Who Is Jesse James?
Jesse James was the owner of the popular motorcycle manufacturer West Coast Choppers. His dedication to the growth of his company led to other opportunities for James, such as hosting the reality show Monster Garage. However, after more than a decade of success, the company went out of business in 2010. That same year, James was accused of cheating on his wife, film actress Sandra Bullock, with multiple women. Bullock filed for divorce in April 2010, and the Hollywood couple split.
Jesse Gregory James was born on April 19, 1969, in Lynwood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. His parents divorced when James was very young, and he was raised by his father, Larry, an antiques dealer. James says that he endured a rough childhood marred by regular physical and emotional abuse from his father. "I was always scared," he recalls. "My whole childhood, I never had a chance to be a kid."
Larry's antique shop was located next door to a Harley-Davidson parts supplier, and from a very young age, James was fascinated by motorcycles. "I remember seeing a pack of Hell's Angels blasting by our family car when I was about 6, and they were all riding choppers," James recalls. "I remember all the noise and all the chrome. It was the coolest thing I ever saw. I knew then that I was going to be involved in motorcycles in some way."
When James was 7, his father bought him a small dirtbike, which he cherished and rode everywhere. When he wasn't riding his bike, James proved himself to be a natural tinkerer. His father remembers, "It didn't matter if it was Legos, a pile of Tonka trucks, or his bikes, you could always find Jesse with everything laid out on the floor, tearing things apart to see if he could make them better in some way."
James attended La Sierra High School in Riverside, California, where he was a star linebacker on the football team. He graduated high school in 1987 and enrolled at Riverside Community College, where he played on the football team and dreamed of somehow making the leap from small-school ball to the NFL. However, following two injury-plagued seasons, James quit the team and dropped out of school.
Early Career and Opening West Coast Choppers
A longtime fan of the Los Angeles alternative music scene, James landed a job as a bodyguard for the hard-rock bands Slayer and Soundgarden. Even while working full time as a bodyguard, James never gave up on his dream of building motorcycles for a living. He visited custom motorcycle garages in his spare time, and remained convinced that the industry needed a breath of fresh air. "The custom scene back then was complete crap," James said. "Nobody wanted to take a risk and build a really wild, in-your-face motorcycle."
In 1993, James fell off the stage during a concert and dislocated his elbow, leaving him temporarily unable to work as a bodyguard. Not one to sit idle, James took advantage of the time off to pursue his childhood dream of building motorcycles.
James apprenticed under custom motorcycle manufacturer Ron Simms. James then opened his own shop, West Coast Choppers, first in his garage and then out of a tiny shop in Long Beach, California. Building a custom motorcycle is a labor-intensive and expensive process, and James struggled to makes ends meet during West Coast Chopper's early years. Money problems prompted James to have the words "PAY UP SUCKER!" tattooed on his palm.
James' fortunes changed for the better in 2001, when the Discovery Channel chose West Coast Choppers as the focus for its multi-part documentary, Motorcycle Mania. Cast into the national spotlight by the film, James developed a celebrity clientele that further elevated the profile of West Coast Choppers.
James has since designed and built custom motorcycles for stars such as Tyson Beckford, Kid Rock and Keanu Reeves. His crown jewel is the 11 1/2-foot long, purple and gold behemoth of a bike he built for Shaquille O'Neal. James has since expanded his business ventures beyond motorcycles to include a West Coast Choppers clothing line, Garage magazine and a fast food restaurant named Cisco Burger.
Following the success of Motorcycle Mania, the Discovery Channel tapped James to host the reality show Monster Garage (2002-'06). The show tracked James and his crew as they attempted to convert vehicles to perform functions their manufacturers never imagined. In one episode, for example, James and his company converted a school bus into a pontoon boat. James later returned to reality TV in 2009, when he competed on behalf of the Long Beach Education Foundation on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice.
Despite his remarkable career as a custom motorcycle manufacturer and businessman, James has at times received more press for his turbulent personal life than his professional achievements. James and his first wife, Karla, married in 1991 and had two children, Chandler and Jesse Jr. They divorced in 2002, and that same year James married adult-film actress Janine Lindemulder. The two had a daughter, Sunny, before divorcing in 2004. A year later, James married Bullock. They stayed together until 2010 when their marriage collapsed amid a tabloid scandal.
Shortly after Bullock won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Blind Side, rumors surfaced that James had carried on extramarital affairs with model Michelle McGee, among others. James admitted the affairs, earning public ire for his betrayal of the widely beloved Bullock. Shortly after the news of his affairs surfaced, James's reputation took a further hit when a photograph surfaced showing James performing a Nazi salute. James and Bullock divorced in June 2010.
A contrite James has worked to get his life and career back on track. He spent 30 days at Sierra Tucson, an Arizona rehabilitation facility, where he received treatment for anger management, sex addiction and overcoming childhood abuse. Asked in an interview what motivated his recovery, James answered, "A vision of a better life and a better future, if you can squint and visualize that, that's the basis for recovery. When I can squint and see amazing, happy kids and myself as a decent person and the person I should be, then that's — that's when I can smile and know OK, everything is going to be OK."
James had an on-and-off relationship with Kat Von D between 2010 and 2011, and married drag racer Alexis DeJoria in 2013. In March 2020, James and DeJoria announced their separation.
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