Steven Tyler's Transformation Is Turning Heads

This article contains references to drug use, addiction, abortion, and child abuse. 

Having spent a lifetime as the debauched harlequin at the forefront of Aerosmith, rock's loudest mouthpiece may have finally mellowed in his golden years. As a result, Steven Tyler's transformation is turning heads, but just how did he get that to point? The rock legend has undergone a fair amount of evolution in his life, with his style, music, and even professional trajectory changing course at various milestones. 

Sartorially, the "Sweet Emotion" singer has a colorful history with pushing against gender norms. In his autobiography, "Does the Noise In My Head Bother You?", he even expressed that he identifies with "the stronger of the species" just as much as he does being male, describing his gender identity as being half male, half female. However, his style choices have also leaned toward a libertine romanticism — something potentially picked up from his childhood. 

According to Rolling Stone, the former "American Idol" judge was raised in Yonkers, New York, where his pianist father helped him to appreciate the work of romantic classical composers including Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven. Crucially, Tyler explained that before rock and roll, he "cut [his] teeth on" playing drums to accompany his father's tame "society music" performances. Something which led to a crucial realization for the young star — he wanted to impress girls, and this wasn't cutting it. He explained, "Girls would come in, look at the band and go, 'Ugh!' Roll their eyes," he said.

Thus began Tyler's first transformation.

Drugs, rebellion, and rock and roll magic

Coming of age in the '60s, Steven Tyler used a two-prong attack with which to navigate adolescence: rock and roll and drugs. In his autobiography, the singer wrote about how he and his friends would attend "high school tripping our brains out" on acid, and smoking pot while listening to The Beatles. As Tyler acknowledged in a Rolling Stone interview, he even got "busted for pot" in high school when "they put a narc in ceramics class." 

The 17 year-old was arrested and promptly "thrown out of high school" for the misdemeanor — but hey, at least he "didn't have to go to Vietnam." Instead, Tyler discovered music, and as Rolling Stone put it, "spent his wonder years zooming all over the '60s New York scene, playing with a succession of bands" including Chain Reaction (pictured above). 

It was during this time that he first made a lasting musical connection with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. In his new friend, he saw an opportunity to replicate the "two guys" "magic element" of rock: The Rolling Stones had Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, The Beatles had Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Their own project could have them. "I never had a brother," he told Haute Living, "and nothing looked as cool as Joe Perry." The duo — who would soon become one of rock's most notorious sets of frenemies — moved to Boston, where Aerosmith was waiting to be born.

The arrival of Aerosmith

Aerosmith began the band's impressive ascent in Boston at the beginning of the '70s, and with it, Steven Tyler's style transformation was in its infancy. Primarily influenced by British culture, such as the structured flamboyance of "Mod English [and] Carnaby Street" styles, Tyler was "made fun of" for his look, but he didn't care. By 1971, he was having "over-the-top" looks tailor-made for him, prompting Joe Perry to regularly ask, "That looks great. Do they make that for men?" as Tyler recalled to WWD.

In 1970, Aerosmith played their first gig at a Boston High School, with Tyler wearing a school basketball shirt he'd swiped from the locker room. The Boston Globe recalled that the band wasn't "particularly memorable," though "they were getting pretty good." By the time the band had signed to a major label and released their first two albums — in 1972 and 1974, respectively — the music press was salivating over the coarse promise of the band. 

In their review of Aerosmith's second album, "Get Your Wings," for instance, Rolling Stone described the band's sound as "an agile balance between Yardbirds- and Who-styled rock and Seventies heavy metal" which "surge[d] with pent-up fury," but not too much. In Tyler, they saw an artist with raw power and a vocal "whose discipline is evident no matter how he shrieks, growls, or spits out the lyrics." And with that, a rock star was born. 

A pre-punk peepshow of a man

As Aerosmith roared through the latter half of the '70s, Steven Tyler established himself as a self-styled rock icon and a swaggering sex symbol. The singer bound himself in skintight lace-up jumpsuits, teasing sleazy peepshows of flesh behind his microphone stand full of scarves. His look howled of nomadic excess — a man on an endless trip, both literal and psychogenic — and his look worked in support of that.

