“Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation.”
There are only a few life stories in rock n roll that can stand in comparison to that of Anthony Kiedis, lead singer and songwriter of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The 55-year-old artist has survived a lifetime of addiction to hard drugs, an affinity for engaging in risky behavior, and an insatiable desire to live life with the pedal the floor. Despite it all, Kiedis has emerged sober and stronger than ever before, and today he uses his story to inspire others. To truly understand the scope of his story, you need to start at the beginning.
Kiedis was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to parents John Kiedis and Margaret Noble, who split up when Anthony was three years old. At a young age, Anthony was exposed to the wild side of life when his father took him on drug runs and even asked his son to hold briefcases containing thousands of dollars in drug money. By the time he reached junior high, Anthony knew how to shoot heroin and was a frequent cocaine user. During this time, Kiedis first developed his taste for the extreme, often acting out in school, attending Los Angeles club shows, and selling drugs on the side.
In his memoir, Scar Tissue, Kiedis recalls many stories about his father bringing these influences into Anthony’s life. At the age of 13, Anthony’s father introduced him to marijuana, cocaine, and even underage sex with his girlfriend. As a Hollywood drug dealer, Anthony’s father told his son stories about partying with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. In fact, Anthony’s godmother is Cher, from Sonny and Cher fame.
“I've wanted to feel pleasure to the point of insanity. They call it getting high, because it's wanting to know that higher level, that godlike level. You want to touch the heavens, you want to feel glory and euphoria…”
Despite his lifestyle, Anthony performed well in high school and even got accepted into UCLA. After taking classes, however, Kiedis grew bored and dedicated more of his time to his favorite pursuit, which was performing in local shows as an MC and lead singer for multiple bands. Kiedis dropped out of college and in 1982 formed the band that would eventually become known as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis performed alongside fellow Chili Peppers bassist Flea and the band gained traction in the LA club scene. As the band’s success started to take shape, however, Kiedis’s problems with drugs and alcohol started to consume his life.
“The feeling would well up inside of me, and no matter how much I loved my girl or my band or my friends or my family, when that siren song 'Go get high now' started playing in my head, I was off.”
Anthony actively consumed marijuana and cocaine on a regular basis but struggled the most with heroin. In 1984, as the Chili Peppers were working on their first studio album, Kiedis went on a trip to Michigan to visit his mother. The rock star ran out of heroin and decided it would be a good time to go cold-turkey. However, withdrawals proved too powerful and he visited a nearby bar where he got loaded with the locals. On his way home from the bar, Kiedis got up to 90-mph and blacked out behind the wheel, veering across the road and crashing into an elm tree. Kiedis was lucky to have survived and not hurt anybody, but even this wake-up call was not enough to stop his increasingly destructive behavior.
In 1988, tragedy struck the Chili Peppers when their longtime guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Both Hillel and Anthony had been close friends and heroin buddies, but the rest of the band decided to draw the line here and refused to let Anthony back in the band until he got clean. Kiedis reluctantly entered rehab and helped finish the album Mother’s Milk in 1989, which became their first major mainstream success. This album was followed by the even more successful BloodSugarSexMagik, which contained the classic song “Under the Bridge”, a harrowing tale of loneliness and heroin use at a dark point in Kiedis’s life.
“I was driving away from the rehearsal studio and thinking how I just wasn’t making any connection with my friends or family, I didn’t have a girlfriend, and Hillel wasn’t there.”
Kiedis stayed on the bandwagon for several more years before heavily relapsing in 1994. He had been sober for more than 5 years and relapsed after being given Valium for a wisdom tooth removal. Kiedis believed he was in control this time and could hide it, but his substance use quickly spiraled out of control again. In a cross-country road trip with his girlfriend at the time, Kiedis decided to go cold-turkey and ended up chugging a bottle of NyQuil to quiet the withdrawals from heroin.
“When you're using drugs, you're driven by this mystical black energy, a force inside you that just won't quit. And the weaker you get, the more you feed into that energy, and the more it messes with you.
Throughout this time, the band was experiencing an extremely rocky success. Multiple songs had entered the Billboard charts but touring and recording along with rampant drug use was tearing the group apart. Guitarist John Frusciante quit the band and other members felt that Kiedis’s drug use had once again gotten out of hand. In fact, during one incident in a hotel room, Kiedis called 911 when his girlfriend was suffering from an apparent overdose. When she came to, Anthony lied to law enforcement about the call and the pair quickly went back to using again.
“There's not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
On Christmas of the year 2000, Kiedis had a spiritual awakening. Sick and tired of the periodic cycles of abuse, Kiedis walked into an NA meeting and has been a regular attendee ever since. Kiedis has this to say about his periodic cycles of abuse and sobriety.
“There's a peculiar thing that happens every time you get clean. You go through this sensation of rebirth. There's something intoxicating about the process of the comeback, and that becomes an element in the whole cycle of addiction. Once you've beaten yourself down with cocaine and heroin, and you manage to stop and walk out of the muck you begin to get your mind and body strong and reconnect with your spirit.
The oppressive feeling of being a slave to the drugs is still in your mind, so by comparison, you feel phenomenal. You're happy to be alive, smelling the air and seeing the beauty around you...You have a choice of what to do. So you experience this jolt of joy that you're not where you came from and that in and of itself is a tricky thing to stop doing. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that every time you get clean, you'll have this great new feeling.
Cut to: a year later, when you've forgotten how bad it was and you don't have that pink-cloud sensation of being newly sober. When I look back, I see why these vicious cycles can develop in someone who's been sober for a long time and then relapses and doesn't want to stay out there using, doesn't want to die, but isn't taking the full measure to get well again. There's a concept in recovery that says 'Half-measures avail us nothing.' When you have a disease, you can't take half the process of getting well and think you're going to get half well; you do half the process of getting well, you're not going to get well at all, and you'll go back to where you came from.
Without a thorough transformation, you're the same guy, and the same guy does the same shit. I kept half-measuring it, thinking I was going to at least get something out of this deal, and I kept getting nothing out of it”
“I'm still a little bent, a little crooked, but all things considered, I can't complain.”