Rose grew up in Indiana in a troubled family environment. His love of music was fostered by singing in church, participating in school chorus and studying piano, but his numerous run-ins with the police and activities as a teenager led to his leaving home at a young age. After moving to Los Angeles in 1982, Rose fronted various local bands, eventually forming Guns N' Roses with former L.A. Guns bandmate Tracii Guns.
As lead singer for Guns N' Roses, Rose enjoyed tremendous success, recognition, record and concert ticket sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s before dropping out of the public eye for several years. In 2001, he resurfaced with a new line-up of Guns N' Roses, and has since played periodic concert tours.
The only original member still part of the band's line-up, Rose still places high in numerous polls as one of hard rock's all-time greatest frontmen, but is also infamous for his onstage antics and high-profile disputes with former bandmates and others in the entertainment business.
Rose's mother remarried when he was a small child. She changed his name to William Bailey, using the last name of her new husband, L. Stephen Bailey. He has two younger half-siblings, a sister named Amy and a brother named Stuart. Rose has stated that he, as well as his siblings, were physically abused by Bailey. Growing up, Rose believed that Bailey was his biological father.
Because of his turbulent upbringing and his mother's reluctance to leave the abusive Bailey, Rose is said to have issues with women. He claimed in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in April 1992, that during his childhood, he was made to believe that women and sexuality were evil and that due to the violent treatment of his mother by his stepfather he witnessed as an impressionable child, he had been led to think that domestic violence was the normal way of doing things.
The Bailey household was deeply religious, and Rose grew up attending a Pentecostal church, where he was required to attend services three to eight times per week. He sang in church from the age of five, and also performed at services with his brother and sister in the "Bailey Trio". Rose was so involved with the church that he even taught Sunday School. Later, he spoke of his disillusion with his religious upbringing:
Church did provide an outlet for Rose's musical interests. In addition to singing in church, he also participated in his high school chorus and studied piano.
Rose's original range is a baritone, but due to his vocal skills, he can sing parts ranging from bass, to tenor, and to a high falsetto/soprano, and has several different recognized "voices" used in his songs. He has stated that he originally started to develop his range to confuse his chorus teacher in school.
At age 17, while going through papers in his parents' home, Rose learned of his biological father's existence and his own origins, and readopted his birth name, William Rose. He referred to himself as W. Rose only, however, as he did not wish to share a name with his biological father.
After discovering the truth of his background, Rose began "acting out" in earnest. He was in trouble numerous times with the police and was arrested over twenty times on charges such as public drunkenness and assault. At age 16, he was kicked out of his house for not cutting his hair. At this age, Rose also met Izzy Stradlin in a driver's education class. The two bonded over their love of rock music and eventually started playing in bands together. Stradlin eventually left Rose, and Indiana, to go to Los Angeles and focus on music.
Lafayette authorities threatened to charge Rose as a habitual criminal in his late teenage years. When he was 17, on the advice of his lawyer, he left Indiana and began hitchhiking and taking buses across the country. Although he returned to Indiana to visit family from time to time, he left for good in December 1982 and moved to Los Angeles, accompanied by a girlfriend.
Rose eventually adopted the name W. Axl Rose ("Axl" after a band in which he once played), and set out to re-unite with Stradlin. Rose legally changed his name to "W. Axl Rose" in 1986, and had the moniker tattooed on his arm.
Rose and his L.A. Guns bandmate Tracii Guns formed Guns N' Roses in March 1985. The band was a merger of L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose, and featured musicians who had played for one or both groups, including Ole Beich and Duff McKagan. The band debuted at the Troubadour in Hollywood and proceeded to play the L.A. circuit, eventually building a fan following and attracting the attention of several record companies. The lineup eventually solidified with Rose on vocals, Slash on lead guitar, Izzy Stradlin on rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan on bass and Steven Adler on drums. Guns N' Roses was signed to Geffen Records in 1986 and released a four-song EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, on their own label, UZI Suicide, in December of that year.
The band's major label debut album, entitled Appetite for Destruction, was released in the United States on July 21, 1987. The record had a slow start, selling only 500,000 copies in the first year of its release. However, fueled by relentless touring and the mainstream success of the single "Sweet Child o' Mine", Appetite for Destruction rose to the #1 position on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States in the fall of 1988. To date, Appetite for Destruction ranks as the fourth best-selling debut album in the United States, has been certified 15x platinum by the RIAA, and has sold over 27 million copies.
