You can’t trace the history of Motley Crue with a straight line. And you certainly won’t be able to avoid controversy as you trace the story of their rise to fame.
But taken together, the 40 Most Important Dates in Motley Crue History offer a big-picture perspective on everything the band has accomplished and survived during its first four decades.
Below, we take a look at how the four members of Motley Crue found each other, rose to fame, tore themselves apart and then put it all back together again.
May 4, 1951 (Or Maybe April 4, 1955): Mick Mars Is Born
Mick Mars has always been Motley Crue’s most reclusive and mysterious member. So it makes sense that nobody’s even sure of the exact date of his birth. Born in Indiana on either May 4, 1951, or April 4, 1955, Robert Alan Deal moved to California with his family when he was nine. After spending much of the ’70s toiling in obscure blues-rock bands, Deal kicked off the ’80s by changing his name to Mick Mars and placing a want-ad describing himself as a “loud, rude and aggressive guitar player.”
Dec. 11, 1958: Nikki Sixx’s Birthday
Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna Jr. was abandoned by his father when he was three; three years later his mom left. He was raised by his constantly relocating grandparents until his anger-fueled misbehavior became too much for them to handle. At 17 he moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a rock star, changed his name to Nikki Sixx and began pursuing fame in bands such as Sister and London.
Feb. 8, 1961: Vince Neil Is Born
Born in Hollywood, Vince Neil Wharton developed an early interest in rock music, eventually winding up as the singer in a cover band called Rock Candy. His high school classmate Tommy Lee would later think of Neil when Motley Crue were filling in the final piece of their lineup.
Oct. 3, 1962: Tommy Lee’s Birthday
Born in Greece, Thomas Lee Bass moved to the U.S. with his family when he was a year old, reportedly got his first set of drum sticks at four and dropped out of high school in order to pursue his musical dreams. In the late ’70s, his band Suite 19 began to generate some buzz on the Sunset Strip circuit, which led him to meeting Sixx.
Jan. 17, 1971: Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee Join Forces
“Suite 19 collapsed after we ran out of Eddie Van Halen guitar licks to copy,” Lee explained in Motley Crue’s 2001 autobiography, The Dirt. Former Suite 19 guitarist Greg Leon began jamming with Sixx, who had just left the band London and was looking to start his own group. Impressed by Lee’s ability, Sixx played the drummer demos of the new songs he had written. “I began playing the drums on the table, just like I used to do in the kitchen when I was a kid,” Lee recalled. “It was clear that we were going to do something together really quickly.”
March 1981: Mick Mars Takes Over on Guitar
After ditching Greg Leon, whose look was not to Sixx’s liking, the future Motley Crue rhythm section teamed up with a guitarist named Robin. “[He] was pretty talented,” Lee admitted in The Dirt, “but he was a pansy and everybody knew it.” They invited Mars to audition after spotting his “loud, rude and aggressive” ad. Initially skeptical due to his shabby clothing, lack of height and timid nature, Lee was convinced as soon as Mars took his first shot at one of the band’s songs: “[He] played the shit out of it, making the riff so distorted and insane that we couldn’t even recognize it anymore.” After bonding with his new bandmates over a gallon of schnapps, Mars eagerly took on the dirty work of firing the so-called “pansy.”
April 1, 1981: Vince Neil Completes the Lineup
Reluctant to leave his steady job with Rock Candy and unimpressed with this new and unnamed band’s early demos, Vince Neil was finally convinced to audition with Sixx, Lee and Mars after his cover group began to fall apart. The chemistry was instantaneous. “On the spot, Nikki started rewriting his songs for Vince’s voice, and the first result was ‘Live Wire,'” Lee recalled in The Dirt. “We were Motley Crue right then. At that fucking moment. We created one of our classic songs five minutes into our first jam with Vince.”
April 5, 1981: Motley Crue Get Their Name
After rejecting Xmas, Trouble, Bad Blood, Holiday and Suicidal Tendencies while discussing band names at Sixx’s house, the new foursome became intrigued by Motley Cru, a name Mars held in his head for half a decade after hearing his former band Whitehorse mockingly described as a “motley crew.” Sixx suggested adding an “e”; the final touch, from a friend, was the umlauts, a move apparently inspired by the band’s love of Lowenbrau beer.
