Moments That Destroyed Motley Crue's Reputation

Younger fans probably know them best as that band from their parents' time who did all those wild and crazy things on that Netflix biopic, while many older devotees likely have them in the soundtrack to their own reckless youth. Either way, there's hardly a fan alive who would confuse the men of Mötley Crüe's long-running classic lineup — Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Tommy Lee — for literal saints of Los Angeles. They're just one of those bands who are known for their off-stage shenanigans as much as (or even more than) they're known for their iconic hit singles and albums, and they have a memoir, the aforementioned biopic, and even a song — all named "The Dirt" — documenting those antics for posterity.

As such, Mötley Crüe has been embroiled in countless big controversies throughout their 40-plus-year history as a band. Many of these were sizable enough to cause a dent in their reputation, though, in most of these instances, it's not like members of the band would have cared that much. 

Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee purportedly assaulted a woman

Few musician autobiographies — if any at all — rival Mötley Crüe's "The Dirt" in terms of its tales of reckless, oftentimes drug-and-alcohol-fueled rock star behavior. Unfortunately, some of the band's apparent actions in the memoir were downright deplorable, such as the time when Nikki Sixx was having sex with a woman in a tiny room before inviting Tommy Lee to switch places with him, with the woman unaware that there had been a change in partners.

Rolling Stone, which dredged up the story ahead of the premiere of the movie adaptation of "The Dirt" on Netflix, asked Sixx about the incident, and he alleged that there might have been some sensationalization involved. "There was a little bit of embellishment here and there with [co-writer] Neil Strauss," the bassist said. He also said in a statement that the book version of "The Dirt" was written at a time when he had fallen off the wagon and that he didn't remember sharing many of the stories included within its pages.

Many fans didn't buy those excuses and felt Sixx only walked back the story after realizing how bad the modern-day optics were. "I think that was a lie he probably thought sounded cool when he told it for the book ... then fast forward to metoo and better back track," speculated one Redditor on a thread bashing Sixx. 

The death of Nicholas 'Razzle' Dingley

It was definitely no secret that the Crüe loved to party. Following the success of their 1983 album "Shout at the Devil," the band hosted one such event at his place on December 8, 1984. Among the guests were members of the up-and-coming Finnish glam rock band Hanoi Rocks, including their drummer, Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley.

With alcohol supplies running low, Vince Neil and Razzle drove off to the liquor store early that evening, but what should have been a quick booze run ended in tragedy when the heavily intoxicated Crüe frontman's Ford Pantera spun out of control and into oncoming traffic. Razzle was killed almost instantly, and two other individuals suffered serious injuries. 

Neil was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and ended up serving only 20 days in jail, among other punishments that were arguably tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Worse yet, Hanoi Rocks guitarist Andy McCoy claimed to Classic Rock that Neil never apologized for causing Razzle's death — not even decades after the fatal car crash. "He's scared of me," McCoy said. "Every time he sees me he runs away. But to me it is so important, it is the moral value of the thing. The other Mötley Crüe guys apologized, but the other guys didn't do anything wrong."

Vince Neil and Axl Rose's go-nowhere feud

If there was one thing Mötley Crüe liked (or still likes) more than partying, it would probably be their propensity for beefing with their fellow rock stars. Nikki Sixx has feuded with the likes of Eddie Vedder, Lars Ulrich, and Godsmack, but one can say he doesn't have anything on Vince Neil, who kept one such beef running long after it should have been squashed.

It all started one night in 1989 when Guns N' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin allegedly kicked Neil's then-wife, Sharise Ruddell, after she refused his advances. The Crüe vocalist issued a receipt at that year's MTV Video Music Awards, punching Stradlin as a wild brawl ensued. GNR frontman Axl Rose was among those involved as he defended his bandmate's honor and yelled threats at his fellow lead singer. 

Two years later and many back-and-forth insults, the feud was still raging, and Neil made a challenge to Rose during an interview with MTV News. "Axl, if you're watching this, I want to challenge you to a fight," he said. "I'm gonna give you the time, gonna give you the place, and there's no backing out, buddy." Neil went as far as to say he wanted the fight to take place at an arena where it could be televised for everyone to see. Decades later, that fight has yet to happen, and while their actions in the heat of the moment could somehow be justified, letting the beef linger for years thereafter only made the two frontmen look juvenile and petty.

