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Steven Adler is the new Ozzy Osbourne. Each is a bona fide rock icon with millions of fans who worship at their respective altars, but their latest stints in the spotlight have been thanks to reality television.
Osbourne became a sensation with housewives thanks to MTV’s The Osbournes, which detailed the singer’s daily life in an “are we laughing at him or with him?” sort of way. The same can’t be said for Adler. His stints on the second season of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and the subsequent Sober House were lots of things; amusing wasn’t one of them.
Similar to the Prince of Darkness, the man once known only as the guy who wore a TSOL shirt in Guns N’ Roses’ 1988 video “Sweet Child O’ Mine” has transcended the world of hard rock for a level of fame that made him Monday morning watercooler talk. If you haven’t seen the show, you’re missing some of the most “real” reality television in the genre’s history. Less than a year ago, the thought of televising a man enduring the effects of heroin-use minutes after taking the drug seemed impossible. But earlier this year, it was a VH1 ratings bonanza.
Even at his lowest, when viewers saw a man who might not recover in time to live on the same planet as the rest of us, Adler remained likable, even charming, when he wasn’t high. Unlike Rehab co-star Jeff Conaway, whose need for intoxicants began to make viewers wish he would just die or get off the screen (whichever came first), the 44-year-old drummer had millions of Americans in his corner, pulling for him to get through it. Publicizing your drug addiction to anyone with cable TV isn’t the way to go for most, but Adler believes it was the right move for him.
“Doing a TV show was the best experience in my life,” Adler says. “I’ve never given myself a chance to get anything close to being sober. They asked me to do the first season, but I wasn’t ready to do it. Then the next year came and I felt different about doing drugs. They gave me an opportunity, and I grabbed on with both hands and my legs and ran with it.”
Those who know Adler solely from VH1 might not understand his importance to rock music, but there’s a very popular belief that Guns N’ Roses never recovered when he left. Although his former group went on to sell out every Enormo-Dome across the world, something was missing, and that something was the swinging vocabulary Adler brought to his instrument. Many—including Adler—argue his replacement Matt Sorum could never fill those shoes.
“Yeah, I know that,” Adler says. “And all the other guys know that. It’s just Axl doesn’t want to admit it. That’s why the songs work—because of all five of us. Use Your Illusion would have been bigger than Appetite [For Destruction] if it was recorded the way the demo tapes sounded. But every record they did with less members sold less and less.”
I was hesitant to bring up Chinese Democracy, the latest Guns N’ Roses record that’s essentially Axl Rose and a revolving door of other guys, but Adler’s opinion of the album is actually pretty spot-on.
“He should have called it ‘WAR.’ W-A-R. W. Axl Rose. It only went gold, and that’s not Guns N’ Roses,” he says. “They go double platinum in the first week.”
Lest anyone think Adler is positioning himself to become a full-time reality star, the drummer has two products slated for release in the near future. The first is a drum instructional video, while the second is a film called Dahmer vs. Gacy. Adler enjoyed his role in each but says his main focus is his current band Adler’s Appetite. The quintet—Adler, bassist Chip Z’Nuff (of ’80s glam rockers Enuff Z’nuff), guitarists Michael Thomas and Alex Grossi, and singer Sheldon Tarsha—perform material from Adler’s stint in the group, which includes 1987’s “Appetite for Destruction,” 1988’s “G N’ R Lies,” and the track “Civil War” from 1991’s “Use Your Illusion.”
“Axl’s one-fifth of what the band was,” Adler says. “I’m one-fifth of what the band was. He’s doing it by himself. I can do the same thing. At least I’m showing up for the shows.”
Adler’s Appetite with Prowler, Creature of Mercy and Union of Saints at the Galaxy Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $15.