April 24, 1981: Motley Crue’s First Show Starts With a Fight
Motley Crue’s first show, at West Hollywood’s Starwood Club, went off without a hitch for exactly half a song. But when an audience member spat on Vince Neil’s expensive new leather pants, the singer jumped off the stage and attacked him. In an early bonding exercise, Sixx joined in, cracking another would-be critic over the shoulder with his bass guitar. The moment was immortalized in the band’s 2019 movie The Dirt.
May 1981: Motley Crue Release Their First Single
After finagling studio time any way they could – including literally whoring out Lee – Motley Crue released their debut single, which featured two original songs: “Stick to Your Guns” and “Toast of the Town.” The former appeared on the original version of the band’s debut album, Too Fast for Love, but was removed from the track listing when the album was re-released by Elektra Records.
November 1981: Motley Crue Self-Release Their Debut Album
Fans reacted quickly to Motley Crue’s live show, turning the band into one of the hottest acts on the Sunset Strip. Major labels wanted nothing to do with them, so the group spent three days recording it debut album in the cheapest studio it could find. The bare-bones blend of punk spirit, metal riffs and pop hooks on Too Fast for Love sold well for an indie release, leading Elektra to sign the band and hire Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker to remix the album for an August 1982 reissue.
Sept. 26, 1983: Motley Crue Deliver Their Masterpiece
Too Fast for Love wound up cracking the Top 100 Albums chart as Motley Crue’s reputation and popularity began to spread across the nation. Their second album proved to be exactly the right powder keg for the fuse. Shout at the Devil took the best parts of their debut and pumped it all up on steroids. “Looks That Kill” ended up on MTV; it wasn’t long before the album roared into the Top 20.
Dec. 8, 1984: Tragedy Arrives With a Car Crash
Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle was killed on Dec. 8, 1984, when the car he was riding in, driven by an intoxicated Vince Neil, crashed into oncoming traffic. The incident had a lasting impact on Motley Crue, and guilt over the crash has haunted Neil ever since. “I wrote a $2.5 million check for vehicular manslaughter when Razzle died,” he told Blender. “I should have gone to prison. I definitely deserved to go to prison. But I did 30 days in jail and got laid and drank beer, because that’s the power of cash. That’s fucked up.” He was also hurt and angered that his bandmates, who blamed Neil for derailing their career, abandoned him during his rehab and trial, even though they were all indulging in equally reckless and dangerous behavior. “When I thought about Vince, it wasn’t with pity, it was with anger,” Sixx later admitted in The Dirt. “As if he was the bad guy and the rest of the members were innocent victims of his wrongdoing.”
Jan. 10, 1984: Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne Join Forces
You know those stories about newly sober people who become friends and help each other heal and grow? Ozzy Osbourne bringing Motley Crue out as the opening act of his Bark at the Moon tour was the opposite of that. The Prince of Darkness was still at the height of his drug and alcohol excess when he and Crue turned their tour into a friendly but destructive misbehavior competition, which included smearing feces on hotel walls, snorting ants, licking up each other’s urine and allegedly stealing a car.
June 21, 1985: ‘Theatre of Pain’ Makes Motley Crue Superstars
Recorded as the band was still dealing with the fallout from Neil’s car crash, Theatre of Pain was an uneven record. A few songs were worthy follow-ups to Shout at the Devil, but many others seemed tossed off, leading Sixx to later dismiss the album as “a pile of rubbish … with a few moments of maybe brilliance” in 2014’s The Big Book of Hair Metal. Those moments carried the band to even greater success, while masking the personal problems they were dealing with at the time.
June 24, 1985: “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” Saves Motley Crue’s Asses
The songs Motley Crue wrote for Theatre of Pain weren’t good enough to assure their continued ascension and they knew it. “It was me who suggested covering ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room,'” Neil revealed in his 2010 book Tattoos & Tequila. “Everybody knows that song kind of saved our asses at that time.” Released as the album’s first single, the band’s cover of Brownsville Station’s 1973 hit became a radio and MTV smash.