Roguish scarves would hang loose from the singer's microphone stand "like unraveled mummy wrappings," as Rolling Stone once described them — but they also had a purpose. In an interview with Blender, Tyler explained that the scarves came from old clothes, hung for "good luck" (via However, in "Walk This Way," the band's 2003 autobiography, the singer copped to having an ulterior motive for the look: drugs. "...some of them had little pockets sewn in, and I'd weight them with Quaaludes and Tuinals. That way I wouldn't run out."

Tyler had the hits to back up the bravado. As described by Spin, Aerosmith's seminal 1975 album "Toys in the Attic" married a "tight-grooving strut" with a "pre-punk appetite for shameless indulgence" which established them as the real deal in the mainstream. Then, in 1976, the band scored a top ten hit with the re-release of their raucous power ballad "Dream On" — a song which appeared to manifest Tyler's dreams of rock superstardom, and the eventual fragility of his own fame (via Grammy Awards). 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

A controversial relationship

It was during his time of performative excess that Steven Tyler found himself in a taboo relationship with 16-year-old groupie Julia Holcomb. According to Tyler's autobiography, "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?", he "fell madly in love" with the teenager, whom he described as "a cute skinny little tomboy dressed up as Little Bo Peep." Holcomb wrote of the romance less affectionately in an essay for Life Site, where she suggested her relationship with the 27-year-old rock star began at a vulnerable time for her, following a series of family traumas.

Holcomb explained that while she was still a minor, Tyler received guardianship of the teenager after her mom "signed the papers" so that she "could travel across state lines" with the Aerosmith frontman while he toured. "I became lost in a rock and roll culture," she wrote. "...I didn't know it yet, but I would barely make it out alive." The two planned to start a family together, but at five months pregnant, Holcomb alleged that Tyler pushed for her to get an abortion — she's since become a pro-life spokesperson

In the band's "Walk This Way" autobiography, Tyler also expressed heartache at the shared experience, which he suggested was a mutual decision with the band. "I was pretty devastated. In my mind, I'm going, Jesus, what have I done?" Tyler recalled. After three years, the two ended their relationship, and by 1978, Tyler was married to Warhol Superstar Cyrinda Foxe, with whom he had a daughter, Mia.

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The hedonist hits his prime

Having already fulfilled an entire vision board's worth of rock and roll success and excess just ten years into the band's lineage, Steven Tyler had one last cliché check-box to tick off: his downfall. "Aerosmith made it from '72 to '79 not necessarily stoned, but beautiful... then we all became very f***ed up," Tyler reflected to Haute Living. "The early '80s were terrible, and drugs took us down," he added.

According to an NME report on the inner-band turmoil at the time, Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry were known as the "Toxic Twins" for their insatiable ingestion of drugs. A cocaine roadie was employed to take care of provisions, Tyler become known for passing out during his performances, and he and his bandmate had a fight so bad that Perry wound up leaving the band. "We were too rich, too young, too dumb," Tyler told the magazine, "I just got caught up in it, I loved it."

A UPI report from 1984 even describes "a reunion" of the band breaking into an on-stage fight after Tyler — "seemingly intoxicated" — "fell off the stage" while performing. The singer notably adopted more frills and lace than usual in his costuming during this time, as though he'd planted a proud libertine flag of depravity into the over-discovered plains of his own body. As he told Haute Living, in 1988 "the band pulled an intervention on" him, and he was forced to get treatment. But first, he'd meet Run-DMC.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Walk this way...

According to The Washington Post's oral history of '80s mega-hit "Walk This Way," Aerosmith's manager Tim Collins credited the Run-DMC collaboration as being "part of what gave Steven [Tyler] the incentive to get sober." As described by the Post, the hip-hop trio — then one of the biggest acts of their kind — wasn't exactly thrilled at the potential to record with a "down-and-out arena-rock group" that was clearly "struggling with drugs and low record sales." But luckily for everyone, they made it work.

The track peaked at number 4 on Billboard's top ten. But as The Guardian wrote of the hit, it more importantly left a legacy of "worlds colliding, and walls tumbling down," creating an influential genre mash-up which also lent the now washed-up rock act some much needed kudos. The song introduced Aerosmith to a new audience — one that they'd cater to as the band stormed the '90s. 

Meanwhile, Tyler was entering a new phase in his personal life. In 1987, the singer separated from wife Cyrinda Foxe, telling OWN that he "abandoned" her and their 9-year-old daughter by walking out on them both. "I know what I did regardless of whether I was on drugs a lot," he said, adding, "A piece of me, my heart's still broken that I did that to her." He moved on quickly enough and married Teresa Barrick in 1988.

