Rock Stars Who Haven't Realized They Aren't Famous Anymore

True rock stardom is like a fever dream of immortality. Youth. Sex. Money. Drugs. Worship. The occasional tour. More sex. The future does not exist. Death does not exist. Consequences are false gods; responsibility, an idol for normies. Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse — though that famous motto was meant to be apocryphal.

But what happens if you survive the excesses of rock star hedonism? What happens when your head banging tresses turn white and you live past the popularity of both your own songs and even the viability of "rock" as a whole? One moment you're 25 — a "golden god," as Cameron Crowe put it– standing astride an arena packed with perms and sleeveless graphic tees. Then, in a flash, your iPhone jerks you awake. It's a new millennium. Reality is memes. All the rock stars are rappers and all the instruments are computers.

Oh fabled rock star, you sold millions in CDs and vinyl. Your songs still spin, metaphorically, often ironically, inside invisible virtual spaces. The money was real, but mostly that's gone too. First Sean Parker pilfered your retirement fund, then Steve Jobs made the grift legal. Apple and Spotify eventually cut you a modest pension — but not so much that you can just stay home. So these rock stars are still doing it. They're still rocking it, but maybe for their own sanity, haven't realized they aren't so famous anymore.

Bret Michaels is all roses and thorns

Bret Michaels already got his second act in American life. And it was a good one. The frontman's band, Poison, was one of the sillier hair metal confections of the mid-to-late 1980s. The group peaked in '88 with their global multi-platinum album Open Up And Say...Aah! buoyed by the cornball ballad "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." If you caught the glory that was Michael's VH1 reality-dating series Rock Of Love, you definitely heard him recapitulate the deep metaphor of this once arena-pleasing classic for a much smaller group of band-aids, all vying for the aging rocker's staged TV affections.

Micheals didn't find real love on Rock of Love — surprise — but the man who wears his signature hairline-concealing bandana to bed exuded a good-natured macho charm that made his small-screen comeback incredibly watchable. He's also made notable appearances winning Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice; as a banana on The Masked Singer; and earlier, as an even bigger banana in an obligatory sex tape with Pamela Anderson. 

In 2020, Michaels unveiled his handwritten "auto-scrapography" — a collage recap of his rise to fame to his more serious trials with type 1 diabetes. The book's small hardcover run reportedly sold out. Purchasers were automatically entered to win a custom "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" guitar and a $100 gift card to the Bret Micahels merch store, which includes apothecary delights such as the "Bret Michaels Roses and Thorns Cologne."

Courtney Love struggles with substance abuse

Courtney Love birthed an iconic grunge-rock album at the end of her doomed marriage to Kurt Cobain, the ironically titled Live Through This – a feat the tortured Cobain did not. In the course of Love's relationship with her legendary better half, her band, Hole, went from obscure noise-rock drifters to crafting catchy Nirvana-style punk-pop smashes. But after Cobain's suicide in 1994, Hole's output largely ceased until the 1998 release of Celebrity Skin whose catchy title track was co-written by another grunge scene giant, Smashing Pumpkins auteur Billy Corgan. Love and Corgan were also lovers, who later feuded over songwriting credit.

Love's admitted drug abuse may have contributed to the artistic decline. Or, perhaps, as some '90s Seattle grunge-scene vets claim, Cobain penned the sudden slew of radio-friendly jingles during the couple's newlywed period in 1992, when he and Love became codependent heroin addicts locked away in an apartment for six months. 

Love's post-Cobain, post-Hole life has remained riven by drug abuse and chaos. In HBO's 2015 documentary Montage of Heck, the singer admits (via The Washington Post) to using using heroin while pregnant. Her daughter with Cobain, Francis Bean, later struggled with addiction herself. This lurid legacy was punctuated in 2018 when Love was sued by Bean's ex-husband, alleging a kooky murder-for-hire plot over possession of one of Cobain's guitars, according to TMZ. Love's repeated, apparently intoxicated TV appearances, including several rounds on Howard Sternhave also become infamous as she continues to publicly reckon with her drug abuse.

