The Tragic Truth About Dee Dee Ramone's Childhood

Although most fans will first think of Joey Ramone's sneering, hiccuping vocal delivery or Johnny Ramone's furious downstrokes on guitar when looking back on the Ramones' legacy as American punk pioneers, others will readily bring up the tight rhythm section of bassist Dee Dee Ramone and the various drummers who sat behind the kit during the band's 22-year run. It was Dee Dee who was responsible for the signature "One, two, three, four!" shout that kicked off many a Ramones song. And while it's commonplace nowadays for musicians to gravitate toward rap after getting bored with rock, Dee Dee was ahead of the curve; according to The A.V. Club, he debuted a rap alter-ego called Dee Dee King in the late '80s and even released an album under that name. (Suffice to say, he was far from his generation's equivalent to Post Malone.)

For what it's worth, Dee Dee's rap career showcased his sense of humor. But behind that funny exterior was a man who dealt with personal demons from a young age up until his death in June 2002 from an accidental drug overdose. None of the Ramones had it easy while growing up — in particular, Joey was a shy, awkward kid who was bullied at home and at school, and Johnny had an unreasonably demanding dad who once forced him to play baseball while injured. Dee Dee was no exception, and his childhood was every bit as troubled as those of his musical brothers from another mother.

He was an Army brat from an abusive, alcoholic family

According to The New York Times, Dee Dee Ramone was born Douglas Glenn Colvin on September 18, 1951, in Fort Lee, Virginia. As his father was a master sergeant in the U.S. Army, the Colvin family moved frequently before settling in Germany, where the future Ramones bassist spent most of his childhood years. In his autobiography, "Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones," Dee Dee wrote that both of his parents were heavy drinkers who fought frequently and that his dad took out his anger on him and his sister, Beverly, by physically abusing them. As quoted by Rolling Stone, he referred to his mother in the pages of his memoir as a "drunken nut job [who was] prone to emotional outbursts." Dee Dee also claimed that his parents often blamed him for how their lives were in "complete chaos."

In 2013, Vice published Dee Dee's 1989 interview with rock journalist Legs McNeil, where he shared more details about his rough childhood. He recalled one moment where his father was upset by his apparent fascination with Nazi memorabilia and angrily told him to think about the U.S. servicemen who died in World War II while fighting the Germans. "I thought, This guy is a real a**hole," Dee Dee said. "As if he really cared. I didn't figure my father for any passions like that, about anything. And from that day on, he just became a total joke to me—and I stopped fearing him."

Dee Dee Ramone started doing drugs at 12

Apart from dealing with abusive, drunken parents and doing poorly in school, where he repeated the first grade, Dee Dee Ramone's childhood in Germany also saw him get introduced to drugs at a very young age. As quoted by Vice, Dee Dee's first drug was morphine, which he first tried when he was 12 years old because "they didn't have pot or heroin or anything like that" in Germany. "I used to trade daggers and stuff for morphine syrettes from some soldiers I knew," he continued. "I used to go up to the Army Base and cop there." He then explained how he would buy needles at the drug store, then go to a nearby department store where he and other morphine users would get their fix, mainly because "it had a nice bathroom."

When it came to marijuana, Dee Dee said that he only started smoking pot when he was 15 or 16 years old and already back home in the U.S. Around the same time, he also started drinking, but back then, he didn't exactly enjoy the experience. He would, however, develop a taste for stronger drugs in short order. Per The New York Times, he quickly moved on to LSD and heroin, developing an addiction to the latter drug that he fought for most of his adult life.

Dee Dee's mom introduced him to rock 'n' roll ... though there were caveats

Dee Dee Ramone may not have gotten along well with his mother, but he told Legs McNeil (via Vice) that she was responsible for introducing him to rock 'n' roll. "I got exposed to rock real early cause my mother always liked it—she would always tell me what to listen to," Dee Dee said. "She told me about the Beatles, Ricky Nelson, everybody." He first started playing guitar at the age of 12, though he made sure never to play it at home, lest his parents rage at him as they often did.

As it seemed, Mrs. Colvin had pretty cool taste in music for a 1960s parent. However, Dee Dee recalled that there was one band she couldn't stand back in the day — the Rolling Stones. He credited the Stones for helping him "really [discover] rock," adding that when he moved back to America, he truly "had [his] own music" after discovering the likes of Jimi Hendrix.

Dee Dee was 15 years old when his mom left his dad and moved the family to Forest Hills, New York. That was where he first met the men — then literal teenage punks — whom he would later join forces with as one-fourth of the Ramones. "I can see now how it was only natural that I would gravitate toward Tommy, Joey, and Johnny Ramone," he recalled in his autobiography, via Rolling Stone. "They were the obvious creeps of the neighborhood ... No one would have ever pegged any of us as candidates for any kind of success in life."

He was jailed for armed robbery at 15

All in all, Dee Dee Ramone's interview with McNeil was chock full of good and bad memories from his childhood and adolescence. But aside from the tales of drugs and rock 'n' roll, the bassist also looked back on his days as a petty criminal, which started soon after he settled in Forest Hills.

Per Vice, Dee Dee told the story of his failed attempt to hitchhike to California at the age of 15. While in Flint, Michigan, he met a group of kids that was supposedly planning something very nasty — as he claimed, the young thugs "wanted to strangle somebody." When Dee Dee and his new acquaintances arrived in South Bend, Indiana, they attempted to rob a gas station and were arrested soon after. "The police caught us because the driver tried to step on the gas in the junk car and it stalled," he explained. "No one got away with nuthin'!"

Stuck in jail in South Bend, Dee Dee placed a call to his father, asking if he could possibly send some money to bail him out. While it was one of the first times he would ask his dad for help with anything, Sgt. Colvin was still as unsympathetic as ever to his son's plight. "I was desperate," Dee Dee said. "I was really scared, it was a rough place. And my father said, "F*** you, rot there! You deserve it!" And then hung up."