This is the second installment of Yahoo’s exclusive three-part series chronicling the story of Jamie Adler and the extraordinary, family-shattering and most assuredly illegal measures he took to get his brother and Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler off heroin.
Part 1: Growing up Guns N’ Roses
Part 2: An infamous GNR firing and the tumultuous aftermath
Part 3: The kidnapping of Steve Adler
“I was 14 and he’s f***ing smoking heroin right in front of me.”
As the Appetite for Destruction tour wound down, the band’s bus dropped off its members across L.A. “Steven had $5, $10 million in his bank account. And he had nowhere to go,” Jamie says. The drummer eventually bought a house in Laurel Canyon previously owned by MTV VJ Martha Quinn. “He basically never left the house for the next two years,” Jamie says. “Steven didn’t talk to us. He disowned us because he was in this downward spiral.”
It was the fall of 1988. Jamie was in eighth grade, and he was lying to all his friends. “Welcome to the Jungle” played in heavy rotation on the radio, and he couldn’t admit to his peers that his world-conquering, rock-star brother had shut out the family.
A year later, however, in September 1989, Steven reconciled with his family, invited them over, and broke the news that GNR would be opening for the Rolling Stones at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum for four consecutive nights. Steven wanted the family there.
The Adlers attended the third and fourth shows. Steven sent them limos each night. They were not present on opening night, Oct. 18, 1989, when Axl Rose famously, and very publicly, called out his bandmates’ — Slash, Izzy and Steven’s — rampant heroin use. “I hate to do this on stage,” he lamented, one song into their set. “But I tried every other f**king way. And unless certain people in this band get their s**t together, these will be the last Guns N’ Roses shows you’ll f**king ever see. ’Cause I’m tired of too many people in this organization dancing with Mr. Goddamn Brownstone.”
Months later, on Jan. 21, 1990, Steven was a celebrity player at MTV’s First Annual Rock N’ Jock Diamond Derby at USC’s Dedeaux Field, part of the Salamanders team with Kevin Costner, Tone Loc, Bruce Hornsby and Daryl Strawberry, coached by Sammy Hagar. They battled Bret Michaels, Mark McGwire, MC Hammer, Keanu Reeves and the Sam Kinison-coached Aardvarks. Jamie tagged along with his brother.
“I was smoking weed with Tone Loc in the dugout,” Jamie says. “I saw Sam Kinison overdose. He was literally on a table and they were pumping his stomach. They literally revived him right here. I was only a few feet away. It was really scary.” Kinison later stumbled right back into the game. “He continued coaching or whatever the f**k he was doing,” Jamie remembers. “I’m like, ‘How the f**k is he walking?’” (Kinison was killed in 1992, when his car was struck by another vehicle.)
Steven also brought his wife, Cheryl Swiderski, whom he’d married in Las Vegas in 1989 — and who became irate when Morganna, the famed “Kissing Bandit,” rushed the field and smooched Steven, with little resistance. “She flipped,” says Jamie, who was sitting next to Swiderski. “She jumped in a cab and took off.” (They divorced in 1990; Steven eventually married Carolina Ferreira in 2002. The family wasn’t invited to either ceremony.)
After the game, Steven and Jamie hopped into a limo. “We’re sitting there, and he had this little bag, this little hippie sack,” Jamie says. “And he pulls out tinfoil, this little balloon, and a lighter. And he starts smoking heroin. I was 14 and he’s f**king smoking heroin right in front of me. I’m like, ‘What the f**k are you doing, dude?’ He’s like, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like to be me, to be a celebrity. … Man, it’s just a lot of pressure.’ I’m like, ‘Bro, smoke f**king weed.’ He says, ‘I wish it was that easy… But don’t worry, I’m not addicted to this shit.’
“And then he started convincing me that it’s not as bad as I think. But he also said, ‘Please don’t tell mom. We’re brothers. Whatever happens when we’re together, that’s just between us.’ I never told mom. But I was just so hurt.”