Axl Rose lost track of time

Perfectionism is the enemy of art. Axl Rose and what remains of Guns N' Roses took 17 years to follow up the monster success of Use Your Illusion parts 1 and 2 — the band's double-sided 1991 magnum opus that sold over 39 million copies. In that interim hair-metal came and went, so did grunge, and then practically "rock" as a whole as hip hop "rock stars" like Post Malone swallowed the genre whole. 2008's Chinese Democracy, Guns N' Roses' long-awaited final output, was well-received but sold a tiny fraction of the band's previous effort. The band's iconic guitarist Slash being replaced by an axeman who performs with an actual KFC bucket on his head surely didn't help.

"This isn't like 'Ozzy Osborne is crazy,' or 'Alice Cooper, he's crazy,'" long-time rock journalist Mick Wall told Wired of Rose in 2000. "I think the guy genuinely has personal issues." Rose, however, has denied sloppy reports he had been diagnosed bipolar, via Stereogum in 2008, alleging his enemies had constructed this narrative to harm him in court 

Insiders however also claim Chinese Democracy had actually neared completion as early as 2001 — a mere decade after the band's peak — but Rose was still unsatisfied, still tinkering, and only released the record because he was running out of money. This is said to explain the disastrous rights deal with Best Buy and Myspace that tanked sales, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Steven Tyler gets a seventh wind

Steven Tyler is perhaps better known to modern audiences as the human scarf rack-cum-gentle judge of American Idol for two seasons in the early aughts. Rock purists have always been a tad tough on Tyler's band Aerosmith, painting it as a Led Zeppelin-light novelty act evolving little since its inception in 1970 when "classic rock" was actually just contemporary pop. Purists also point out the band's signature '90s revival hit "Crazy" — whose video featured a sizzling Alicia Silverstone right off the success of Clueless – was largely penned by famous freelance hitmaker, Desmond Child. 

Tyler, having entered the septuagenarian stage of boomer rock royalty shows little signs of slowing down. The "Dude Looks Like a Lady" crooner's current style is some kind of hybrid of retired-rocker, and your aunt who is super into crystals and essential oils. That suits Tyler's current squeeze, Aimee Preston, nearly 40 years his junior, just fine. Preston was five when a then 45-year-old Tyler dropped "Crazy" in '93. The smitten couple attended a Grammys party together in 2020 and then, perhaps fittingly, celebrated #happyfathersday together at the beach

Ted Nugent choked on the red pill

Ted Nugent is the classic rocker turned outraged Facebook-uncle, who once issued a public threat towards President Barack Obama so odd that he got a call from the Secret Service. The self-proclaimed "Motor City Madman" was the lead guitarist of the psychedelic hard rock outfit The Amboy Dukes all the way back in 1964. He went solo in the '70s and penned notable fuzz-rock classics like "Cat Scratch Fever."

But in the last couple of decades, Nugent has been focused on conservative political activism where he is an oft Fox News contributor. His most wild political musing was perhaps his insistence in 2012 that if President Obama was elected, "I will either be dead or in jail because I'm on his enemies list," he told The Texas Tribune. Two years later, a very much still alive Nugent called President Obama a "communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel" via CNN in 2014. 

Nugent is also aggressively online, where he's fond of sharing fake news on Facebook. In 2020 as the singer's prophecies proved false, he was reduced to circulating a fabricated Kamala Harris quote supposedly threatening Trump supporters, "You will feel the vengeance of a nation," the manufactured quip read, followed with the editorial note, "Yes, she really said this." But no, she didn't. Facebook was forced to add fact-checking to Nugent's nugget.

