The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Poison

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there wasn't a band as wild or omnipresent as Poison. They were among the most successful and definitive "hair metal" or "glam-metal" rock bands of the era, where hard rock about partying and skirt-chasing played loud and fast by guys with huge hair and lots of makeup in front of pyrotechnics. Poison sold millions of albums and scored tons of major hit singles (which translated well to eye-popping, MTV-ready videos) such as "I Want Action," "Talk Dirty to Me," "Unskinny Bop," and the chart-topping power ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

While the band wrote and performed music primarily about the good times (such as in "Nothin' But a Good Time"), life outside of the music wasn't always so sunny for the members of Poison, who have all fought health problems, personal demons, and other roadblocks. Here's the dark and sad side of Poison.

Bret Michaels of Poison was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was a child

In the late 1960s, 6-year-old future rock star Bret Michaels, according to Yahoo! Finance, became increasingly and seriously ill. His parents took him to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed him with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body stops making insulin, a hormone that helps the body convert food to energy and regulates blood sugar levels. "At that point, I was severely going into ketoacidosis," Michaels said. "Your body at that point is starting to shut down." He was immediately placed on a daily regimen of multiple insulin shots and checking his blood sugar levels with a finger-sticking device. 

The challenge for Michaels and managing diabetes is balance: If he takes too much insulin and his blood sugar drops, he can pass out. At a late '80s show at Madison Square Garden in New York, according to Spin, Michaels didn't feel his blood sugar getting low, and he passed out on stage.

As Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition with no cure, Michaels continues to deal with diabetes-related setbacks. In 2010, his daughter, Raine, 10-years-old at the time, was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. And in 2018, he tweeted that he'd been admitted to emergency rooms several times over the previous weeks because of diabetes-related kidney and heart issues. But the man gives back: In 2010, he won The Celebrity Apprentice and donated his $390,000 winnings to the American Diabetes Association.

Bret Michaels of Poison was seriously injured at the Tony Awards

Everything considered cool eventually becomes passé, and then, a few years later, nostalgia and critical distance kick in and the unliked thing is appreciated again. That's what happened with hair metal bands like Poison, who, after virtually disappearing from mainstream pop culture by the mid-'90s, were celebrated in the stage show Rock of Ages

The "jukebox musical" used pre-existing songs to tell its story set in L.A.'s Sunset Strip rock clubs of the 1980s. Rock of Ages debuted on Broadway in 2009. The musical featured two Poison songs, and so the 2009 Tony Awards opened with Poison performing "Nothin' But a Good Time" alongside Rock of Ages cast members. Bret Michaels rocked it out and got the theatrical elite pumped up for the evening, and as they cheered at the end, Michaels attempted to walk off the stage, only to be pummeled by a descending "BROADWAY" backdrop. The heavy signage knocked him flat out, and Michaels suffered a fractured nose and needed three stitches in his lip, according to People. Michaels filed suit against the Tony Awards and broadcaster CBS (per the Los Angeles Times) in 2011, alleging that in addition to facial injuries he had to cancel several concerts and suffered from neurological issues. The legal matter was settled out of court.

Bret Michaels of Poison had a brain hemorrhage

According to ABC News, Poison singer Bret Michaels suffered a string of alarming and potentially fatal medical emergencies in April 2010. Early in the month, Michaels was all set to take the stage for a concert in San Antonio when he fell suddenly and seriously ill. He planned to perform anyway but was ultimately rushed to a local hospital instead, where he endured an emergency appendectomy. "They told me that if I had gone onstage like I wanted to, [his appendix] likely would have ruptured and I could have died," Michaels wrote on his website.

Scarcely two weeks later, Michaels was recuperating at home when he heard, he told People (via Billboard), what "sounded like a handgun." The loud, popping noise wasn't a bullet — it was something internal. After finding he couldn't think straight, speak correctly, or move his head, Michaels asked girlfriend Kristi Gibson to take him to a hospital. That's where doctors diagnosed a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding at the base of the brain stem. Michaels was listed in critical condition while doctors diagnosed and treated the cause of the bleeding. After spending some time in a physical therapy facility, Michaels fully recovered.

Bret Michaels of Poison had a hole in his heart

After the Tony Awards accident, emergency appendectomy, and brain hemorrhage in rapid succession in 2009 and 2010, Poison singer Bret Michaels wasn't out of the medical woods quite yet. After noticing that his left side of his body had grown increasingly numb in the middle of shooting The Celebrity Apprentice, per CNN, Michaels immediately returned to the Arizona medical facility where he'd been treated for the hemorrhage. 

