How a Traumatic Childhood Shaped Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx
Nikki Sixx's story is one of a man who far exceeded his early lot in life.
Dealt a traumatic childhood, the Motley Crue founder was able to turn turmoil into triumph, eventually becoming one of his generation's biggest rock stars.
"I had a shitty upbringing, and I'm dealing with that every day," Sixx said in 2019. "I spent more money on therapy than most rock stars spent on cars."
Sixx, whose birth name is Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr., was born in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 11, 1958. His early years were unstable, with his father abandoning the family when Sixx was three years old. Soon after, Sixx’s mother also decided she couldn't handle being a parent.
“My most heartbreaking memory was when my mom called my grandparents and said, ‘Come pick him up,'” the Motley Crue bassist revealed in an interview with the The Guardian. “I was six and she said, ‘I’m going to lock the door and I’ll just leave you in the porch. She couldn’t wait until my grandparents got there. She left with this guy in a truck. That broke me.”
Living with his grandparents provided a new beginning for young Sixx. Though having money was a constant struggle, the couple made sure to provide a nurturing home. “My grandfather was a mechanic and grandmother was a homemaker, and we moved every six months," he recalled. "We were very, very poor and lived in trailers, but they gave me unconditional love and undying, unbreakable commitment.”
His mother occasionally made contact with her son, but the two had an icy relationship. “My mom would call and they’d say, ‘Hey, your mom’s on the phone.’ I’d say, ‘Just have her call back,’ because I disconnected," Sixx said. "I don’t know if I ever 100 percent reconnected with society – I don’t believe that there are any rules that exist for me.”
Sixx and his grandparents would eventually move to Idaho, where the family was able to purchase a cornfield in Twin Falls. “We lived next to a silage pit, which is where the extra husks and waste left over after harvesting were dumped, mixed with chemicals, covered with plastic,” Sixx recalled. “I lived a Huckleberry Finn life that summer — fishing in the creek, walking around the railroad tracks, crushing pennies under trains and building forts out of haystacks.”
Despite the serene settings, Sixx still had a rage inside of him stemming from his early childhood. "In my deepest, deepest core, the thing that's haunted me the most and still haunts me is the feeling of abandonment -- my dad leaving when I was young and my mom leaving, one at 3, one at 6. I never quite got over that, it's a horrible feeling,” Sixx confessed during an interview with Neon Sunsets. "It always comes back to these childhood issues; you still carry them with you, they're, like, in your DNA."
In an effort to channel his negative energy, Sixx decided to join the football team. "Violence was the only thing that gave me any sense of power over other people," Sixx later recounted in his 2007 autobiography, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. "I thrived at defensive end where I could just cream the quarterbacks. I was psycho: I’d get so worked up on the field, I’d just whip off my helmet and start smashing other kids with it.”
Sixx's fiery behavior was difficult for his grandparents to handle. At one point, they sent him to live with his mother, who had relocated to Seattle. The reunion was short-lived, as the two were constantly fighting. According to the book Cemetery Gates: Saints and Survivors of the Heavy Metal Scene, one night, an enraged Sixx cut his own arm open with a knife, then called the police and claimed that his mother had attacked him. Despite his accusations, the cops weren't fooled. Sixx soon found himself returning to Idaho.
In his constant search for some kind of role model, the teenage Sixx had become enamored with rock music. “I’m like a cliche for drug addiction,” the rocker admitted in a 2007 interview with Louder. “Dysfunctional childhood, angry teenager, no type of parental role models. And what you do is say, ‘Well Keith Richards looks like a pretty good role model, and so does Johnny Thunders.’ And the next thing you know, you’ve become that person.”
Sixx emulated his rock gods, from their style of dress, to their drug use and delinquent ways. He bought his first guitar from Red’s Trading Post, a pawn shop and gun store in Twin Falls. “One day it dawned on me," he noted. "Here I was listening to Peter Frampton in Idaho, while in Los Angeles the Runaways and Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer and the dudes from Creem magazine were partying at the hippest rock clubs imaginable — and I was missing it.“
The 17-year-old future rock star jumped on a Greyhound bus and headed to L.A. The first band he joined there was Sister, after responding to their want-ad looking for a bass player. The group consisted of future W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless and guitarist Lizzie Grey. After recording a demo, Lawless kicked Sixx and Grey out of the band.
It was around this time Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr. officially changed his name to Nikki Sixx. "I changed my name because of a long road battling a guy who walked away from me named Frank Serafino -- who was my father -- and me saying, 'Fuck you, I'm gonna reinvent myself, you weren't there for me, and I am gonna become a man called Nikki, create my own family and fuck you,'" he explained.
The duo of Sixx and Grey decided to form another group, London. Nigel Benjamin, formerly of Mott the Hoople, was recruited for vocals. Sixx worked odd jobs, including being a janitor, to help fund the band and its performances. The group struggled with lineup changes and couldn't secure a record deal.
Frustrated with his situation, Sixx quit London. At 22 years old, the bassist decided to found his own band. He recruited an 18-year-old drummer named Tommy Lee. And the seeds of Motley Crue were planted.