12 March 2005
BILLY LOOKS GOOD FOR 49 - HE SHOULD BE DEAD
EXCLUSIVE
By Alun Palmer

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 control.

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.

"Your body can take a gigantic amount of punishment without you realising that you're starting to kill yourself."

Idol was the middle-class boy from Kent who rode the punk wave and with his band, Generation X, became its more acceptable face.

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 years.

"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 to do."

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 me."

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 shagged out.

"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 renaissance.

Four years ago a hits compilation introduced him to a new generation of fans.

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 ability"

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 Cool.

"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.