The band was founded by bass guitarist Nikki Sixx (who was, at the time, in a band called London) and drummer Tommy Lee, who were later joined by guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil. Mötley Crüe has sold over 80 million album copies worldwide
The band has often been noted for their hard-living lifestyles; all members have had numerous brushes with the law, spent time in jail, suffered long addictions to alcohol and drugs, had countless escapades with women, and are heavily tattooed. Their ninth studio album entitled Saints of Los Angeles was released on June 24, 2008, while a film adaptation of their best-selling band autobiography The Dirt, is due to be released sometime in 2009.
They soon met their first manager, Allan Coffman. The band's first release was the single "Stick to Your Guns/Toast of the Town," which was released on their own label, Leathür Records, which had a pressing & distribution deal with Greenworld Distribution in Torrance. In November 1981, their debut album Too Fast for Love was self-produced and released on Leathür, selling 20,000 copies. Coffman's assistant Eric Greif set up a tour of Canada, while they used the band's success in the Los Angeles club scene to negotiate with several record labels, eventually signing a recording contract with Elektra Records in late spring 1982. At Elektra's insistence, the debut album was then re-mixed by producer Roy Thomas Baker and re-released on August 20, 1982, two months after its Canadian WEA release using the original Leathür mixes, to coincide with the tour.
During the "Crüesing Through Canada Tour '82," there were several widely-publicized incidents. First, the band was arrested and then released at Edmonton International Airport for wearing their spiked stage wardrobe through Customs and for Vince's small carry-on filled with porn magazines (both PR stunts) - considered 'dangerous weapons' and 'indecent material', Customs eventually had the confiscated items destroyed. Second, a spurious 'bomb threat' against the band, playing Scandals Disco in Edmonton, made the front page of the Edmonton Journal(June 9, 1982) where assistant band manager Greif and Lee were interviewed. This ended up being a PR stunt perpetrated by Greif. Lastly, Lee threw a television set from the upper story window of the Sheraton Caravan Hotel. Canadian rock magazine Music Express noted that the band were "banned for life" from the city. Despite the tour ending prematurely in financial disaster, it was the basis for the band's first international press.
In 1983, the band changed management from Coffman to Doug Thaler and Doc McGhee. McGhee is best known for managing Bon Jovi & Kiss, starting with their reunion tour in 1996. Greif subsequently sued all parties in a Los Angeles Superior Court action that dragged on for several years, and coincidentally later re-surfaced as manager of Nikki's former band, London. Coffman himself was sued by a couple of investors for whom he had sold 'stock in the band', including Michigan-based Bill Larson. Coffman eventually declared bankruptcy, as he had mortgaged his home at least three times to cover band expenses.
The band has also had their share of scrapes with the law and life. In 1984, Neil wrecked his car on his way back from the liquor store. He was in a head-on collision, and his passenger, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, was killed. Neil, charged with a DUI and vehicular manslaughter, was sentenced to 30 days in jail (though he only spent 18 days). The band would later release box sets entitled "Music to Crash Your Car To".
In 1987, Sixx suffered a near-fatal heroin overdose. He was declared legally dead on the way to the hospital, but one medic refused to give up and gave Sixx two shots of adrenaline to the heart, bringing him back to life. His few minutes in death were the inspiration for the band's song "Kickstart My Heart," which peaked at #16 on the Mainstream U.S. chart, and was featured on their album Dr. Feelgood. Their decadent lifestyles almost shattered the band, until managers Thaler and McGhee pulled an intervention, and refused to allow the band to tour in Europe, fearing that "some [of them] would come back in bodybags". Shortly after, all the band members except for Mars underwent rehabilitation; Mars cleaned up on his own.
After finding sobriety in 1989, Mötley Crüe reached its peak popularity with the release of their fifth album, the Bob Rock produced Dr. Feelgood, on September 1, 1989. On October 14 of that year, it became their only No. 1 album and stayed on the charts for 109 weeks after its release. The band members each stated in interviews that, due in no small part to their collective push for sobriety, Dr. Feelgood was their most solid album musically to that point, and indeed, one of their best albums to date.
In 1989, McGhee was fired after breaking several promises that he made to the band in relation to the Moscow Music Peace Festival including giving his other band, Bon Jovi, advantages with slot placement. Doug Thaler then soldiered on as sole band manager.
On October 14, 1991, the band's sixth album, Decade of Decadence, a compilation, was released. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It was supposed to be just something for the fans while they worked on the next "all new" album.