With the success of Appetite for Destruction and its follow-up EP, GN'R Lies, Rose found himself lauded as one of rock's most prominent frontmen. In a 1990 interview with MTV, journalist Kurt Loder referred to Rose as "maybe the finest hard rock singer currently on the scene, and certainly the most charismatic." He was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in August 1989 and again in April 1992.
In 1990, Guns N' Roses returned to the studio to begin recording the full-length follow-up to Appetite for Destruction. Recording sessions were temporarily scuttled when Steven Adler, battling drug and alcohol addiction, was fired in July 1990 and replaced by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum. The band fired their manager, Alan Niven, in May 1991, replacing him with Doug Goldstein. According to a 1991 cover story by Rolling Stone magazine, Rose forced the dismissal of Niven, against the wishes of some of his bandmates, by refusing to complete the albums until he was replaced.
With enough music for two albums, the band released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II on September 17, 1991. The tactic paid off when the albums debuted at #2 and #1 respectively on the Billboard chart, setting a record as Guns N' Roses became the first and only group to date to achieve this feat. The albums spent 108 weeks on the chart.
In the late spring of 1991, before the Illusion albums were released, Guns N' Roses embarked on the 28-month-long Use Your Illusion World Tour. It became famous for both its financial success and the many controversial incidents that occurred at the shows.
During the tour, Rose demanded, and received, sole ownership of the Guns N' Roses name from bandmates Slash and McKagan. His relationships with his bandmates became increasingly strained: Izzy Stradlin left the group voluntarily on November 7, 1991, and was replaced by former Kill For Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke for the remainder of the two-year tour. Clarke himself left in 1994, and was replaced by Rose's childhood friend Paul Tobias. When Rose replaced Slash's guitar parts with those of Tobias on the band's cover version of the Rolling Stones' song "Sympathy for the Devil" for the soundtrack of the film Interview with the Vampire, tension increased further. Slash, McKagan and Sorum all left Guns N' Roses at various points between 1996 and 1997, leaving Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed as the only remaining Illusion-era members of the band.
While the Guns N' Roses name is owned solely by Rose, the band's back catalog is controlled jointly by Rose, Slash and McKagan. In 2004, the three presented a united front in a joint lawsuit against Universal and Geffen, in which they unsuccessfully attempted to block the release of the Greatest Hits compilation album.
Slash and McKagan have also filed several lawsuits against Rose for matters related to control and administration of the songs in the Guns N' Roses catalog. One of the cases, in which McKagan and Slash stated that they had been denied royalty checks for Guns N' Roses's sales in 2005, was determined to be the result of a clerical error by ASCAP and was resolved.
In a rare interview with Rolling Stone in 2006, Rose shed more light on his long awaited Chinese Democracy album. "We're working on 32 songs, and 26 are nearly done," he said in the interview. "People will hear music this year," he said. "It's a very complex record, I'm trying to do something different. Some of the arrangements are kind of like Queen. Some people are going to say, 'It doesn't sound like Axl Rose, it doesn't sound like Guns N' Roses.' But you'll like at least a few songs on there.
Guns N' Roses resurfaced with concert tours in 2002 and again in 2006. The band, now consisting of Rose, Dizzy Reed, Robin Finck, Tommy Stinson, Chris Pitman, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (replacing Buckethead), performed their first live concerts in the United States in over three years on May 12, May 14, May 15, and May 17, 2006 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. They also performed in Madrid on May 25 and in Lisbon (Rock in Rio) on May 27 to an audience of over 50,000.
On May 6, 2006, Rose appeared on the Eddie Trunk radio show and promised that the album would be released sometime in the fall or late fall 2006.
On August 31, 2006, Rose presented The Killers at the MTV Video Music Awards by coming out onto the stage and screaming his trademark, "Do you know where the fuck you are?!" In an interview backstage, Rose revealed that the official Chinese Democracy tour would begin "around October 24th", and that the album would be out that year.
On December 15, 2006, Rose issued an open letter to Guns N' Roses fans, discussing, among other things, the reasons why Chinese Democracy had not been released yet. The letter promised that the album would appear in 2007, and named March 6 as a tentative release date. However, the album's release date has since been pushed back once again.