In May 2010, according to ABC News, doctors diagnosed Michaels with a case of patent foramen ovale (PFO). Put more simply, its 'a small hole in the heart — it forms when babies are in the womb, helping to circulate blood, and almost always closes up after birth (but not always). Michaels' PFO, discovered when he was in his late forties, led to a transient ischemic attack, or stroke, in which a blood clot traveled all the way to the singer's brain. Months later, in January 2011, Michaels successfully underwent surgery to permanently seal and fix the hole in his heart, according to Rolling Stone.

Poison's Bret Michaels' sex tape was stolen and distributed

In January 1997, Poison, a band not much in the news by that point anymore after the death of hair metal and ascendancy of alternative rock, made some scary headlines. MTV News reported that the band's lead singer, Bret Michaels, had hired a private investigator to look into the reasons behind increasing threats to his safety. 

Over the course of a few months in 1996, Michaels said, his Nashville home was set on fire, then he found his dog had been killed, and his truck tampered with — a tire fell off while he was driving, and all of the lug nuts had gone missing. The meaning behind all of these assaults on his life and property, Michaels believed: intimidation and revenge for his refusal to sell tapes he'd once made with his now former girlfriend, Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. Nevertheless, in 1988, a company called Internet Entertainment Group commercially released a video full of footage of Michaels and Anderson's intimate encounters, which it claims it obtained via "a non-disclosed authorized source." Michaels didn't authorize the video, and according to his lawyer, spent $100,000 trying to prevent the tape's release, which may have been stolen and leaked by a former employee of Michaels.

Poison's C.C. DeVille fought a long and often public battle with alcoholism

Poison enjoyed its reputation as a hard-drinking party band, and so its members that used or overused controlled and regulated substances didn't do so in secret. Guitarist C.C. DeVille had no qualms about being drunk in public, and he even performed while under the influence, or at least he gave it an attempt. Satchel, guitarist of the semi-ironic throwback hair metal band Steel Panther told 97.9X Rocks (via Metal Wani) about the time a drunken DeVille climbed up on stage and tried to play a set — not on the guitar, but behind the drum kit. "We actually had to have security forcibly remove him," Satchel said. 

In 2006, DeVille gave up drinking. "I found myself driving in a blackout and I hit four parked cars. I totaled out my car and the police found me crawling two blocks away. They got me for DUI with an accident and hit and run," DeVille told Classic Rock Revisited (via Blabbermouth). "I was lucky that I got in enough trouble to wake myself up but not enough trouble that I had to live with the fact that I killed someone for the rest of my life."

Poison fired C.C. DeVille

After years of unreliability, backstage fights, and substance abuse issues, the members of Poison decided that they'd finally had enough of C.C. DeVille, despite his signature guitar playing fueling the band's sound and success. After the release of Swallow This Live in 1991, Poison dismissed DeVille and replaced him with guitarist Richie Kotzen. DeVille didn't go away quietly, though. In 1992, Poison singer Bret Michaels guested on Pirate Radio Saturday Night, a nationally syndicated hard rock radio talk show hosted by Lonn Friend. DeVille called the studio, and while Friend declined the guitarist's request to go on the air, he taped the ranting and raving call. Metal fans and radio insiders traded tapes of the conversation for months.

Kotzen only lasted with Poison through 1993, and according to MTV News, DeVille rejoined his old band in 1996. But following a summer tour in 1999, he was once again out of Poison due to creative differences. "C.C. would only play the material he originally worked on," Michaels said. "He just wanted to rehash the old Poison stuff and work on his new band." That new band, Samantha 7, also led to some animosity — Michaels and other members of the Poison family refused DeVille's insistence that Samantha 7 be the opening act on a planned summer 2000 tour.

Members of Poison frequently got into fights with other members of Poison

Along with the joys of being in a successful band, the pressures can get to its members, be they creative differences, the rigors of touring, or personal disagreements. For Poison, that tension erupted into fisticuffs on more than one occasion. On Fox Sports Radio's Steve Gorman SPORTS! Show (via Loudwire) in 2015, singer Bret Michaels recalled the time he and guitarist C.C. Deville got into it at a New Orleans sports bar after some drinking and sniping. They were physically separated and when they got back to the hotel, they started beating each other up once more. And in 1991, after Poison performed at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards — during which time DeVille delivered a sloppy, error-plagued performance — the guitarist and Michaels came to blows.