Motley Crue went grunge with John Corabi

Was Vince Neil fired from Mötley Crüe, or did he quit the band of his own volition? That's a debate that continues to rage on well after the fact. But it's much harder to dispute that Neil's replacement, John Corabi (second from left above), was a completely different kind of singer, and that the Crüe's lone album with him on lead vocals — their 1994 self-titled effort — was nothing like their 1980s classics.

"Mötley Crüe" received mixed reviews upon its release, with Rolling Stone offering backhanded compliments amid the criticism. "If the music seems samey — which it does, being sequenced for maximum sustained headbang rather than overall cadence — Corabi keeps it fresh," the outlet wrote. "He has an impressive high-range yowl that's never nasal, and he bellows his heart out on the clichéd lyrics as if he has just thought of them." AllMusic, meanwhile, put some emphasis on Corabi's supposed lack of charisma and lambasted the Crüe for what it felt was their surface-level interpretation of grunge — hedonism out, serious songwriting in. "Unfortunately, this also means they have neglected to write memorable hooks and riffs, which makes Mötley Crüe the weakest effort in their catalog," the site posited.

Generation Swine was a disjointed mess

At the very least, it was easy to figure out what kind of album "Mötley Crüe" was — it was the band's dark and gritty effort. Three years later, and with Vince Neil back in the band, nobody knew just what to make of "Generation Swine," which jumped from genre to genre with little reason or rhyme.

In his review of "Generation Swine" for Rolling Stone, veteran rock journalist Jon Wiederhorn pointed out that consistency — a trait fans of bands like the Crüe typically desire — was nowhere to be found on the record. "Whiny ballads flounder dazedly alongside hardcore beats and woozy melodies, and mean-dude bravado clashes with goopy heart-on-sleeve sentiment," he wrote. 

Wiederhorn singled out "Brandon" — a song Tommy Lee wrote for his firstborn son with Pamela Anderson — as a particular lowlight of "Generation Swine." Lee's intentions may have been earnest, but lyrics such as "Brandon, I love you; I love her; she is your mom" make the wild man drummer look like Captain Obvious. And that isn't even mentioning his misguided attempt at singing lead vocals on the song, which YouTube music critic Todd in the Shadows skewered in his review of the album. "Okay, maybe Vince wasn't the right singer for this kind of music, but he is, at least, a singer," he quipped.

Nikki Sixx yelled racial slurs at a security guard

It is sadly not uncommon to hear stories of security guards acting overzealously or going rogue at concerts while dealing with unruly fans. Such behavior is often unconscionable, but not as much so as musicians using racially charged language while calling out these abusive individuals.

That was apparently the case during a Mötley Crüe concert in Greensboro, North Carolina, in late 1997, where Nikki Sixx spotted a security guard abusing his authority with the fans on two separate occasions, first when he shone a light in a female fan's eyes, and later on when he got too physical with another audience member. The bassist then went on a lengthy tirade, getting progressively angrier as he rebuked the guard for bullying the fans. Not satisfied with a simple, if profanity-laced callout, Sixx crossed the line by asking the fans to attack the guard — who happened to be Black — before repeatedly using the N-word against him.

Several attendees corroborated the claims of abuse against the security guard, and a number of fans were kicked out of the venue. Still, that doesn't excuse Sixx for resorting to racial slurs and inciting violence at the Greensboro show.

Tommy Lee's tumultuous marriage to Pamela Anderson

Few celebrity couples in the 1990s got as much attention as the relationship between Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson. Unfortunately, they often got the wrong kind of attention, with Lee in particular seeing his reputation sullied after he was arrested on February 24, 1998 (one of three times Tommy Lee has been arrested), and charged with spousal and child abuse. Allegedly, the Mötley Crüe drummer physically attacked the "Baywatch" star during an argument, all while she was holding their younger son, Dylan. Just days after Lee's arrest, Anderson filed for divorce.

In May 1998, Lee was sentenced to six months in the Los Angeles County Jail and was also required to attend anger management counseling and perform community service. "What I see here is a very clear — very disturbing, in my judgment — pattern of conduct in which otherwise resolvable matters are handled by violence," Malibu Municipal County Judge Lawrence J. Mira told Lee during his sentencing, according to the Los Angeles Times. "You do it whether it's a family member or a third party. That's intolerable in any kind of civilized society."

Years after the incident, Lee still gets flak from Mötley Crüe fans on Reddit, with a number of users mentioning his history of domestic abuse among the reasons why they dislike the band as well as their longtime drummer.

