The Real Reason Joan Jett And The Runaways Broke Up

The Runaways, one of the first all-female rock acts, had a meteoric rise before quickly imploding due to drugs, infighting, and exploitation. The band — composed of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and vocals, lead singer Cherie Currie, Sandy West on drums, lead guitarist Lita Ford, and Jackie Fox on bass — came together in 1975 but by the spring of 1979, when the Runaways finally called it quits, there were only three original members left.

For Jett, the end of the band came during the recording of what would be their final studio album, "And Now... The Runaways." While Jett was leaning into punk, her bandmates were moving towards a more metal sound. "I was definitely more a straight-up punk rock, rock 'n' roll thing," Jett told Lars Ulrich on his show "It's Electric." "But you know, I'm fine with hard music. It's just that I think Lita and Sandy wanted to go in that direction much more than I did." Jett believed they were still getting along but "just grew in different directions." Her bandmates each have their version of what led to the band's end, from overwork to personality clashes.

Cherie Currie quits

The reasons why Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox left the Runaways were quite different. For Currie, her exit from the band came in the summer of 1977. She was heavily using cocaine and quaaludes and burned out from the grind of the endless cycle of recording and touring. "We just never had a break," she told The Guardian. On top of that, internal tensions between the band members — egged on by their manager Kim Fowley, who "wanted us to be angry at each other. He thought it was going to make a better stage show for some bizarre reason," Currie recalled during an interview on "Waste Some Time with Jason Green." Currie, as lead singer, appearing on magazine covers didn't help.

The final blow-up came when Currie had to leave early from the photoshoot for their second album, which angered Lita Ford. "Lita came in and kicked in the door where I was changing my clothes and threatened me and that was just it," she recalled. "You get to a point where ... there's no way forward. And there wasn't any way forward for me in that moment ... There was just no direction forward for us as a band." Additionally, Currie said, they were being ripped off. "We weren't making any money ... Everyone was getting rich but us," she said.

Jackie Fox exits

Jackie Fox left the Runways after a breakdown during the tour of Japan in 1977 brought on in part due to PTSD from Kim Fowley sexually assaulting her at a party on New Year's Eve 1975. This was just one of several tragic details of the Runway's story. "I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me," she told the Huffington Post in 2015. Fowley, who died that year, denied the allegations.

Lita Ford related in her autobiography "Living Like a Runaway" how during Fox's breakdown, one of the band's crew secretly recorded Fox crying and saying over and over "I'm sick of being sick." Fox later gashed her arm requiring medical attention before flying home to the U.S. "I didn't know, but just like that, Jackie had quit the band," Ford recalled. That left the three original members to go on with the addition of Vickie Blue on bass as a four-piece.

The final breakup

After Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox left the band, the Runaways continued on after also parting ways with manager Kim Fowley. But the band didn't make it past 1979. For Sandy West, the Runaways' drummer, who died tragically from lung cancer at 47, the breakup of the band was about a relentless schedule. "We just needed a break; we were getting tired," she told Backfire in 2000.

By the Runaways' fourth studio album, Jett believed she was on the verge of being ousted. "I've got a bad feeling," she recalled thinking. "I don't wanna get fired from a band that I started." She believes that it was simply diverging musical tastes that did the band in. "I'm sure none of us wanted to," she told Lars Ulrich. "We all got along fine, so there wasn't anything like that. It was not a personality thing." Lita Ford agreed with Jett that the Runways' demise was due to musical differences. "We weren't happy with what we were doing," she told Bravewords in 2017. "We weren't a team." Ford said that she and Jett just "didn't click musically." While the Runaways didn't survive, both Jett and Ford went on to successful careers, and the band inspired generations of other musicians, both women and men. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).