skylar Neil Memorial Fund in her honor, donating millions of dollars to children's cancer research.
By the time 1997 rolled around, both Vince Neil and Mötley Crüe were losing money. The band presented Neil with an offer to rejoin for a reunion tour and he accepted. Together again, Mötley Crüe released Generation Swine, which debuted at No. 4 on the U.S. albums chart. But tensions among the band members once again soon ran high, and Tommy Lee left the band following a particularly heated dispute.
Throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Vince Neil mostly operated as a solo act, but he also began to pursue business ventures outside of music, opening a bar, a strip club and a clothing store — all of which he eventually abandoned. In 2002, however, he finally hit on a highly successful business idea with a Las Vegas tattoo parlor called Vince Neil Ink, followed by a successful tequila line, Tres Rios, and a restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida, called Dr. Feelgood's Bar and Grill.
Explaining his business endeavors, Neil said, "You can't just do Mötley Crüe your whole life. Well, I mean you can, but you have to have other interests, too, at least I do. The tattoo shops were just an extension of something that I love. I've been getting tattooed my whole life. … And then with the nightclubs, it's the same thing, too. 'Hey, let's go out to a cool rock 'n' roll bar.' … That all goes along with my tequila. I own a tequila company so … I think if you have all of the vices, you're set. I have rock 'n' roll; I have gambling in Vegas (you can actually sit and play Blackjack at my tables while you're waiting for a tattoo); I have the tattoos; I have liquor. You know, just stay with the vices. Now I just need pornography and cigarettes and I'm all set."
Vince Neil has toned down his lifestyle substantially from his wild younger years. When asked about his past, he says confidently, "I don't have any regrets. Anything that I've done wrong, I've learned from." He has recently appeared on reality TV shows such as VH1's The Surreal Life, released more solo albums, and penned an autobiography entitled Tattoos & Tequila. Still, heavy metal and rock music are at the heart and soul of everything he does: "We're lucky, being musicians, to be able to put our feelings in song and let other people experience it along with us. We're very, very fortunate."
In 2014, Neil, Sixx, Lee and Mars reunited for what was dubbed "The Final Tour." Set to run through the end of 2015, the tour showcased the aging but still-energetic hair rockers thrilling fans with "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Home Sweet Home" and other hits.
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