In 2007, Rose collaborated with longtime friend Sebastian Bach on his solo album Angel Down, doing a duet with Bach on a cover of the Aerosmith song "Back in the Saddle". Rose also performed backing vocals on "(Love is) a Bitchslap" and "Stuck Inside", for which he was credited as a co-writer.
Although Rose has not been known for alcohol abuse, on June 27, 2006, he was arrested in Stockholm, Sweden, after an early morning altercation in his hotel lobby with hotel security. Rose is alleged to have bitten a security guard's leg and shattered an antique lobby mirror while in a drunken rage. Rose later commented in a press release: "We had a great gig in Stockholm and I am not going to let this incident spoil that. My assistant Beta and I were talking in the lobby of the hotel when security started to give us a hard time. My only concern was to make sure she was okay." After spending the next several hours in a Stockholm drunk tank, Rose admitted to all charges and paid roughly $6,000 in fines and was released. The Summer European tour continued as scheduled.
In 1988, Guns N' Roses released the EP G N' R Lies. Although the album had strong sales, there was public outrage over the lyrics of the song "One in a Million", which included the words "niggers" and "faggots". As Rose was the lyricist of the piece and the song was composed about his personal experiences, he was labeled racist and homophobic, charges he heavily denied. The lyrics led to Guns N' Roses being removed from the schedule at a 1989 concert benefiting the Gay Men's Health Crisis at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. When Guns N' Roses and Living Colour supported The Rolling Stones for a concert in Los Angeles in 1989, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid publicly commented on "One in a Million" during his band's set.
Rose denied allegations of homophobia, however, he claimed that he had had bad experiences with homosexuals, and, as such, he did not understand their way of life. He also pointed out that many of his musical idols, including Elton John and Freddie Mercury, as well as the head of his record company, were gay or bisexual. Following this, in a surprising move, Rose performed "November Rain" with Elton John at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. John (along with Bernie Taupin) was a big influence on his musical and lyrical outlook. He also paid tribute to Freddie Mercury, another huge influence, at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where he again performed with John, this time singing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Rose has maintained his friendship with John to the current day and inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In addressing the accusations of racism, Rose gave several explanations. In one 1989 interview, he stated that he had used the word to signify "somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn't necessarily mean black," and referenced the rap group Niggaz with Attitude (NWA) as using the word in a positive context. Rose was occasionally photographed wearing an NWA hat from then on. By 1992, however, Rose seemed to have gained new perspective on the song and its lyrics. In one interview, he conceded that the word had been used as an insult, but added, "I was pissed off about some black people that were trying to rob me. I wanted to insult those particular black people. I didn't want to support racism."
Rose was consistent in strongly denying accusations that he was racist. He also expressed concern and disapproval at those who used "One in a Million" to promote their own racist views, noting: "There's a lot of people who have chosen to use that song. However that song makes them feel, they think that must be what the song means. If they hate blacks, and they hear my lines and hate blacks even more, I'm sorry, but that's not how I meant it."
In many instances, Rose's actions have seemed to be based in concern for the safety of the band and audience members. At the 1988 Monsters of Rock concert at Castle Donington, England during which two fans were crushed, Rose stopped the show several times when the audience rushed the stage. The final report into the Donington tragedy noted that Rose had immediately cooperated with venue security when advised of the dangerous crowd conditions, and had attempted to calm the crowd. In a more recent incident, during a concert in 2006 in Birmingham, Rose stopped the show and had a security guard ejected for assaulting a fan in the audience.
In July 1991, during the early stages of the 28-month-long Use Your Illusion Tour, Rose jumped off stage during a concert in St. Louis to take a video camera away from a fan. The concert was aborted as Rose threw his microphone down and walked off stage saying "Thanks to the lame-ass security, I'm going home!" The other band members followed and the house lights came on, sparking an intense riot that caused significant damage to both the newly-constructed arena and Guns N' Roses's equipment and instruments. Rose was blamed for the melee, and was charged with four counts of misdemeanor assault and one charge of property damage, for which he was arrested in 1992. The case eventually went to trial in late 1992, and resulted in a conviction, two years' probation and a US $50,000 fine for Rose.