July 7, 1985: Tommy Lee Flips for Motley Crue’s First Headlining Tour
Motley Crue’s days as an opening act were over. They spent nine months headlining venues all over the world on the Theatre of Pain tour, which kicked off with five sold-out shows in Tokyo. The show featured the first of Tommy Lee’s increasingly theatrical drum stunts: The back of his set rose to a 90-degree angle, offering fans a birds-eye view of his solo.
Sept. 30, 1985: “Home Sweet Home” Seals the Deal
At first, Elektra Records wanted no part of what became Motley Crue’s signature song. “When [Theater of Pain] got turned in, with ‘Home Sweet Home’ on it, they rejected that album,” Nikki Sixx explained in a 2012 interview. “They said, ‘This is horrible, and you have to take that song off the record. You guys aren’t a ballad band.’” After threatening to leave the label if they weren’t allowed to include the song and paying for the video themselves, Motley Crue’s instincts were proven correct as “Home Sweet Home” became a massive and industry-changing hit. “After ‘Home Sweet Home,’ every band had the one ballad that came as their second or third single,” Sixx recalled on In the Studio With Redbeard.
May 10, 1986: Tommy Lee Marries Heather Locklear
After meeting backstage at an REO Speedwagon concert, Tommy Lee and Dynasty and T.J. Hooker star Heather Locklear vowed to keep on lovin’ each other ferrrr-ever on May 10, 1986. Lee’s bachelor party reportedly included 15 bikinied mud wrestlers. “I think we’ll be the coolest grandma and grandpa in the world,” Lee told People at the time. “We’ll be, like, 85 or 90. I’ll still be a rock pig, and Heather will still be gorgeous. The couple divorced in 1994; later that year, Locklear married Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.
May 15, 1987: Motley Crue Stay Ahead of the Pack With ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’
Two years after Theatre of Pain made them superstars, Motley Crue returned with the more consistent Girls, Girls, Girls. The band once again kept ahead of trends by revamping its image, trading glammed-up threads and makeup for leather and motorcycles. The title track, “Wild Side” and another ballad, “You’re All I Need,” were all big hits. But the excess and addictions mentioned in Sixx’s lyrics offered a hint of the reckoning right around the corner.
Dec. 23, 1987: Nikki Sixx Declared Dead
Nikki Sixx’s escalating addiction issues almost cost him his life after a night of partying with members of Guns N’ Roses and Ratt. After reportedly being declared clinically dead for two minutes, Sixx woke up in a hospital, pulled the tubes out of his arms and secured a ride home from surprised fans who had heard a report about his death on the radio. The following month, Sixx and his bandmates entered rehab.
August 12, 1989: Motley Crue Fire Their Manager in Moscow
In order to avoid jail time from an arrest dating back to his former drug-running days, Motley Crue manager Doc McGhee flew the newly sober Motley Crue to Moscow to take part in an all-star festival featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions and Bon Jovi. Already upset after they were moved down the bill, Motley Crue got even angrier when they found out McGhee had secretly arranged for Bon Jovi to be the only band to use pyrotechnics. “I walked right up to him and pushed him in his fat little chest, knocking him over onto the ground like a broken Weeble,” Tommy Lee recalled in The Dirt. “As he lay there, Nikki broke the news: ‘Doc, you lied to us again. This time you’re fucking fired.'”
Sept. 1, 1989: Motley Crue Clean Up Their Act With ‘Dr. Feelgood’
Still adjusting to their collective sobriety, Motley Crue were determined to make their next studio album their best. “We all said, ‘Look, we either have to get it together and become the biggest band in the world, or we’re going to knock this thing on the head and go out with more fury than anyone has ever hit the music business with,'” Nikki Sixx explained at the time. With producer Bob Rock serving as boot-camp instructor, the band painstakingly pieced together its strongest collection of songs since Shout at the Devil. Their hard work paid off: Dr. Feelgood eventually sold more than 6 million copies and spawned five hit singles.