Then came Feb. 12, 1990. Deanna dropped off Jamie at Steven’s house so they could go see to Mötley Crüe on their Dr. Feelgood tour. “There’s a big white limo in front of his house,” Jamie recalls. “I’m so excited. And I knew Steven would get invited up on stage.” Steven’s landline rings. Jamie picks it up. It’s Doug Goldstein, who insists Jamie fetch Steven.
Jamie watches them talk. “I don’t hear what Doug says. … And then Steven looks at me and I could just see his face drop. There’s just overwhelming disappointment. He looks like a ghost. And he just hangs up the phone. … Then finally, he says, ‘We’re not going to Mötley Crüe. They just kicked me out of the band.’
“He went in the bathroom and he stayed in there for hours.”
“Hell fell down, and after that he was done.”
It was Sept. 6, 1990, the summer before Jamie began 10th grade at Chatsworth High School. The MTV Music Video Awards were airing live that night, but before the show, MTV News — still in its infancy — was airing excerpts from Kurt Loder’s Famous Last Words interview with Axl Rose. The interview followed weeks of rumors that Steven had quit the group.
While Steven was off detoxing, Deanna, Melvin and Jamie watched from their living room as Rose dropped a bombshell on viewers: “Steven didn’t quit the band. Steven was fired. … We gave him every ultimatum. We tried working with other drummers. We had Steven sign a contract saying if he went back to drugs, then he was out. He couldn’t leave his drugs.”
“Now look who’s calling the kettle black,” Deanna says angrily today. “Give me a break. ‘He’s not in the band anymore because of drugs.’ They’re all on drugs! I mean, come on. Everybody knew that. This wasn’t a secret.”
Gutted after the interview aired, Deanna took a walk around the block. When she returned, she told her husband she couldn’t go to work the next day. “What do you mean?” Melvin asked. “I said, ‘Because now everybody knows that my son is a drug addict and he’s not in the band anymore.’ See, most people, if they have a son or daughter that’s addicted to drugs, maybe 10 people know about it. With me, 50 million people now know my son’s a drug addict.”
Deanna breaks into tears, which seems to happen whenever she talks about Steven. “And that hurt.” She did go to work the next day. “And nobody said one word to me. And nobody there ever asked me about Steven again.” (Steven would later encourage Deanna to write her own book, Sweet Child of Mine: How I Lost My Son to Guns N’ Roses, released in 2017, and also co-authored by Spagnola.)
Jamie is more forgiving when it comes to GNR. “They tried everything that they could do,” he says. “You know, they did try to put him in rehab. And yeah, the guys were all getting loaded themselves. We all know that. They never denied that. But there’s a difference when you’re the drummer and you keep that beat. … That’s the timing, that’s the backbone of the band. All Steven needed to do was quit doing heroin. And he would’ve been back in the band.”
They gave him plenty of chances. Even that call from Goldstein on “Mötley Crüe Night,” as Jamie calls it, was a scare tactic. But Steven continued to struggle. There was the band’s disastrous outing at Farm Aid IV in Indianapolis’s Hoosier Dome on April 7, 1990. Guns N’ Roses was gearing up for their ambitious double release, 1991’s Use Your Illusion albums, and was growing increasingly frustrated with Steven’s unreliability in the recording studio. The band hoped Farm Aid, a live television event, would be the kick in the face he needed.
But as Steven ran onto stage that night, in front of a roaring crowd, he attempted to jump onto his drum kit riser, and awkwardly face-planted.
In his autobiography, Steven recounted the disastrous outing: “Their plan to get me out of the band was already in full motion. They weren’t cluing me in to new songs or even telling me what they were playing. I believe their strategy was to make my playing sound like this. I believe they wanted me to f**k up on live TV; that would be their evidence. By branding me as an ill-equipped, crappy drummer, they’d be armed with a sound reason for kicking me out.”