A proud papa gets a grip

Amidst all the struggles, changes, and success, the '80s also served Steven Tyler with a grand surprise — a daughter he never knew about in actor Liv Tyler. The result of a fling with model Bebe Buell, the actor's mom kept the singer's identity a secret, supposedly to protect her from Steven Tyler's drug addiction, according to Biography. Liv was 8 when she made the discovery, later revealing on "The Jonathan Ross Show" that she "figured it out" since Steven "looked exactly like me" — as did his other daughter Mia, who looked like a "twin" to Liv at first sight.

It was a relationship that Steven publicly embraced with great relish as Liv grew up and became a star in her own right. Sober and now in his 40s, Steven seemed happy to come through the other side of his private turmoils to celebrate his dysfunctional family unit. Expressing regret for having been "an absent dad to Liv and Mia," the singer told The Guardian, "I was not there for my two little daughters and I've cried about it ... The good news is they love me."

With the release of the '90s rock juggernaut album "Get a Grip," Steven pushed his daughter front-and-center as the band's rebel schoolgirl mascot (along with Alicia Silverstone) in the video for "Crazy" — a bluesy country ballad which pointed at the singer's new trajectory as a crooner with a unique selling point: This former rock and roll burnout sure loves his daughters. 

An asteroid-sized power ballad

In 1998, Steven Tyler doubled down on his love for daughter-dedicated power ballads with the "Armageddon" tie-in tune, "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing." As The Ringer put it, the "thundering and majestic ... intergalactic slow dance" at the heart of the Liv Tyler flick helped to bring an emotional core to what was "the ultimate Boy Movie." It also helped to reconfigure Steven's reputation for being the prince of machismo and sexual excess. Instead, the song re-announced him as an artist whose sole focus was on sensitivity, string sections, and love. 

Naturally, the mainstream ate it up. So much so that in 2001, Aerosmith shared a headline slot with *NSYNC at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. As Entertainment Weekly put it in their retrospective of the show, "the song about loving your daughter so much you want to punch meteors with your America-shaped fist" gave the popular boy band a run for their money. As did his outfits.

While the outlet described him as being "already deep into his substitute art teacher phase" with his coat and scarf combo, a change in the latter half saw the star rocking a personalized sports jersey with his name on the back. Was it a nod to the basketball jersey he wore at Aerosmith's first gig in 1970? Potentially. The star was about to begin the retrospective part of his career, after all.

Hey, who ordered the caricature?

In the '90s, Steven Tyler once defiantly told Rolling Stone that he wasn't afraid of turning into a self-parody of himself as he aged, and griped, "I don't believe that I shouldn't be my own caricature." By 2002, the 54-year-old singer had eased into this caricature like an old pair of slippers. His rock persona came off as the musical equivalent of a dusty museum exhibit that every patron had done multiple tours of, already. 

It didn't help matters that Aerosmith's "next studio album" had been delayed until 2007, with a greatest hits collection pushed out in its place, according to Billboard. Tyler's cameo as himself in "Be Cool" — wearing a snakeskin suit and purring at how "gorgeous" Uma Thurman looks at a basketball game — further hinted at the arrival of the relic phase of his career. When Tyler joined the voice cast of family movie "The Polar Express" as an elf, it became abundantly clear that the howling banshee of "Dream On" had potentially overslept.  

It was a difficult time for the star. In 2006, the singer revealed he'd been diagnosed with hepatitis C three years earlier, telling "Access Hollywood" that he underwent "11 months of chemotherapy" to tackle the asymptomatic infection (via Billboard). At that time, he began a troubled relationship with younger girlfriend Erin Brady, having separated from Teresa Barrick a year earlier, according to Fox News. But the drama was only beginning...

Introducing American Idol's professor of rock

By the time Steven Tyler had joined the TV big leagues with "American Idol" in 2011, tensions in his life and music career had hit a critical peak. In 2009, the star was "hospitalized after falling from stage" during an Aerosmith show in South Dakota, according to Billboard. A few months later, CNN reported that he'd "entered a rehab facility for pain management and an addiction to prescription painkillers."

His relapse was something that apparently made his band mates "angry," with Tyler alleging to Rolling Stone that none of them called him during his time in rehab. It hurt, so he took his emotions to television. "I was so p***ed with them for not calling me that I told my manager, 'Get me something else, I need a side job, I need a day job, get me something like 'Idol,'" he told the magazine. 