Motley Crue's supposed poor treatment of an opening act

Fast forward more than a decade to the mid-2010s, and Mötley Crüe was still behaving badly on the road, with some members thankfully sober but the band, in general, seemingly nowhere close to mellowing with age. In this instance, this bad behavior was directed toward the Raskins, a Manhattan-based duo made up of twin brothers Logan and Roger Raskin that opened for the Crüe during a 2014 tour.

According to a lawsuit filed by the brothers in 2016, the Raskins were subjected to months of cruel hazing from the Crüe and their team, which purportedly saw the musicians get hit by heavy equipment and, at one show in Connecticut, sprayed by crew members in monkey masks firing pee-filled water guns. The duo was also forbidden to sell their own merchandise and left with no choice but to play abbreviated, poorly attended sets because managers wouldn't open the venues promptly.

In all, the Raskins sought $30 million for a contract that wasn't honored, as their experience on the tour was essentially a nightmare, with a headlining act that took their pranks way too far. Heck, you can even call it bullying, as hazing of opening acts isn't supposed to last that long ... or be so brutal.

Vince Neil's declining vocal ability

If videos and fan accounts are any indication, it would seem that Vince Neil isn't much of a singer anymore for the glam rock icons.

A fan captured a January 2023 performance during Mötley Crüe's stadium tour, and Neil clearly sounds off-key and out of breath as he sings what amounts to gibberish in one of the verses of "Shout at the Devil." And speaking of gibberish, one YouTube user jokingly posted captions to a live version of "Kickstart My Heart" where, once again, it's hard to make out what Neil is singing.

Many Crüe fans have pointed out how off-form Neil has been at many a recent Mötley Crüe show. One Redditor may have summed it up best, opining that the singer's poor conditioning and weight problems have been holding him back. The user went on to mention some legendary musicians, including Axl Rose, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen, who are mostly several years older but still able to carry a tune on-stage and then some. "All of these men have — in recent years, or presently — made tremendous effort to stay in good physical condition, take care of their voices, and put on full 2-3 hour shows that are still pretty damn good," they added.

The band uses pre-recorded tracks for live shows

Aside from Vince Neil's well-documented live vocal issues, there's also the matter of Mötley Crüe's use of pre-recorded backing tracks, which many a Reddit user has cited as proof positive that the band's essentially mailing it in these days.

Just how blatantly sloppy is Mötley Crüe when it comes to this practice? During a performance at Hellfest 2023, Neil sang the line, "they never found a way to break us down" from the song "The Dirt (Est. 1981)" and closed his mouth while putting down his mic-holding hand — despite the fact he can be heard holding the note on the last word. Another obvious example came from Tommy Lee, who, in a 2022 performance in Kansas City, Montana, frantically rushes to his drum throne as the cymbals crash in the background. Lee was able to react quickly enough to stay on tempo and play "Looks That Kill" as normal, but it was painfully evident that no one was hitting the cymbals at the start of the song.

Not to be outdone, Nikki Sixx (or "Nikki Vanilli," as the YouTube user sharing the video humorously called him) can be seen raising both of his arms to work the crowd at a 2023 show in Mexico, all with his bass still thumping. 

They (allegedly) did their founding guitarist dirty

Mötley Crüe fans were saddened — but probably not that surprised — when Mick Mars announced his retirement from touring in October 2022 via a statement to Variety. After all, for most of his adult life, he has endured tremendous pain and other physical challenges due to ankylosing spondylitis — a bone disease with no known cure. There was, however, much more to the retirement story. The guitarist's ex-bandmates soon filed a demand for arbitration against him, in an attempt to prove he is no longer an equal partner in the band. Mars then countered with a bitter lawsuit, maintaining that his decision to retire from the road should not affect those rights.

In an interview with Variety, Mars accused his former bandmates of many unsavory things, including gaslighting him into thinking he had memory issues during his last decade with the group. "I don't have a problem remembering the songs," the axeman said. "... But I do have a problem with them, constantly, the whole time, telling me that I lost my memory." He also said he felt insulted by the band's offer of a "severance package" that initially amounted to 5% of their touring proceeds.

Mars likewise had something to say about the backing tracks controversy. "Everything that was coming out, whether it was me live or the tape, I was playing the right thing. And [my friends] could tell by my fingers, because they're all musicians too," he lamented.