Marilyn Manson only has so many ribs to give

If you were at any kind of tender age when Marilyn Manson debuted his gothic horror movie cover of the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," apologies for the end of your childhood. Manson was blending the faux-satanic antics of Ozzie Osbourne (who once bit the head off a bat onstage) with Hollywood visuals just a notch below more original contemporaneous works like Nine Inch Nails' creep-out masterpiece video for "Closer." But the schtick stuck, producing wacky urban legends about elective surgeries that allowed, um, self-satisfaction.

To critics, Manson was a scary cover band. But his Kiss-level theatrics vaulted him to rock stardom with consecutive platinum albums in the late '90s followed by a dip to gold status in the early aughts. Manson's output never waned, but his goth-kid fanbase clearly moved on — his 2017 LP Heaven Upside Down selling only 52,000 copies. 

Manson's ghoulishness was always more about optics than rock though and he again made international headlines in 2020 for an alleged 24-hour cocaine bender with troubled movie star Johnny Depp. Depp's ex Amber Heard alleges the two partied all night in 2014 and then dropped off Depp's daughter Lily-Rose at school — this via Depp's libel lawsuit with The Sun, according to Daily Mail. Depp admits he and Manson used drugs together, and that they indeed dropped off Lily-Rose, but denies those two facts overlapped.

Ozzy Osbourne can't get off the Crazy Train

"Oh Ozzy," was the constant refrain from a flustered, enabling Sharon Osbourne on the couples brief-run smash-hit MTV reality show The Osbournes. Ozzy Osbourne had nary a lucid moment during the program's three-year run in the early 2000s. His heavily accented mumbling and fragile shuffling around the family's Beverly Hills compound was played for laughs but belied the rocker's serious drug addiction, and perhaps, the deleterious effects of Parkinson's disease. "As Ozzy will tell you, the three years that we were filming, Ozzy was stoned the whole time. He wasn't sober for one day," the Kris Jenner-light figure Sharon admitted to Metal Hammer in 2018.

As light as the production value was, The Osbournes made it clear in real-time that Ozzy needed help. But as the breadwinning patriarch, he was also continually propped up for a relentless tour schedule that quite literally nearly killed him.

Ozzy has endured countless stints in rehab, according to his 2011 memoir, I Am Ozzy, but made a somewhat lucid appearance on his wife's daytime show The Talk in 2020. He spoke about his recovery from spinal surgery after a fall in his home and a series of other serious health calamities, including a stint in the ICU battling life-threatening pneumonia. "I am getting better ... it's a slow process," he managed to utter, while gripping Sharon for stability. The 71-year-old rocker will return to the road once recovered, according to Rolling Stone. Someone please, rescue this man.

Ryan Adams gets in major trouble with a minor

Ryan Adams is a prolific avatar of the pseudo-sensitive indie-guy singer-songwriter. He's dropped 25 various studio albums since his debut Heartbreaker in 2000. But despite being a critical darling, Adams remains decidedly underground, having never scored a number one Billboard hit

Adam's music is much ado about heartache, but in 2019 The New York Times published an explosive report alleging the singer had used his industry status to pursue sexual relationships with numerous aspiring artists including an online correspondence with a 15-year-old girl that was full of sexual innuendo. "If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol," Adams reportedly wrote to one alleged victim, who, at times, claimed to be 18, largely at his suggestion. 

Adams apologized in 2019, tweeting, "I am not a perfect man and I have made many mistakes. To anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally, I apologize deeply and unreservedly." But Adam's ex-wife, Mandy Moore, wasn't buying it. "Music was a point of control for him," the baby-faced popstar-turned-actor told The Times. Moore claimed Adams was psychologically abusive during their seven-year marriage and was none-too-impressed with his offers of contrition. "I find it curious that someone would make a public apology but not do it privately," she told Today in 2020, following yet another mea culpa from Adams published by the Daily Mail

Billy Corgan has seen some things

Courtney Love's second favorite ghost-writer, Smashing Pumpkins frontman-weirdo Billy Corgan, was described by Mashable in 2017 as an "alien-lookalike," but it's the rocker's tall tales that are truly extra-terrestrial. "Let's just say I was with somebody once and I saw a transformation that I can't explain," Corgan told Howard Stern also in 2017. Corgan went on to explain he was "totally sober" as he witnessed a friend physically morph into a non-human creature right in front of his eyes, but for reasons he wouldn't divulge, refused to explain further. "I'm being vague on purpose ... it's up there with one of the most intense things I've ever been through," the grunge rocker mused. Just one of them. Just one. 