Slash, however, offered a counter in his self-titled memoir: “The truth was that if his playing had been fine, I don’t think anyone would have cared what he was doing to himself – at least I wouldn’t have… If you can handle both the music and the drugs, more power to you. We weren’t really concerned for Steven’s health as much as we were pissed off that his addiction was handicapping his performance, and therefore the rest of us.” (As of 2017, Steven maintained that he wasn’t kicked out Guns N’ Roses because of drugs, but rather because Axl wanted “to take control of everything.”)
Jamie says Goldstein even called shortly after Farm Aid and offered Steven a return to the band to play Rock in Rio in January 1991. “All Steven needed to do was get off heroin,” he says. “But that’s how cunning and baffling this disease is. … They could offer you a billion dollars. You still can’t get off this s**t. They were offering him his dream back. Everything he worked so hard for. And I know my brother tried. But he couldn’t do it.” Steven was replaced by Matt Sorum (“he’s saved the band’s life,” Rose told Loder during that highly publicized interview), and his firing led to a lengthy court battle against the band.
Jamie was 15 now. “And I remember telling his friends and other people around, ‘Let’s go get Steven. Let’s go tie him up, hold him hostage in some room some place and get him off these f**king drugs. Let’s go kidnap him. But nobody would ever listen to me. Because everyone knew that if you went against Steven, you were out of the circle.”
Jamie would revisit that plan 16 years later.
“But from that point on,” he says of Steven’s GNR exit, “it was just really, really dark for years.”
“I became an agent because I wanted to help my brother.”
A few years after Steven’s firing, Deanna got a call from Century City Hospital. Steven had overdosed. “They said, ‘Mrs. Adler, we have your son here,’” she remembers. ‘He’s on life support. We need your permission to give dialysis. Otherwise he’s going to die within 24 hours.’ I said, ‘What the hell are you waiting for? Give him the dialysis.’ The next day I went to the hospital and he’s hooked up to all these tubes. I sat next to his bed and he opened one eye, and a tear came out his eye. Then he fell back asleep.”
Steven was in and out of rehab for well over a decade. Mostly out. Around 25 or 30 stints, depending who you ask. Jamie tried it his way, flying Steven to Maui and helping his brother through withdrawal. “He’s shivering, he’s spitting on walls, but he did it,” Jamie says proudly. The plan was to stay in Hawaii for a few weeks, but after only five days, Steven claimed he was sick and demanded they return to L.A. — where he quickly arranged a dealer to meet him. “The whole trip was a fucking waste, man,” Jamie laments.
In 1996, after “pretending” to go to Arizona State University to appease his parents, Jamie returned to L.A. — at the behest of Steven, who was six months’ sober at the time — to manage him. “My brother shaped my whole life. And I shaped my whole career around my brother. I became an agent because I wanted to help my brother. I wanted to get him back to those glory days. … If I could learn this game, if I could figure this out, I could be the guy that gets him back on top.”
Together, they assembled the band Freaks in the Room, which included another ex-GNR’er, rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke, who had replaced Stradlin in 1991. Jamie booked Freaks as the house band of the popular Sunset Trip joint Billboard Live and scored an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. “I was by his side the whole time. You know, he’s my brother, I love the guy to death,” Jamie told Stern. “We’re best friends.”
After only three nights of performances at Billboard, the Adler brothers went to an afterparty. Steven disappeared. Jamie tracked him down to a bathroom, kicked in the door and found Steven with two young women about to snort cocaine. A fight erupted. Jamie kicked Steven out of Freaks. He even threatened to replace him with Matt Sorum, “the worst thing I could have ever said to Steven,” Jamie says regretfully. The band was done.
Although Freaks flopped, Jamie found a music industry mentor in Todd Singerman, manager of metal acts Motörhead and Anthrax. Jamie had approached Singerman at a music conference and used his brother’s name to start a conversation. “People will always treat me differently because of who my brother is,” he says. “So I knew how to use that to my advantage. But at the end of the day, that only opens the door for you. It’s what I do when I walk in that door that really matters.”