Fans who came to see Poison in Atlanta in 2006 were treated to an extra, non-musical encore. After getting into a verbal argument, singer Michaels and bassist Bobby Dall engaged in physical violence. According to Monsters and Critics, Michaels tossed his microphone at Dall, and Dall rammed his bass into Michaels' knee. Further damage was prevented when roadies and drummer Rikki Rockett broke up the melee. In an apology-meets-explanation on its website, Michaels wrote, "That s*** has been building up for 20 years. We are like brothers, and sometime brothers want to knock the f*** out of each other."

Richie Kotzen of Poison was fired after he had a fling with a bandmate's ex

Following the acrimonious and forced departure of guitarist C.C. Deville, Poison found a new member in technically proficient guitar wizard Richie Kotzen. This new relationship would not last, however. Kotzen played on just one Poison album, 1993's Native Tongue, and toured with the band for a limited time... which he didn't enjoy. "When I made the record, it was fun," he told Electric Basement (via Blabbermouth). "Where it got to be a drag was when I had to play the old music." In retrospect, it didn't look like Kotzen would be with the group for the long haul anyway, and he further destroyed any good standing he had with the rest of Poison because of a choice he made in his personal life.

According to Metal Edge (via Poison Fan Club), the band was about to hit the stage for a concert in Sacramento, Calif., in July 1993, when drummer Rikki Rockett learned that his former fianceé, who had dumped him and called off their engagement earlier that year, had taken up with a new guy: his bandmate, Kotzen. "They'd been together behind my back," Rockett said. "I was getting over her, but this was a smack in the face. My suspicions, I think it's been going on for a while." Kotzen was immediately tossed out of Poison.

Poison's Rikki Rockett had throat cancer

Poison drummer Rikki Rockett appeared on an edition of the SirusXM hard rock-themed show Eddie Trunk Live in 2015, where he discussed his months-long ordeal in fighting cancer (via Blabbermouth). After suffering from a severe sore throat in June of that year, Rockett sought medical attention. A biopsy at USC Medical Center indicated oral cancer, specifically a malignant tumor at the base of the drummer's tongue that had also spread to two nearby lymph nodes. 

This type of cancer is fortunately very treatable, but it's not pleasant — Rockett endured nine rounds of intense chemotherapy, followed by 35 rounds of radiation. After-effects included a rash and so many canker sores that made drinking water painful. Rockett also divulged that his tongue cancer in all likelihood developed out of a case of the human papilloma virus, or HPV. "The doctor estimated probably it was 15, 20 years ago," when he first contracted that virus, "and my body probably got rid of it, but it mutated itself." In July 2016, just over one year after his initial diagnosis, Rockett received a clean bill of health, according to People.

Bobby Dall of Poison fought drug addiction and alcoholism

The hair metal bands of the 1980s and early 1990s were renowned for their legendarily hard-partying ways as much as, or even more so, than they were for their unique brand of radio-friendly glam-hard rock.The numerous pre-show parties, backstage parties, and after-concert parties got out of hand for some hair metal participants, such as longtime Poison bassist Bobby Dall. The musician drank alcohol prodigiously during Poison's heyday, and one such example was preserved for posterity — he's so inebriated in the music video for "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" that he can't stay upright. "There's a scene where you see me where I'm wasted and I fall down, and I'm literally being picked up by my guy that worked for me at the time," Dall told the Green Bay Press Gazette. "That scene, I am drunk and wasted in. That's not fake." In 1993, Dall checked himself into a substance abuse rehabilitation facility, and today, he identifies as an alcoholic and drug addict in recovery.

Poison has been sued multiple times

Poison just might be one of the most sued bands in rock history, facing courtroom battles over nearly its entire history. In 1987, per the Los Angeles Times, Geffen Records media relations head Bryn Bridenthal Housman sued Poison's Bret Michaels and Bobby Dall for $1.1 million and filed a formal criminal complaint alleging battery after the duo dumped beer and ice water on her at an after-show party. Not long after, Poison and management company Sanctuary Media sued each other — the managers asked for $45.5 million alleging breach of contract. The band countered, alleging mismanagement of funds. 

In 2011, a band with a name very similar to that of another, much more well-known act sued the much more well-known Poison for allegedly stealing some of their biggest hits more than 20 years earlier. According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 1984, Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille auditioned for the band Kid Rocker. Members Billy McCarthy and James Stonich gave him a tape of their songs, which they believe DeVille later stole and used as the basis for four Poison songs, including "Talk Dirty to Me" and "I Won't Forget You." The suit, filed in Illinois federal court, alleges copyright infringement and named Poison, Capitol Records, and EMI Music as defendants.