Another riot occurred on August 8, 1992 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, during Guns N' Roses' summer concert co-headlining tour with Metallica. During the performance, Metallica's set was cut short when the band's lead singer, James Hetfield, was burned in a pyrotechnics accident. Guns N' Roses was unable to take the stage early to make up for Metallica's abbreviated performance, as Rose was once again late arriving at the venue. Further compounding the situation, Rose walked off stage and left the stadium after playing nine songs (only about 50 minutes), claiming he had problems with his voice. Before "Double Talkin' Jive", Rose said this will be “our last show for a long time”, and at the end of "Civil War", their last song, Rose said “Thank you, your money will be refunded” and walked offstage. A riot ensued, which spilled out into the streets. Authorities were barely able to bring the chaos under control.
Metallica stated on its Behind the Music VH1 special that they were disappointed Guns N' Roses did not play an extended set to mollify disappointed fans. Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted also stated that the tour taught them "what not to do" as a band. These incidents, along with the rise of a new musical style known as grunge, led to a growing impression of Guns N' Roses as a self-indulgent and out-of-date act.
Problems have also occurred at several of Guns N' Roses's more recent concert events. On June 11, 2006, Guns N' Roses headlined the Download Festival in Donington Park, England. Within the first half hour of the show; Rose had become annoyed with the quality of the sound and had also lost his footing, nearly causing him to fall due to the "slippery stage". After briefly leaving and returning the set mid song, throwing the microphone on the floor and exiting the stage citing technical difficulties while leaving Bumblefoot to play an instrumental of the song "Don't Cry", he returned on stage with tennis shoes on (he was previously wearing boots), announced that he had some old friends to bring out, and was joined by Izzy Stradlin to play "Used to Love Her". Stradlin left and returned on stage multiple times, for "Patience", and the final number "Paradise City". During the night, Rose was also joined by Sebastian Bach and together they sang "My Michelle".
On July 19, 2006, at a show in Newcastle, England, Rose walked off-stage during the performance of "Nightrain" after what was alleged to be a £1 coin was thrown on to the stage directly at him. Rose addressed the crowd off-stage and informed them that any person caught throwing objects at him or any other members of the band must be ejected from the auditorium. The band returned to the stage to finish the song after which Rose declared "The show is over", the band departed and the house lights were resumed. They did not play the usual "Paradise City" encore.
|Hollywood Rose: The Roots of Guns N' Roses||2004 (Recorded in 1983)||Cleopatra|
|Appetite for Destruction||1987||Geffen|
|G N' R Lies||1988||Geffen|
|Use Your Illusion I||1991||Geffen|
|Use Your Illusion II||1991||Geffen|
|"The Spaghetti Incident?"||1993||Geffen|
|The End of the Innocence||Don Henley||1989||Geffen|
|Fire and Gasoline||Steve Jones||1989||Gold Mountain|
|Pawnshop Guitars||Gilby Clarke||1994||Virgin|
|Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits||Don Henley||1995||Geffen|
|The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper||Alice Cooper||1999||Rhino|
|Angel Down||Sebastian Bach||2007||EMI|
The couple separated after less than a month of marriage, but later reconciled for several months, during which time Everly became pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage in October 1990. This deeply affected Rose, who had wanted to have children of his own. The day after Everly's miscarriage, Rose was arrested after allegedly assaulting a neighbor with a wine bottle after the neighbor threatened to call the police because of Rose's loud music. The marriage between Everly and Rose was annulled in January 1991.
After the breakup, Rose allegedly continued to try to contact Everly for more than a year, sending her flowers, letters, and even caged birds. In 1994, Everly filed a civil lawsuit against Rose, alleging various incidents of physical and emotional domestic violence had occurred before and during the marriage; the suit was eventually settled out of court.
By mid 1991, Rose had become involved with model Stephanie Seymour. While they were together, Seymour appeared in two Guns N' Roses videos, "November Rain" and "Don't Cry". Rose became deeply attached to Seymour's son, Dylan, and tried to be a good father figure for the child, as there had been none in his own life. Seymour and Rose parted ways in early 1993, and Rose fell into a deep depression. Rose and Seymour then filed lawsuits against each other, each claiming that the other was physically abusive. In support of her case, Seymour subpoenaed Erin Everly, Rose's ex-wife, so Everly would testify that she was also abused by Rose. The lawsuits were settled out of court.
