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For a brief time in the 1980s, Steven Adler stood at the apex of the music world as the drummer for the ferocious Guns N' Roses, one of the biggest hard rock acts of the decade. A self-taught musician, Adler performed on the group's early, star-making hits, including "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child o' Mine," and enjoyed the spoils of the rock-n-roll lifestyle to the hilt. But like so many before him, the good times caught up with Adler, and by 1990, a formidable addiction to drugs and alcohol led to his ejection from the band, as well as numerous health and legal problems. By 2005, he was known more for his substance abuse issues, as illustrated in painful detail on two seasons of "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" (VH1, 2008-12), than for his drumming. Adler appeared to turn his life around in 2010 shortly before Guns N' Roses was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite such accomplishments, Adler's life remained one of the most harrowing cautionary tales about the razor edge of a life in rock-n-roll.
Born Michael Coletti in Cleveland, OH on Jan. 22, 1965, he was abandoned by his biological father in his early years, leaving his mother, Deanna, to raise him and his older brother, Kenny in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Adler took the surname of his stepfather, Melvin Adler, and adopted Steven as his first name in observance of Jewish traditions. By all accounts, Adler was a difficult child; he had been ejected from preschool while in Cleveland, and began experimenting with drugs at the age of 11. By the time he had reached 13, Adler's mother had sent him to live with his grandparents in Hollywood; there, he met and befriended Saul Hudson, a fellow student at Bancroft Junior High. The pair shared a mutual love for hard rock music and soon began fomenting plans for their own stardom. While in high school, he began teaching himself to play drums while learning the tricks of the trade by observing performers in Sunset Strip clubs. Adler also saw first hand how drug use was part and parcel of the hard rock scene, and participated wholeheartedly.
In 1983, Adler and Hudson, who had adopted his childhood nickname, "Slash," as his stage moniker, formed the Road Crew, which soon added bassist Duff McKagan to its roster. The band never graduated beyond the rehearsal stage, due largely in part to Adler's inability to remain sober and commit to a work ethic. Slash and McKagan would go on to play in Hollywood Rose, a hard-rocking club act that featured guitarist Izzy Stradlin and a volatile singer named William Bailey, who billed himself as W. Axl Rose. Adler was soon contacted by Slash to replace the band's drummer, which completed the original lineup of what would eventually become Guns N' Roses.
After developing an ardent following on the L.A. club scene, Guns N' Roses was signed to a contract with Geffen Records, which released its debut album, Appetite for Destruction, in 1987. Extensive touring in support of the album led to high-profile opening slots for established acts like Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. By the time they had been named as the opening act for the Rolling Stones' 1988-1989 tour, Appetite had reached the top of the Billboard album charts. Such exposure highlighted the group's penchant for aggressive, alienating behavior both on the stage and off, with riots, fights with security and fans, and sniping between band members a regular occurrence. Though all of the members of Guns N' Roses embraced a hedonistic lifestyle, Adler's prodigious drug and alcohol intake began to take its toll on his career and life. He was forced to sit out of several dates on the Appetite tour after breaking his hand during a altercation, and missed the group's appearance on the 1989 American Music Awards due to a stint in a drug rehabilitation program. Like so many addicts, the mishaps and second chances did little to prevent his addiction from escalating to heroin use, which prompted the band to fire him in 1990. He returned briefly to the Guns fold after signing a contract that required him to remain sober, but by the time the band had entered the studio to record the long-overdue Use Your Illusion I and II (1991), it was painfully apparent that Adler was too incapacitated to participate in the sessions. He was fired from Guns N' Roses in July of 1990, and filed a lawsuit against the group the following year for wrongful termination and unpaid back royalties that was settled out of court in 1993. Both parties began a long, arduous decline in the decades that followed, with Adler struggling to remain sober and relevant in the music world, while Guns N' Roses began its two-decade fall from grace as the increasingly paranoid Rose shed the original members for a rotating crew of sidemen while spending nearly two decades on their fifth album, Chinese Democracy (2008).
For much of the next decade, Adler struggled to remain relevant in the rock world while sinking deeper into his drug problems. He briefly formed a new version of his first band, Road Crew, but the group soon fell apart; in 1996, an intravenous cocktail of heroin and cocaine resulted in a stroke that left him with a permanent speech impediment. The drug use soon escalated into violent outbursts against domestic partners, which sent him to jail twice in 1997 and 1999 and torpedoed a comeback with the reformed '80s glam-metal act BulletBoys.
In 2003, he formed Suki Jones, which later became Adler's Appetite, a modestly successful group with an astonishingly high rate of turnover among its band members, most of whom had been culled from defunct rock and metal acts from Guns N' Roses' heyday. The group released a self-titled EP in 2005, but Adler's issues prevented them from producing a full-length album. By 2008, his addiction had left him suicidal, prompting a two-week stint in a psychiatric hospital prior to joining the in-patient program on the second season of "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." He immediately established himself as a charming manipulator who resorted to aggression when faced with his failings. Adler was twice arrested while appearing on "Celebrity Rehab" and its follow-up series, "Sober House," and incurred a DUI arrest in 2009 that sent him back to Dr. Drew for the fifth season of "Celebrity Rehab." The year 2010 saw a newly sober Adler participate in a flurry of music activities, from a guest shot on Slash's self-titled solo album to a new Adler's Appetite, which released the single "Alive" to coincide with Adler's autobiography, My Appetite for Destruction: Sex and Drugs and Guns N' Roses (2010). The following year, Adler received word that the original lineup of Guns N' Roses would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which set anticipation for a reunion to an all-time high.
By Paul Gaita
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