Bret Michaels, born March 15, 1963, in Butler, Pennsylvania, is the lead singer in the glam-metal band Poison, whose hits include “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” In 2007 Michaels emerged as a reality TV star on VH1’s Rock of Love, following up in 2010 with Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It. Michaels also won The Celebrity Apprentice (2010).
Singer, songwriter, actor, television personality. Born Bret Michael Sychak on March 15, 1963, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (some sources say Butler, Pennsylvania). Usually seen wearing his trademark bandanas and cowboy hats, Bret Michaels became a rock icon as the frontman of Poison, one of the biggest hair metal bands of the 1980s. He has also recently become a reality television star with Rock of Love and Rock of Love 2. While pursuing his dreams, Michaels has wrestled with a chronic disease. At the age of 6, Michaels was diagnosed with diabetes. Throughout his career, he has taken insulin and measured his blood sugar levels to manage his illness.
In the early 1980s, Michaels started playing in a band with longtime friend and drummer Rikki Rockett. The two later joined forces with bassist Bobby Dall and guitarist Matt Smith to form the band Paris. After playing mostly local gigs in the Pittsburgh area, the band moved to Los Angeles. Not long after their arrival, Smith was replaced by C. C. DeVille, and the band changed its name to Poison. Like some of the other LA metal bands of the time, Michaels and the rest of the group teased their hair, went heavy on the make-up, and worn outlandish outfits, which led critics to label such groups as hair metal bands. They were sometimes compared to Mötley Crüe, another up-and-coming LA metal band.
After making the rounds on the LA club scene, Poison landed a contract with Enigma Records. Their first album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, was released in 1986. Not only was Michaels the group's leader singer, but he also worked with the other members to write all of the songs for the recording. The recording nearly reached the top of the album charts the next year, driven such hits as "Talk Dirty to Me." The group then went on tour with Ratt, Cinderella, and Quiet Riot.
While critics derided them for being formulaic and derivative, Poison developed a devoted following who loved their pop-infused metal sound and glam rock looks. Their second album, Open Up and Say . . . Ahh! (1988) was an even bigger smash. The infectious party anthem "Nothin' But a Good Time broke into the top ten while the ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" made it all the way to the top of the pop charts. On the road, Poison soon moved up from supporting other groups to being the main act.
The follow-up album, Flesh and Blood (1990), also did well on the album charts and featured the hit "Unskinny Bop" and the power ballad "Something to Believe In." But the group's success was not free of strife and difficulty. Michaels got into a few legal scrapes over a few brawls he was involved with. There was also turmoil within the group. In 1991, Michaels got into an altercation with DeVille backstage at the MTV Music Video Awards, and DeVille was later fired from the band.
As popular music tastes changed in the 1990s, Poison began to lose some of its audience. Their next recording, 1993's Native Tongue, did not fare as well as their earlier albums. With new member Richie Kotzen aboard, the group wrote all of the songs for the album, but only one struck a cord with music fans, the up-tempo power ballad "Stand." Kotzen was later fired and replaced by Blues Saraceno.
Scandals and Setbacks
Michaels also suffered a personal setback around this time. In 1994, he was in a serious car accident, which left him with a broken nose, jaw, and several fingers as well as a few ribs. Michaels and the rest of the group went back into the recording studios for the next project. After completing work on their album, they were disappointed to learn that the record company did not want to release it. The company put out a greatest hits album instead. The new material was finally released in 2000 as Crack a Smile and More.
In 1998, Poison was dropped by their record label. With his band floundering, Michaels explored other projects. He formed a production company with actor Charlie Sheen, which led to his first lead film role in Letter from Death Row (1998). Michaels played a convicted killer facing the death penalty. In addition to acting, he also wrote the screenplay and the soundtrack for the film. Michaels also served as a co-director.
Michaels made headlines around this time for a very different type of performance. A sex tape involving him and former girlfriend Pamela Anderson ended up in the hands of the Internet Entertainment Group. To stop its release, Michaels sued the company. It was unclear how the company got possession of the tape. At the time, Michaels's lawyer, Edwin F. McPherson, told the Los Angeles Times that "Pam had a copy. Bret had a copy. Bret still has his copy. That's all I know."
After that scandal lost steam, Michaels went back on tour with Poison, with DeVille as a band member again. They had to cancel some dates in 2001 after Bobby Dall underwent emergency surgery on his spine. After he recovered, Dall rejoined the group and Poison pressed on. They released an album of new material, Hollyweird, in 2002. While it failed to make much of a splash on the charts, the group remained a popular live act. Michaels also did two solo albums, Songs of Life (2003) and Freedom of Sound (2005).
Not everyone was a fan, however. Michaels was struck by some broken glass after someone fired shots into his tour bus in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2005. Unshaken, he released a statement at the time, which read in part: "It's going to take more than a cowardice act like this to make me stop performing or stop my tour."
Reality TV Star
Taking his career in a new direction, Michaels shared his quest for love with television audiences in the reality show, Rock of Love, in 2007. A group of women vied for his affection while undertaking a number of different challenges. Reviled by critics, the show received a number of harsh reviews, including this comment from The New York Times: "The well-meaning has-been Bret is surrounded with women who are too young, too frantic or too high to know that being easy isn't funny in itself." Still, audience members became hooked on the show for all its odd-ball characters and Michaels' candid commentary. Michaels also incorporated his diabetes into the program, teaching the contestants what to do in case of emergency. In the end, he picked Jes, the pink-haired cosmetologist from Illinois.
Alas, Michaels' relationship with the winner never really got off the ground. He continued his search for a woman who was attractive and could handle his rock and roll lifestyle in Rock of Love 2 in 2008. This latest bunch of scantily clad bachelorettes have done private peep shows for Michaels, worked on motorcycles, played mud football, and completed other challenges while trying to win Michaels's heart. Some did not try too hard. One contestant got so drunk that she slept through her own elimination.
Beyond reality television, Michaels is reportedly working on another film. He told Billboard magazine in 2007 that he has been writing another screenplay. "It will basically be my life story, not only in the music business but what happened as a child," he said. That same year, Poison released an album of cover songs from such artists as David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Grand Funk Railroad.
In addition to his work with Poison and on TV, Michaels has enjoyed some success as a solo performer. He has maintained a hectic touring schedule in recent years, which has been interrupted by several health challenges. In 2009, Michaels was injured while performing on the Tony Awards. He was struck in the head by a piece of the show's set. The following year, Michaels had a brain hemorrhage that he believed was caused by his Tony Awards injury. He also underwent an emergency appendectomy in 2010.
In May 2014, Michaels left the stage in the middle of a performance because of low blood sugar. He then underwent kidney surgery that fall and ended up returning to the hospital several times after the procedure. During this crisis, Michaels' guitarist Pete Evick posted updates on the situation on Michaels' Facebook page. He wrote that Michaels "was in and out of 6 hospitals throughout the Midwest" during a two-week period. While some concert dates had to be postponed, Michaels remained committed to perform his other November shows.
Michaels is a father of two. He has two daughters, Raine and Jorja, with former girlfriend Kristi Gibson.
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