December 1991: Motley Crue Sign a Massive New Record Deal
The success of Dr. Feelgood, combined with their decade-long platinum track record, gave Motley Crue the leverage to demand a massive new contract from Elektra. The band signed a five-record deal with a $25 million advance and higher-than-usual royalty rates for each CD, album and cassette sold. It wouldn’t be long before those big numbers drove a wedge between the band and the label.
Feb. 10, 1992: Vince Neil Gets Fired
When the time came to record a follow-up to Dr. Feelgood, things fell apart for Motley Crue. The band accused Vince Neil of not showing up for rehearsals, while he complained about the new bluesy direction the music was taking. On Feb. 10, 1992, a meeting was called that ended with Neil’s dismissal. The singer went on to recruit a band with help from Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens and released a solo album, Exposed, the following spring.
March 15, 1994: The Crue Get Serious With a New Singer
Nearly a year after Neil made his solo debut, Motley Crue emerged with new singer John Corabi and a self-tiled album that showed off a more sophisticated sound. “I’ll probably get kicked in the nuts for this, but I thought it was a really great album,” Mick Mars later told radio host Eddie Trunk. “It was a great step forward for us, a different style of music.” But most music fans were either listening to the new grunge bands that surfaced in the three years since Dr. Feelgood‘s release or simply weren’t willing to give the updated Motley Crue a chance. The album didn’t even go platinum, and ticket sales for the tour were way below their usual numbers. Neil’s second solo album, the experimental Carved in Stone, fared even worse. It wasn’t long before reunion talk grew louder.
Feb. 19, 1995: Tommy Lee Marries Pamela Anderson
After a whirlwind 96-hour romance, Tommy Lee married model and Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. They quickly became one of the most scrutinized and publicized celebrity couples in the world. A sex tape stolen from a safe in their garage by a disgruntled contractor generated an estimated $77 million in illegal sales. Three years later, Lee and Anderson’s acrimonious divorce resulted in jail time for Lee, but the couple made up and broke up several more times over the next decade.
Jan. 27, 1997: Vince Neil Returns to Motley Crue
Just five years shy of his firing, Vince Neil returned to Motley Crue by joining the band in a performance of a remixed “Shout at the Devil” at the American Music Awards.
June 24, 1997: ‘Generation Swine’ Hits a Sour Note
After driving singer John Corabi to the brink of insanity with a series of ever-shifting and conflicting instructions while attempting to record a follow-up to Motley Crue, Lee, Sixx and Mars tried to salvage their work by having Neil sing over the same backing tracks. Problem was he hated the material and hadn’t really forgiven his bandmates for firing him back in 1992. The resulting album, Generation Swine, was a muddled mess. Still, the record’s commercial failure created a new opportunity for the band.
March 13, 1998: Motley Crue Get Their Catalog Masters Back
Subpar sales of Motley Crue and Generation Swine pushed the tense relationship between the band and its record company past the breaking point. Contractually obligated to keep paying high advances for new albums, Elektra agreed to return back-catalog rights to the band. “They owed us a lot of money, in the eight-digit area,” Mick Mars explained. “It was like … ‘We’ll take seven figures instead of eight, and give us our masters.'”
April 29, 1999: Tommy Lee Quits the Band
While serving a four-month sentence after pleading no contest to spousal-abuse charges brought by Pamela Anderson, Lee no longer wanted to be part of Motley Crue. “I told Nikki while I was in jail, ‘You know what? I gotta quit. I gotta go do something else. I can’t do this anymore,'” he told Kerrang! That something else turned out to be the band Methods of Mayhem, which featured a blend of rock, electronica and hip-hop. They released a self-titled debut album later that year.
June 24, 2000: Motley Crue Kick Off Their First Tour Without Tommy Lee
Even though they supported Lee’s solo move, the other members of Motley Crue were also determined to not let the band die without him. They recruit former Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo for the recording of a new album, but a ruptured ulcer prevented Castillo from joining the tour. So Motley Crue’s first show without Lee featured Hole drummer Samantha Maloney. “The entire band was very supportive and respectful of me. I had the time of my life,” she later told NRK. “Some of the fans at first were hesitant, but I won each and every fan over every night after song one.”