From 1993 to 1996, Rose dated Guess? jeans model Jennifer Driver, who appeared in the band's music video for "Since I Don't Have You". In 2006, Guns N' Roses fan sites and news media outlets claimed that Rose dated, at various points, Diane O'Connor, the ex-wife of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger's brother, and Ukrainian model Sasha Volkova, but the rumors have never been publicly supported or verified by Rose, O'Connor or Volkova.
Following the Video Music Awards, Neil and Rose traded insults and challenges for confrontations through the press for a number of months. The duel never happened; each singer accused the other of backing out. In an interview with Larry King Live in 2008, when asked about the feud, Neil stated, "...it's like if somebody pulls your hair when you're in third grade, are you still going to beat them up?...I don't think so." He also noted that he had not spoken to Rose in more than 20 years.
In an interview with Michael Azerrad in the unofficial biography Come as You Are, Cobain admitted there was one thing he did like about Guns N' Roses: "They totally mess things up and then they sit back and look at what they messed up and then try to figure out how they can fix it, whereas we mess things up and just dwell on it and make it even worse.
Cobain further commented on Rose's rock star persona, claiming, "His role has been played for years. Ever since the beginning of rock and roll, there's been an Axl Rose. And it's just boring. It's totally boring to me. Why it's such a fresh and new thing in his eyes is obviously because it's happening to him personally and he's such an egotistical person that he thinks that the whole world owes him something."
Then-Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan was one of the last people to see Kurt Cobain alive before his death in 1994, and the other former members of Guns N' Roses are now getting along with the Cobain estate. Courtney Love has privately apologized to Duff McKagan for their criticism of the band. In addition, the two have performed "It's So Easy" live together, and Velvet Revolver, the current band of McKagan and former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, have played Nirvana's song "Negative Creep" in concert and released a version of it as the B-side of their CD-single for "Slither".
Slash did not comment on Rose's press release, but a Velvet Revolver spokeswoman did promise that he would be heard from "within days". Slash never released an official statement on the matter, but on May 13, 2006, during an interview on the Camp Freddy Show on Indie 103.1 FM, he denied ever having visited Rose's house, noting that he had neither seen nor spoken to the singer since the mid 1990s. In his 2007 autobiography, Slash changed his version of events slightly, saying he had dropped off a note at Rose's house asking for a meeting, but that Rose had never responded directly. Vocalist Scott Weiland posted an inflammatory letter, addressed to Rose, on the Velvet Revolver official website, but it was quickly removed.
In 2008, after parting ways with Velvet Revolver, Scott Weiland stated that his opinion of Rose had changed. Speaking with Rolling Stone, he said, "Everyone has made Axl out to be this horrendously crazy person, this bad guy, and I don't know him very well at all. He and I for whatever reason got almost tricked into this little media spat for a moment because one of our band members happened to run into him and said that he said something. So, my point being that having been in a band with Velvet Revolver now for five and a half years, I'm not quite so sure that it was all Axl's fault.
Club owner Noel Ashman stated "Axl was a gentleman and had the good sense not to retaliate as he would have done some serious damage to Hilfiger."... Guns N' Roses were playing an acoustic set at Rosario Dawson's birthday party. Later that night Rose dedicated the song "You're Crazy" to "my good friend Tommy Hilfiger. It was rumored on several celebrity gossip chat boards that Rose and Hilfiger (who was wearing a Guns N' Roses t-shirt under a blazer) were seen "hugging" and "burying the hatchet" backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in late August 2006, although this has not been confirmed by either side.
However, on December 2, 2006, Stinson posted a message: "As a matter of fact, Eagles of Death Metal were a suggestion of mine a while ago. Turns out they were the wrong band for our crowd. They were booed and did not play for as long as they were scheduled to. ... In the past I have thrown my bass. I have never thrown it at Axl or anyone else in the band nor has anyone thrown my bass back at me... yet. Axl has been a dear friend to me for nine years. We have no problem communicating and wish that people would stay the fuck out of shit they don't know anything about.
In a 2006 interview, Jon Bon Jovi was critical of the public and media attention Rose received, despite not having released an album for years: "You know what pisses me off? I was reading this British rock magazine this month and there was a story about Axl Rose and the $13 million Guns N' Roses record that was never made. That motherfucker hasn't made a record in 13 years and he gets all that attention. You know what I've done in 13 years? A lot. But they have continued to write about the freak show aspect of him. Because he's a recluse. That makes him interesting, right? In addition, Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan publicly criticized Rose and his late arrivals at concerts in another 2006 interview.