Tragic Details About The Runaways

The Runaways have rightfully earned their spot in rock-and-roll history. As one of the first all-female rock bands, they proved to the world that women could rock as hard as men could. Each one of them was a uniquely talented musician and highly precocious. Being only in their mid-teens when they started the band, The Runaways shocked the world with both their talent and their boldness. 

The Runaways may have made music history, but it absolutely came at hefty personal cost. This was the musical world of the 1970s — and it wasn't necessarily a safe place for young talent. The world of rock-and-roll looked far different than it does today — and many youths eager to make it big weren't always prepared for what they were getting into. The Runaways' music will always live on, but their history will also be remembered as one fraught with drugs, violence, abuse, and tragedy. 

The Runaways were all underage

It's hard to believe when listening to their music, but all of The Runaways were only 15 or 16 when they started the band. They were one of the first all-female rock bands (who also played musical instruments) and a highly provocative one at that time. The group may have sounded very adult and sang some fairly racy lyrics about sex, drugs, and drinking, but they were still young kids. Except this was a time when in rock-and-roll, anything went — and not necessarily for the best. 

According to NPR, this time in musical history was when young performers could be far more easily exploited and exposed to much older men's predations. Older men were free to pursue young girls and boys as young as 14 or 15 without any repercussions. Even The Runaways' lead singer, Cherie Currie, admitted in an interview with Spin that their unsupervised rock-and-roll lifestyle and mostly absent and permissive parents would not have gone over well in today's world.

"I don't think the Runaways could have happened under those circumstances. And our band was a milestone. Thank God we had the parents that we had because I can tell you, being the mother of a 19-year-old, there isn't a chance I would have let that happen. But we made history. So it's a double-edged sword," Currie said. 

Kim Fowley was an abusive manager

Kim Fowley was a renowned music producer and promoter in the 70s, specializing in the glam-rock scene. He is credited with recruiting the members of The Runaways and becoming their manager, helping them rise to fame. But Fowley had a cruel streak. According to The Huffington Post, Fowley was notorious for preying on young, vulnerable girls, hence his interest in an all-girl rock band. He deliberately marketed The Runaways as "hard-rock jailbait," encouraging them and teaching them to look and act as sexy as possible on stage — despite the girls being as young as 15. In interview with Spin, Cherie Currie has stated that Fowley even had sex with a woman right in front of the girls as a form of "sex education."

In an attempt to prepare the band for facing rough crowds, Fowley also thought it would be a great idea to throw blunt objects at the girls while they were rehearsing. He would frequently scream at them, verbally abuse them, and force them to work grueling hours, as Cherie Currie described. "We just never had a break. Either we were touring, rehearsing, or in the studio, and we were making no money at all. They were making a lot of money off of us." Even more insultingly, The Runaways discovered that their management was ripping them off. They were barely getting paid, as Currie explained in later interviews. "We were doing sold-out concerts and getting $20!"

Eventually, The Runaways fired Kim Fowley as their manager.

Cherie Currie came from a broken home

Former Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie has frequently spoken of and written about her dysfunctional family life that caused her to seek out the music world. Her parents had recently divorced, and her father was an alcoholic. Her mother had remarried and decided to move to Indonesia. The young Currie constantly felt that she was living in the shadow of her twin sister, Marie, who was considered the prettier and more popular of the two. To make matters worse, Currie has also stated in her biography that she was abused by her sister's boyfriend when she was still very young — prior to her joining The Runaways.

"My twin sister's boyfriend had raped me and took my virginity. That's why I was angry, that's why I cut my hair to look like David Bowie's," she said.

In fact, as noted by The Guardian, Kim Fowley and Joan Jett originally approached Marie Currie about joining the band first. When she turned them down, Cherie Currie jumped at the chance.

Drug use was rampant among The Runaways

All of the members of The Runaways dove head-first into the heady rock-and-roll lifestyle — the late-nights, the parties, the fans, and of course, the drugs. According to her interview with The Guardian, Cherie Currie shared that the band had extremely easy access to drugs. People would just give them to the girls.

"Our management, our booking agent — they were all feeding us drugs. The thing was, back in the 70s, if you didn't do drugs, there was something wrong with you," she said. 

Currie said it started with quaaludes, and she later graduated to cocaine. By the time she was 17, Currie was completely burned out on drugs. She admitted that she continued to struggle with drug addiction long after she left the band. Currie was ultimately able to get her life together and took a job as a tech in the drug and psych wards at Coldwater Canyon Hospital. Eventually, she became a drug and alcohol counselor.