There was just one problem: He didn't tell the Aerosmith boys. Guitarist Joe Perry complained to the Boston Herald that he unfairly found out about his singer's plans "on the internet ... that kind of affects the rest of us," he said. "We'd like to plan our lives, you know?" (via Digital Spy). For his move into reality television, Tyler upped his suit game with an assortment of structured looks which shrieked his expertise via animal prints, leather, and frills. He looked less like an "American Idol" judge than a professor of hard rock who had just received tenure.  

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Aerosmith's prodigal older son returns

But what good is a professor without his podium? In 2010, Steven Tyler was ready to return to his position as the chief scholar of Aerosmith, having made his band mates suitably jealous with his "American Idol" stint. Entertainment Weekly reported that amidst speculation that the band was looking to replace the singer, a "puckish video clip" published on the band's website showed Tyler proudly proclaiming his return: "I just auditioned and I got the gig."

Touring once again with Aerosmith, the singer announced that his fling with reality television was over. "It's time for me to let go of my mistress 'American Idol' before she boils my rabbit," Tyler said in a statement published by Rolling Stone. "I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I'm back." Almost immediately, Tyler resumed his sartorial cosplay as a rock star nearly consumed by his own scarf collection (see above picture...). In spite of the massive mounds of scarves, drama still found a way to sniff him out. 

In 2011, TMZ alleged that Tyler's family was "furious" about his engagement to 38-year-old girlfriend Erin Brady, with unnamed sources accusing her of being "not nice" and "mean to the family." Whether these statements held any truth or not, the couple had broken up "for good this time" at the beginning of 2013, according to Page Six, per another alleged source (via HuffPost). There would be plenty of endings and new beginnings to come. 

A charitable cowboy

Although he continued touring with Aerosmith — including a Las Vegas residency beginning in 2019 — it seemed like the rocky Rock 'n' Roller Coaster of the band was almost at its exit gate. In 2017, Steven Tyler confirmed the band would be doing a Farewell Tour — the length of which he joked to Rolling Stone could go "probably forever." Sadly, the tour was canceled due to "unexpected medical issues" experienced by Tyler, per NME

The Tyler-brand was running strong, regardless. In 2016, the singer released "We're All Somebody from Somewhere" — his first solo album, a country pop effort which served a whip-crack-away to his blues rock roots. Cue an increase of ramblin' man cow-print ensembles, and a slew of sniffy reviews from music critics unimpressed by "a past-his-prime, attention-seeking celebrity" desperate "to remain commercially relevant," as Slant scornfully put it. 

Somewhere within Tyler's transformation, however, seemed to be a man who'd reflected on his life and settled on a need for change. In 2015, he started the charity "Janie's Fund" to support at-risk young women — the likes of which he'd met in rehab, and felt protective of, per Haute Living. In 2017, he further opened "Janie's Home" to house "abused and neglected girls just outside of Atlanta," per CNN. But was it appropriate? Some, such as Consequence, raised an eyebrow at Tyler's charity given his "own history of misconduct with a minor," from his relationship with Julia Holcomb.  

Dude looks like a grandma

Now in his 70s, Steven Tyler's transformation from golden god to something better resembling a Golden Girl was definitely turning heads. Ever since College Humor shared a viral 2014 tweet about the singer looking "like a cool grandma," the label stuck, and for years afterwards publications like BuzzFeed would roll with the joke that Tyler kind of rocks as "the coolest grandma ever" in his golden years. 

Still, the Blache Devereaux of rock continued to make noise with Aerosmith thanks to the joy of rescheduled tour dates — maybe that farewell tour really will last forever?! — and he seemed to have found love again with his former personal assistant Aimee Preston. The couple, who share a 39-year age gap, were rumored to have found romance in 2014 and made a public appearance together in 2016, per E!

In 2020, Tyler celebrated his partner in an Instagram post where he thanked her for being a friend (sorry). The singer wrote, "I love you for being by my side all this time. Such a crazy ride ... through thick and thin." All of which is to say that as much as Tyler changes, he also remains much the same. In 1994, he told Rolling Stone, "I don't buy into the idea that you're not supposed to rock & roll after a certain date." By all accounts, this grandma is still rockin'.