The band reunited in 1997, after their current manager, Allen Kovac, and Neil's manager, Bert Stein, set up a meeting between Neil, Lee, and Sixx. Agreeing to "leave their egos at the door," the band released Generation Swine. Although it debuted at #4, and despite the band performing at the American Music Awards, the album was a commercial failure, due in part to their label Elektra Records' lack of support. The band soon left Elektra and created their own label, Mötley Records.
In 1998, Mötley Crüe's contractual ties with Elektra Records had expired putting the band in total control of their future. This included the ownership of the masters of all their albums. In announcing the end of their relationship with Elektra Records, the band became one of the few groups in history to own and control their publishing and catalogue of recorded masters. In 1999, the band re-released all their albums, dubbed as Crücial Crüe. The limited-edition digital re-masters included demos and previously unreleased tracks.
In 1999, Lee put his role in the band on hold to pursue a solo career due to increasing bad tension with frontman Neil. He was replaced by Randy Castillo, who drummed on several Ozzy Osbourne albums. Randy died of cancer on March 26, 2002. No replacement had been named which sent the band into a hiatus following a 2000 tour in support of their studio release, New Tattoo. New Tattoo charted at #41 and sold less than 200,000 copies. Former Hole Drummer Samantha Maloney filled in on the tour to promote New Tattoo. The Salt Lake City performance of the tour is featured on the the DVD Lewd, Crüed & Tattooed..
Within the following six years, Sixx played in the bands 58 and Brides of Destruction, while Lee formed Methods of Mayhem and performed as a solo artist. Neil continued touring on an annual basis as a solo artist, singing mostly Mötley Crüe songs. Mars, who suffers from a rare degenerative form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, went into seclusion in 2001.
A 2001 autobiography entitled The Dirt carefully packaged the band as "the world's most notorious rock band". The book made the top ten on the New York Times best-seller list and spent ten weeks there.
In 2006, Mötley Crüe went on the Route of All Evil Tour co-headlining with Aerosmith. This was another well attended tour following the "Carnival of Sins" tour of 2005. In June 2007, Mötley Crüe set out on a small European tour. A lawsuit was recently filed by Neil, Mars and Sixx against Carl Stubner, Lee's manager. The three sued him for contracting for Lee to appear on two unsuccessful reality shows the band claim hurt its image. It was reported on Motley.com that the lawsuit has been settled.
Mötley Crüe's ninth studio album, titled Saints of Los Angeles was released in Japan on June 17 and in America on June 24. The album was originally titled "The Dirt", but was changed. The album features the band's original lineup. On April 11, Mötley Crüe released the song "Saints Of Los Angeles" in full, and also as a downloadable song for the game Rock Band, on April 15. The song is available on spinner.com.
Mötley Crüe had announced that sometime in 2009 is the possible release date for the movie, The Dirt, based on the book written by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss. Rumors about the cast of characters in this movie include Christopher Walken as the famous rock and roll star Ozzy Osbourne and Val Kilmer as David Lee Roth.
In 2005, Mötley Crüe were involved in an animation-comedy spoof Disaster!, written by Paul Benson and Matt Sullivan and was used as the introduction film to concerts on their Carnival of Sins tour.
The band has been featured on a number of VH1 countdown shows, 'Dr. Feelgood' was ranked the #7 Greatest Air Guitar Song, 'Live Wire' was ranked the #17 Greatest Metal Song Of All Time on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs, and 'Home Sweet Home' was ranked the #12 greatest power ballad of all time. Mötley Crüe were featured several times on VH1's 100 most metal moments, their highest spot being #3. VH1 included the Tommy Lee sex tapes, The Dirt, Ozzy and Nikki pee at an incident and the Moscow Music Peace Festival; all featured in the countdown. Mötley Crüe has also been one of the many bands featured on VH1: Behind the Music. The band was also ranked #19 on VH1's list of the most popular hard rock bands.
Building on the popularity and the desire of fans to see The Crüe between World tours, a wide variety of tribute acts have spawned who celebrate and pay homage to the different eras and albums over the years. Red Hot, a tribute from L.A., captures the look and feel of the Shout at the Devil era with black and red leathers. Theatre of Pain captures the spandex and lipstick attitude of the album of the same name. And Carnival of Sins rounds out the tributes with a rendition of the current Crüe image that brings to mind the crüdeness of the Mötley moniker. The band even has an all-female version from New York City, Girls Girls Girls, who cover all eras of the band's music without emulating the look of any specific Crüe era.