Kim Fowley may have assaulted Jackie Fox

After Kim Fowley died in 2015, former Runaways bassist Jackie Fox came out and publicly stated that Fowley raped her during her time with the band. Fox recalls that someone gave her quaaludes, rendering her unable to move or speak. While Fowley was assaulting her, Fox stated that they were surrounded by people — including bandmates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Both Jett and Currie have denied witnessing Fox's abuse. After her assault, Fox said her bandmates said nothing about the incident, so Fox took the cue that she shouldn't say anything, either.

Investigative journalist Jason Cherkis spoke to Fox of her alleged assault by Fowley and ran a piece in The Huffington Post. He found substantial evidence and witnesses to corroborate her story. So, why didn't Fox's bandmates try to help her? In an interview with Pitchfork, Cherkis seems to imply that, like Fox, her bandmates were just as young and vulnerable and probably didn't fully comprehend or register what they might have been witnessing. Fox likewise seems to bear no grudge against her former bandmates, which according to The Guardian, she stated in a Facebook post.

"I know some people watching the online drama unfold have been discouraged by the lack of support I've received from my former bandmates. To which I can only say that I hope you never have to walk in their shoes. My rape was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and everyone deals with trauma in their own way and time."

Cherie Currie had an abortion

During her time with The Runaways, Cherie Currie ended up getting pregnant by one of the band's managers (not Kim Fowley, for the record). She was 16-years-old at the time. At this point, Currie was still underage, touring with her band, and was regularly drinking, partying, and taking drugs. She was in no fit shape to take care of a child. Currie ultimately made the decision to have an abortion. In an interview with OC Weekly, Currie described the fear and panic she felt becoming pregnant at such a terribly young age.

"My god, it was such a horrific thing to happen at any age. It was horrible and came out of left field. I never thought that is was even a possibility. I never dreamed of something like that happening. To this day, it still bothers me," she said.

When asked if she regretted her decision to have an abortion, Currie owned her decision. "Well, I can say I regret it because I think I was too young. What can I say? It's a done deal."

Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox left The Runaways

Eventually, The Runaways started experiencing turnover. In 1977, both Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox left the band. After two years, Currie was burned out from drugs, had already had one abortion, and was flat-out exhausted from the fast-paced rock-and-roll life. Fox was likewise weary of the rockstar lifestyle and likely suffering from PTSD after her assault at the hands of manager Kim Fowley. Both Currie and Fox had also hit their limit in dealing with Fowley's regular abuse. They were done.

But the remaining Runaways weren't ready to be done with the band. Without Currie or Fox, the band had two choices — break up or find replacements. They opted for the latter. Vicki Blue took over as their bassist. Currie, the band's former primary vocalist (she shared vocals with Joan Jett), proved much harder to replace. After all, it was her face that fans looked for. In the end, Jett took over as the lead vocalist for the band. In an interview with New Musical Express, Jett admitted that she knew that she wasn't the frontwoman Currie was, but at the time, she wasn't ready to let the band go yet.

"I knew I wasn't Cherie. I knew I wasn't a blonde bombshell. I knew I wasn't the one people wanted to look at. And that's a weird feeling. I'm getting emotional; I don't know why. What else could I do? Either end it or plow ahead and not worry," Jett said. 

A serial killer kidnapped Cherie Currie

Not long after leaving The Runaways, Cherie Currie was the victim of a horrific kidnapping and assault when she was only 17. According to The Guardian, the man responsible was a stalker, an obsessed fan who had previously killed six other women in Texas. Apparently, the kidnapper was driving a limousine and urged the young Currie to go for a ride. An admitted people-pleaser, Currie agreed to join him, probably not thinking about what might happen given all the risky behavior she had previously engaged in while touring with The Runaways. However, the man ended up driving her to an abandoned house where he imprisoned and assaulted her. 

Luckily, Currie was able to escape her kidnapper when she managed to get a hold of a knife and stabbed him. In an interview with Democrat & Chronicle, Currie acknowledged just how lucky she was to be alive after her ordeal. "Realizing it was a terrible thing that had happened, but I survived, I was blessed. I survived when I shouldn't have. This man had told me he had killed six women."

