12 March 2005
BILLY LOOKS GOOD FOR 49 - HE SHOULD BE DEAD
BY RIGHTS he should be dead. For
15 years Billy Idol pumped every conceivable
drug into his system with reckless abandon.
Even two overdoses and a
near-fatal bike smash weren't enough to halt his
multiple addictions, with crack cocaine and
heroin being his poisons of choice.
But today in a London hotel
suite, the rock icon, who will be 50 this year,
is the picture of health.
Speaking for the first time
about his drug nightmare, he opens up to the
Daily Mirror about how it spiralled out of
In his first interview for 13
years - and with his first album since 1993 out
later this month - he says: "By the late
80s I was doing crack and heroin. I was either
on one or the other.
"I would be trying to get
off one, so I would do a ton of the next thing
to try and cover up the fact you were getting
over the last thing.
"And that gets dangerous
because you're always trying to cheat and you
never give anything up.
"It didn't really become
that much of a problem until 10 years of the 80s
and five years of the 90s had gone by and things
had gradually escalated. It led to where you
didn't realise how much you were putting into
"Your body can take a
gigantic amount of punishment without you
realising that you're starting to kill
Idol was the middle-class boy
from Kent who rode the punk wave and with his
band, Generation X, became its more acceptable
But his long association with
drugs had started years before in the leafy
suburb of Bromley.
"I started smoking hash
when I was about 12. Then when I was 13 I took
acid and started taking pills. Drugs were part
of the culture at the time and you couldn't get
hooked on acid. It was fun."
W HEN Generation X took off,
Idol started drinking heavily. Then his solo
hits White Wedding and Rebel Yell propelled him
to bleach-blond, sneering superstardom.
The money brought with it a
snowstorm of narcotics, but there is no hint of
remorse or regret as Idol recalls those hazy
"It was the late 70s or
early 80s when I first started using heroin.
Someone gave it to me at a party and I thought
it was cocaine - I soon puked up.
"It escalated in the 80s.
There were bags of coke everywhere and we did
breakneck touring. Then we had this weird year
off where we tried to do a film which didn't
come off. We were in hotels and we were adrift.
And with nothing to do it just got worse. At one
point I was staying up for three weeks at a time
and s*** like that. You just don't realise how
it creeps up on you. You're always working or
doing an album and touring. But then you get a
down moment and that's when you fall into the
biggest traps because you're left with nothing
The morning after one bender in
1990, Idol nearly lost a leg in a crash. Riding
his motorcycle through Los Angeles, he was hit
by a truck - the police said he went through a
stop sign. He could easily have been killed.
But far from proving a wake-up
call, the incident merely served to boost his
hellraising. Rolling up his trouser leg, he
shows his scars. "I got broadsided by a car
that broke my leg and left this huge hole. They
removed the muscle to cover the hole, then they
fixed the leg."
Had he been using drugs?
"I had been celebrating the
night before - it could have been a lot, lot
worse. My foot landed on the pavement and it
tore off my heel. But my head just missed the
kerb or it would have burst like a melon.
"When you're lucky like
that you tend to dismiss it as one of those
things that happen."
In 1994 Idol collapsed outside a
Los Angeles restaurant. A few months later it
happened again. "I had a couple of
overdoses," he says calmly, though his
recollections are hazy. "It may have been
from taking something to come down fast and
maybe that's why they happened.
"I was taking GBH along
with all the other stuff. And there was this
weightlifting stuff you could get from health
food stores that I was doing.
"But the worst thing about
the overdoses were that my kids were going to
read the news and if it happened another time I
knew they would know it, too." It was his
children Wolf, now 16 - from his relationship
with former Hot Gossip dancer Perri Lister - and
daughter Bonnie Blue, 15, who gave Idol the will
to kick his lethal habit. "I realised my
son would never be able to have friends round my
house because their parents would never trust
them with me.
I STARTED to realise I wanted a
straight relationship with him, one on one,
where I was his dad and wasn't f***ed-up.
"It was their unconditional
love that made me think, 'You've got to stop
doing this.' Since the overdose in 94 they
haven't seen me f***ed-up, drunk or
anything." Initially Idol entered a
Californian clinic to try and come clean. He
lasted five days. I left because I wasn't at
rock bottom," he says. "You were
hearing all these terrible stories from the
other people who had lost their families, their
homes and their jobs.
"And I was there saying,
'Hey, I still have my money, I still have my
house. I just took too much that's all.' I
wasn't at rock bottom, with my wife leaving
Instead of clinics, Idol sweated
it out at his LA home alone. "I had to do
it myself. It's what we did in the old days - we
would just sweat it out. I was constantly coming
on and off heroin for years," he explains.
"You just wouldn't want to
be on it and tour. You can't leave home, you
can't leave your dealer. It's not so bad beating
crack, it doesn't have quite the same effect as
heroin. Once you stop after a few days you're
"It's not the same as
heroin where you feel like your skeleton is
trying to get out of your body.
"They also had this
terrible stuff in Los Angeles at the time called
tar heroin. I was always a snorter, I never
fixed, and this tar heroin stuff, you had to
inject it. I tried smoking it once and it made
me sick. It was just horrible."
Idol is now enjoying a career
Four years ago a hits
compilation introduced him to a new generation
Clean at last, he began to enjoy
making music once more.
This month he releases Devil's
Playground, his first new material in 12 years,
and a tour of Europe will follow in the summer.
"Since 94 I drink and smoke
marijuana and stuff but I stopped doing what
people call hard drugs.
"In the old days I had bags
of energy to burn - I could stay up for three
weeks somehow. It's different now, I have to use
my energy wisely.
"If you're doing a two-hour
show it takes a ton of energy and doing it clean
is a lot more fun.
"I'm not blitzed for half
the show and I can remember it all. And people
enjoy it more when we play to the best of our
Although now single, Idol still
takes fatherhood seriously.
His son has formed a band. So
how does this notorious former hellraiser broach
the subject of drugs with him? "Oh, he's Mr
"They both seem to be all
right. I think they know that we did tons of
drugs in the old days and I expect because their
mum and dad did it they don't have to do it.
"And I would know if they
were on things cos I would be able to tell
instantly. 'Hey, you're on E, I know that look!'
You couldn't put it past us.
"But I can tell them that
there comes a point where do you want to choose
life and music or do you want to get f***ed up?
"The f***ed-upness gets in
the way of everything."
-DEVIL'S Playground is released
on Sanctuary Records on Monday, March 21.