Corgan was at the vanguard of popular, moody, and artistically interesting grunge rock in the mid-'90s, dropping five platinum and multi-platinum records from 1991-99. 2000's Machina/The Machines of God was the band's first effort to sell less than a million copies since their debut and sales have fallen below gold-status since. 

The rocker's eccentric mindset made it possible to have an hour-long conversation with the Sandy-Hook denying conspiracy theorist and self-described performance artist/notorious fake news provocateur Alex Jones. Corgan's rather lucid defense of traditional liberalism and free expression is buttressed with Jones' constant interjections of red-pill-blue-sky spitballing. It was a strange but oddly fitting landing for one of alt rock's most eccentric former crowned princes. Or as VICE less kindly described it, his "slow descent into irrelevant madness." 

Gavin Rossdale has some serious regrets

Gwen Stefani's visage has remained remarkably unchanged in the over 25 years since No Doubt's first hit "Just A Girl." But her ex, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, isn't feeling as fresh, describing to The Guardian, "the gross and lopsided specter of the crumbling of my marriage" as the most embarrassing moment of his life.

Rossdale's band broke out in 1994-95 with catchy Nirvana-style (yes-again) quiet-then-loud alt-rock ballads like "Glycerine." Bush was among the wave of fratty bands on corporate labels rushing to fill the void of radio-friendly grunge bops after the genre's genuine troubadour Kurt Cobain took his own life in 1994. This was enough to keep Rossdale selling platinum until 2000. In the aughts, beginning with 2001's Golden State, the hits stopped coming and the frontman became more visible as the handsome red carpet escort to the glamorous Stefani, whom he wed in 2002. 

The couple split in 2016 after 13 years of matrimony in which Rossdale was allegedly unfaithful — hence, perhaps, his guilty conscience in the British press. "He Cheated," claimed the cover of US Weekly in 2015. The tab claims Rossdale carried on a three-year affair with the nanny of the couple's three children. A supposedly intimate photo of Rossdale and the caretaker on a hike purportedly raised Stefani's suspicions, but it's all speculation outside of Rossdale's confessed humiliation and Stefani telling Cosmopolitan in 2016 that she endured "months and months of torture." The divorce papers proved similarly unexpressive, including only the boilerplate divorce dictum de-jour, "irreconcilable differences."

Tommy Lee is truly unbothered

Younger audiences might only know Tommy Lee as portrayed by a wan Machine Gun Kelly in the oddly sanitized Netflix original The Dirt. The film elides the actual dirt on Lee — his chaotic 16-year toxic romance with legendary pin-up Pamela Anderson that yielded two sons, the most infamous sex tape of all time, and Lee's six month stint behind bars for felony spousal abuse.

After Anderson swore off the former Mötley Crüe drummer for good in 2010, the rocker's mid-life crisis was free to roam. All the Gen Z rock stars like Post Malone are getting face tattoos, so Tommy Lee followed suit — a large swath of Japanese characters now line his mug from temple to jaw. Maybe not coincidentally Lee and Malone also collaborated on a track. Lee has also made a slithering splash on TikTok where his cool-boomer content often racks up millions of views — while also advertising some serious confusion about how both Google and Coronavirus works. 

Despite zero musical output from his band in over a decade, the three-legged drum machine remains part of America's lovable id. Lee won't make you feel dumb like so many former rockers turned preachy pols. His good looks — and maybe that famous endowment — have turned him into a kind of young-boomer playboy, who with the help of his recently-wed influencer wife Brittany Furlan, 24 years his junior, is still learning new things and enjoying the fruits of his labors.