Cherie Currie had two failed albums

Although Cherie Currie quit The Runaways in 1977, she was still under contract to Kim Fowley and was obligated to work with him for one more album. She ended up making her first solo album, Beauty's Only Skin Deep. In an interview with OC Weekly, Currie said that the album was slapped together within two weeks and referred to her solo debut as "the worst album that was recorded in history." Mercury Records didn't even release the album in the United States (only in France and Japan). But after that, Currie was no longer forced to work with Fowley.

Later, in 1980, Cherie and her twin, sister, Marie, made a record together, Messin' With The Boys — Currie has referred to as "a mistake."

"I really should have gone for my solo career at that time. My sister was having problems working at Pup 'N' Taco and I felt obligated to do that. My sister thought she wanted to be in the music business, but when she was in it, she didn't want it anymore. When she walked away from the record deal and then they dropped me, she went off in her married life and had kids. I could hardly live with what I had done, and I let the drugs take over. I was very upset that I let myself do that record. At that time, I thought it had ruined my career and my drug addiction got worse and worse."

Lita Ford has been estranged from her sons

The Runaways' lead guitarist, Lita Ford, wasn't without her own personal problems, either. At one point, she was married to Nitro lead vocalist, Jim Gillette — they married in 1994 after knowing each other for two weeks. Ford and Gillette later had a highly contentious divorce in 2011 — with Gillette getting full custody of their two sons. Although Gillette publicly stated that Ford was allowed supervised visitation, Ford apparently didn't see her sons again for almost a decade. 

When asked in interviews about the custody arrangement and subsequent absence from her children's lives, Ford responded, "By the time our divorce was final and everything was said and done, it was such a joke that it didn't matter what I got on paper. There was no way I was gonna be in those boys' lives. They were such a mess by the time I left and my ex-husband left that it just didn't matter. I just needed to walk away from everything and regroup and come back with Plan B. The big problem for me was I couldn't find them after hiring four or five private investigators and them being out of the country in a Caribbean island."

The boys were around 17 and 21 when Ford finally saw them again in person. Evidently, the meeting did not go particularly well, and Ford's sons continue to avoid seeing her. Ford claims her ex-husband turned her sons against her and responded in 2015 by creating a Parental Alienation Awareness Facebook page.

Sandy West died young

Sadly, The Runaways' drummer, Sandy West, died at the early age of 47 in 2006. She had been suffering from lung cancer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, West passed away in hospice care in San Dimas, Calif.

A California girl at heart, West grew up in Huntington Beach and split time between her main hobbies, skiing and surfing. It wasn't until her grandfather gifted the young West with her first drum set that she discovered her raw gift as a formidable musician. In her post-Runaways' life, as noted by The Guardian, West never achieved the same level of fame that her former bandmates had, but she never lost her passion for drumming. Even as she went on to work in construction, West continued to play in her own band, The Sandy West Band, and would occasionally perform with former Runaways bandmate, Cherie Currie.

In an official statement, Joan Jett came out and expressed her sadness over her old friend's passing. "We shared the dream of girls playing rock and roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer. I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world."

Cherie Currie likewise put out a statement, grieving West's death. "Sandy West loved her fans, her friends and family almost to a fault. It will never be the same for me again to step on a stage, because Sandy West was the best and I will miss her forever."

Kim Fowley died of cancer

As for Kim Fowley, The Runaways' disturbed, abusive manager, he continued to live on and died of bladder cancer at the age of 75. Most peculiarly, it was none other than Cherie Currie who helped care for Fowley in his final days. It comes as a shock to any outsider, particularly when The Runaways themselves have openly talked about how horribly Fowley abused him. Currie even once compared their relationship with Fowley to "battered wife syndrome."

Currie admitted in an interview with Spin that Fowley did apologize for his treatment of her and her fellow Runaways. "He apologized to me on the phone a year ago [2009], saying if he had to do it over again he wouldn't have treated us that way. He didn't know how to handle 15-year-old girls. In his own crazy way, he loved us."

An apology doesn't seem as though it should make up for years of abuse. But for Currie, it was enough. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Currie explained that it felt better to forgive Fowley than hold onto her anger. They even collaborated one more time for Currie's 2015 solo album, Reverie.

"People can change. They can. Without him, Joan never would have happened, Lita and myself, so I owe him a great deal and I was very honoured to take care of him towards the end of his life. I would have done it again and again, and I'm sorry that I lost him," she said.