Jamie set up shop at the Rainbow Room on Sunset, and by the early aughts had began working with BulletBoys, arranging The Hard Tour with them and Bang Tango, Enuff Z’nuff and Pretty Boy Floyd. He reunited ’80s bands Wang Chung, Missing Persons, Ratt and Whitesnake. He became Warrant’s booking agent. “I’m not making any crazy money, but I’m starting to build a reputation,” he says. Singerman then gave him Motörhead, which in turn landed him a position at the high-profile booking firm The Agency Group at 26. He was working with Danzig and Black Label Society and started making real money — and started partying really hard. He began drinking excessively and gave in to the white lines he long resisted.
Jamie eventually quit his six-figure post at the Agency Group and shifted his focus from rock to hip-hop. He only had one client: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, his favorite rap group as a kid and, like his parents, with Cleveland roots. The rap group was primed for a comeback with the release of their fourth album, Thug World Order, in 2002. Jamie booked them on their biggest tour in years. He added Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Guru, Westside Connection (Ice Cube, Mack 10 and WC) and DJ Quik. “From about 2002 to 2017, every major show involving West Coast gangsta artists, I was involved with in some way,” he says. “And nobody knew who my brother was in that world.”
“I was going broke, starving and s**t,” DJ Quik says of his career in the early 2000s, when he was dropped by Arista Records despite massive success over the decade priorr. “But Jamie got me and Bizzy Bone [from Bone Thugs] to the point where we working consistently. He took us from House of Blues, the greatest venue of all time, to New Zealand and Australia and Hawaii. I never performed for bigger crowds than with Jamie because he understood our worth. He keeps me paid. And he’s just a good guy. Most of them are dirtbags.”
“He’s an incredible booking agent,” says Steve Lobel, the Grammy-winning veteran manager who got his start with Run-DMC and went on to work with 2Pac, Eazy-E, Fat Joe, Big Pun and Nipsey Hussle, and became a “mentor and O.G.” to Jamie in the hip-hop realm. “He was this young wild guy when I met him. You know, gambling, sniffing coke, running around with different girls. He was a real trainwreck sometimes. … But a great kid.” Quik called Jamie part of the “Sunset Mafia” due to his propensity to hang out on the Strip with the likes of David Faustino and Corey Feldman.
While his career blossomed, Jamie didn’t forget about Steven. In 2003, Jamie met John Sykes, the guitarist for Thin Lizzy — the Irish hard rock band that happened to be Steven’s all-time favorite group. Jamie starts working with the band, booking a 10-city American tour in early 2004. (“Why? So I could tell my brother that I’m the agent for Thin Lizzy, his favorite band ever.”) When their drummer wasn’t able to make it stateside for some shows, it felt kismet. Jamie suggested Steven — on a long sober stretch — fill in. The Thin Lizzy guys were thrilled, so was Steven. Their first rehearsal together was magical. “They’re f**king loving Steven,” says Jamie who suddenly even envisioned his brother becoming Thin Lizzy’s new full-time percussionist.
But when Jamie went to pick up his brother for rehearsals the next day, “there’s Steven f**king strung out on f**king heroin. The guy hadn’t been high in a couple months. I think he got excited, and he was nervous. He was always self-destructing. … That’s his favorite band. He’s rehearsing with these guys, and then he f**ked it all up.”
Not long after Steven decamped to the Las Vegas Country Club, in the shadow of the towering Resorts World Hilton, not far from where his mother had relocated. (Melvin died in 2006.) “I’d walk the dog by his house and there were always strange cars in the driveway,” says Deanna. “They were always drug dealers.” One night she watched a guy hauling a drum set out of the garage. She knew Steven hocked it for drugs.
Part 1: Introduction / Growing Up Guns N’ Roses
Part 2: An infamous GNR firing and the tumultuous aftermath
Part 3: The kidnapping of Steve Adler