July 11, 2000 – Motley Crue Get Back to Basics With ‘New Tattoo’
“Strangely, with Tommy gone, the band entered, for the first time in my memory, a period of stability,” bassist Nikki Sixx recalled in The Dirt, “and we recorded the album that should have been the successor to Dr. Feelgood.” New Tattoo didn’t make much of a dent on the chart, but longtime fans were happy to hear the band reconnect with its classic sound. Meanwhile, drummer Randy Castillo’s health problems got worse, and he died in March 2002 after a cancer battle.
May 22, 2001: Motley Crue Confess Their Many, Many Sins in Writing
With their 2001 autobiography The Dirt, Motley Crue let it all out, sharing unfiltered, indecent and probably incriminating details of their debauched reign. The stories were so radioactive that the band had to sign forms indemnifying the publisher against any lawsuits. The book was a hit and rekindled interest in Motley Crue. It concluded with hints at a reunion with Lee, who participated in the book even though he wasn’t a band member at the time.
Dec. 6, 2004: Tommy Lee Returns
Arriving by helicopter to a press conference at the Hollywood Palladium, Motley Crue announced Tommy Lee’s return to the band, as well as plans for a major 2005 tour. They also released a greatest-hits compilation featuring three new tracks, including a cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Street Fighting Man.” “The press made more out of the little fights than we did,” Neil said at the time. “Me and Tommy, we’ve been together – we’ve been friends for almost 30 years. Not too many people have friends for 30 years. And believe me, in 30 years you’re going to fight.”
June 24, 2008: Motley Crue Release Their Final Album
By this point, it had been nearly 20 years since the original lineup of Motley Crue recorded a complete studio album together. The 2008 release Saints of Los Angeles was a loose concept album telling the story of the band’s rise to fame and subsequent struggles. At one point they even considered titling it The Dirt. The record sold better than the band’s three previous efforts, with the title track and “Mutherfucker of the Year” earning regular spots in the band’s set lists.
Jan. 28, 2014: Motley Crue Announce ‘The Final Tour’
Knowing fans had grown numb to the concept of their favorite bands announcing farewell tours only to change their minds, Motley Crue went the extra mile to try to convince everybody that their farewell tour was really the end. They arrived at a press conference in a hearse and signed a formal “cessation of touring agreement” that would prevent them from ever performing together again.
Dec. 31, 2015: Motley Crue Play Their “Last Show Ever”
Even if it turned out to not really be the end, Motley Crue’s Final Tour was quite the spectacle. Tommy Lee outdid himself with a drum roller coast that flew out high over the audience, Nikki Sixx brandished a flame-throwing bass and the entire band walked into the audience to close out the show by playing “Home Sweet Home” on an elevated second stage. They closed out the tour, and supposedly their career, with a New Year’s Eve show in their hometown of Los Angeles.
March 22, 2019: Motley Crue’s Story Becomes a Movie
In typically dramatic Motley Crue fashion, the band wasn’t really getting along by the end of their farewell tour. “We never even said goodbye,” Tommy Lee told Rolling Stone of their final show, noting that after the encore, the four members went their separate ways without even a handshake. Four years later, the long-gestating movie version of their story finally became a reality. Based on the 2001 book of the same name, The Dirt was a hit, reigniting sales and streams of Motley Crue’s back catalog. Working together on the project also rekindled the band’s friendships. “Since the movie, it has felt like it used to in the old days,” Sixx admitted, adding that “it’s the best feeling to at least know that we’re brothers and friends through all this.”
Nov. 18, 2019: Motley Crue End Their Retirement
Turns out contracts are pretty easy to tear up … or blow up, which is exactly what Motley Crue did to the paperwork that supposedly kept them from touring together. Two weeks later they announced plans for a summer 2020 stadium tour alongside Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett. The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on their plans, but in a January 2021 post commemorating the band’s 40th anniversary, Motley Crue promised the upcoming year would see “some very exciting releases … and Crue madness on the way!”