Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels photo by Carrie Reiser.

OK, time to get back to some current rockers. Old Mon was curled up with the Sunday paper when he noticed that Bret Michaels of Poison fame was coming to Stage AE in July with Motley Crue. Talk about a dude with some history...

Michaels was born Bret Michael Sychak (his folks considered Maverick for his middle name - Bret Maverick, like the TV show - but cooler heads prevailed) to parents Wally and Marjorie in Butler. You may have read about his health issues; well, they started early. At the age of six, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and has to take up to four shots of insulin every day.

It didn't slow him down much. He began playing the guitar as a teenager, and in 1983 formed the Harrisburg-based bar band Paris after his family had moved east to Mechanicsburg.

Michaels wasn't just the frontman, but the main songwriter for the group. After a year on the beer circuit, they pulled up roots and headed to LA to seek their fame and fortune. Oh, they changed names, too. Paris became Poison.

Word of mouth pub led to a deal with the indie Enigma Records (they were signed for $30,000), and they made the album "Look What the Cat Dragged In." It sat around until the band filmed a vid of their song, "Talk Dirty to Me." (It lives on today as part of the video game "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.") Propelled by the clip, the album went platinum, and the glam band was on its way.

In March, 1987, Michaels collapsed onstage due to a diabetic episode. Fans thought he was OD'ing, so he announced publicly that he was a diabetic. More personal turmoil led to his signature song "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

It was a break-up song for his relationship with his girl and muse Tracy Lewis, and became the heartbreak anthem of the eighties.

The group kept on pumpin' out hit LPs - the multi-platinum selling albums "Open Up and Say... Ahh!" followed by "Flesh & Blood," which spawned a world tour. Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille began to drift apart during that tour, capped by a backstage fistfight between the pair at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, and DeVille left the band.

Poison carried on with Richie Kotzen and recorded "Native Tongue," and then with guitarist Blues Saraceno cut the album "Crack a Smile... and More!."

Michaels came close to joining the big band in the sky when he crashed his Ferrari into a telephone pole, resulting in broken ribs, nose, jaw, fingers and some lost teeth.

Poison had pretty much run into its own brick wall by then, though in 1999, Michaels reunited with old pard C.C. Deville and played a sold-out greatest hits reunion tour. In the next decade, he would split his time between Poison and a solo career as a singer, TV/movie star, and all-around celeb.

He recorded his first solo album in 1998, "A Letter from Death Row," the soundtrack to the movie he directed, wrote, and starred in, a project he undertook with Charlie "Tiger Blood" Sheen. They also produced "No Code of Conduct," which Michaels also directed and acted in, and he had a cameo in their surfer movie "In God's Hands."

And in a Sheen-like episode, he and Pamela Anderson starred on an unauthorized internet sex tape in 1998 that went viral and was released as a DVD a few years later. Ah, impetuous youth... At any rate, we won't go into where his libido has allegedly led him; suffice to say that he was selected as one of Maxim’s "Top 100 Hottest People."

In 2003, he released his first studio album, "Songs of Life."

Michaels began his celeb career in 2000, when he appeared in the CBS sitcom "Yes, Dear." He appeared in three episodes of "The Chris Isaak Show" from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, Michaels was a judge for the reality TV competition "Nashville Star." He also released a country rock album called "Freedom of Sound."

2007 saw him take a trip across the world when Michaels and his band visited the troops at Al Asad Air Base as part of a tour of US bases in Iraq sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment.

In 2008, he issued "Rock My World," an album that featured music from his "Rock of Love" reality dating show that started in 2007 on VH1 and lasted three seasons. TV is the equal of touring for publicity purposes; the disk charted at #40 on Billboard. He was also on "Don't Forget the Lyrics!" and won $250,000 for St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

He continued to release music. Michaels created a half-hour acoustic DVD for Time Life in 2008 titled "Hard & Heavy Confidential," which led to a full-length CD called "Bret Michaels Acoustic Sessions."

Last year, he was on "America's Got Talent." Michaels was the victor on NBC's Donald Trump snarkfest "Celebrity Apprentice 3," winning the reality competition and earning $640,000 for the American Diabetes Association. He hosted the Miss Universe 2010 pageant along with Natalie Morales.

In July, he released his new album "Custom Built." It's his highest rated solo effort, peaking at #14 on the Billboard charts. This May, Michaels will release a solo rock album "Get Your Rock On" and tour both with Poison and as a single act. The budding author is also adding chapters to his work-in-progress autobiography, "Roses & Thorns."

And he's back on the celebrity bandwagon; in October, his VH1 follow-up to "Rock of Love" premiered. It's a series based on his life and family dealings called "Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It." Pretty intimate stuff, too - Michaels proposed on air to Kristi Gibson, the mother of his two girls Raine and Jorja and his companion of 16 years, during the season's finale.

As busy as the year was, it was almost his last. On April 12, 2010, Michaels was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Ten days later, he was again in the hospital, this time suffering from a massive brain hemorrhage. He was released from sick bay in May; it had been touch-and-go for awhile.

But hey, he wasn't done. A couple of weeks later, he suffered a mini-stroke, was readmitted to the hospital, and also found to have a hole in his heart. The docs patched that up, and Michaels dedicated himself to recovery and a return to the stage. And in what can only be described as a relentlessly focused, bulldog approach to rehab, he's 100% now, fully recovered from the physical slings and arrows flung at him in 2010.

So he can get back to the important things - touring, mugging on the tube, winking at the babes, and watching the Steelers. Hey, the guy is from Butler!

Michaels is a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even has a guitar with the Steelers' logo. He's performed the national anthem at Three Rivers Stadium. Michael's favorite player, not too surprisingly, is Jack Lambert, and Michaels includes himself among the fan club roster of "Lambert's Lunatics."

He's cut several Top Fifty albums, sold 30 million LPs and had 15 Top Forty singles. Michaels has music and TV credits longer than the Steeler season-ticket waiting list. His personal life is about as spicy as a kid from Butler's can be. What does Michaels think about it all? As he told the Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis "I’m thankful to be here and to still be rockin’ and I feel pretty damn good." 'Nuff said.

"Nothin' But A Good Time" - Poison (1988)

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