The Aftermath of Vince Neil’s Car Crash
One of the key scenes in Motley Crue's 2019 The Dirt movie takes place after the December 1984 tragedy in which Vince Neil, under the influence of alcohol, collided his car with an oncoming vehicle, killing Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle and leaving the two passengers in the other car, Lisa Hogan and Daniel Smithers, with brain damage.
It wasn't until Neil was at the police station that he learned from an officer that Razzle had died. "The impact of the accident finally caught up with me," the singer wrote in The Dirt book. "I felt it not just emotionally, but physically, as if I had been smashed with a hundred whiskey bottles. My ribs tore at my torso so bad I could hardly move, and pain shot through my face every time I spoke or winked."
He thought about how he would never see Razzle again, and realized the circumstances leading to the crash could have resulted in a different series of events -- like, if the car had skidded at a different angle, Neil would have been killed instead. "I didn't know how I could face anyone," he wrote. "His band, my band, my wife. I didn't know what to do with myself."
Neil was charged with vehicular manslaughter and turned himself in. At the preliminary hearing, he came face-to-face with Hogan's and Smithers' parents. "They looked at me like I was Satan," he said in The Dirt, and expanded on it in his autobiography Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen. "These people were injured for the rest of the rest of their lives. Like, when I saw them, you could tell they were very fucked up. That was probably more emotional than going to jail. Not probably; definitely."
Hanoi Rocks canceled the remaining dates on their U.S. tour, played a pair of shows in their hometown of Helsinki, Finland (with the Clash's Terry Chimes on drums) and broke up in summer 1985 following a short tour of Poland. Singer Michael Monroe and guitarist Andy McCoy put together a new version of Hanoi Rocks in 2001 that toured until 2009.
"Razzle's death really changed Vince's life," his ex-wife Beth wrote in Tattoos & Tequila. "Before Razzle died, Vince was a happy drunk. After that, he turned dark. I don't think he's ever recovered."
While out on $2,500 bail, Motley Crue manager Doc McGhee told the singer he was being court ordered to rehab. "I spent the next 30 days in detox, undergoing intense therapy," Neil noted in Tattoos & Tequila, "which was basically reliving the accident over and over again while frowning therapists jotted down their observations."
But what most upset him was that none of his bandmates -- Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx or Mick Mars -- visited him during this period, though he said Sixx phoned him shortly after he entered rehab. Neil knew they had all operated vehicles while drunk in the past; during Neil's stint in rehab, Lee was even in a motorcycle accident that crushed the hand of Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera.
Sixx, who was deep into a heroin habit at the time, owned up to his behavior in The Dirt. "Vince was my bandmate, my best friend, my brother," he recalled. "And I didn't call him, I didn't visit him, I didn't support him in any way whatsoever. I was, as usual, only interest indulging myself. ... When I thought about Vince, it wasn't with pity; it was with anger, as if he was the bad guy and the rest of the members were innocent victims of his wrongdoing."
Sessions for the Theatre of Pain album began after Neil completed his time in rehab. Sixx greeted him in the studio by offering him a line of heroin, which Neil -- who thought he was being offered cocaine -- reluctantly snorted, causing him to immediately and violently throw up. In one of the movie's most dramatic scenes, Neil angrily confronts his bandmates: "You guys slip me smack and I'm the fucking problem? You know, I know what you're thinking, I killed Razzle, yeah. Coulda happened to any one of you!"
By this point, substance abuse was starting to affect Motley Crue's work, as The Dirt film makes clear. Sixx had fewer songs than usual ready for the new LP, so the album was padded with lesser material. Still, Theatre of Pain became their biggest hit to date on the strength of their cover of Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys Room" and the power ballad "Home Sweet Home."
As a condition of Neil's release from jail in advance of the trial, he was required to remain sober, which proved difficult, particularly on the road. Neil recalled in The Dirt that the other band members would blow marijuana smoke in his face or ask him to pass a plate of cocaine they kept on the plane. Meanwhile, he'd get yelled at if they saw him with a drink.
"On one hand, he deserved it, because if he was caught, the judge would crucify him at his trial," Sixx wrote. "But on the other hand, there I was lecturing him about drinking a beer when I had a bottle of Jack in my hands and a syringe in my right boot.
"Without realizing it, Tommy, Mick and I drew a line and pushed Vince to the other side. And the longer we kept partying while enforcing sobriety on him, the thicker that line became, until the earth beneath it cracked and Vince was left alone on a small sliver of rock, separated from the rest of us by a chasm that all the pills, girls and therapists in the world couldn't cross."
On the advice of his lawyer, Neil pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, $2.6 million restitution that came out of the band's liability insurance and 200 hours of community service, which he was already performing by talking to students around the country about drunk driving. The victims' families agreed to the sentence, with Neil's lawyer arguing the singer could be more productive using his fame to tell his story on the road than by sitting in jail.
"I walked out the doors of the jail after 18 days," he said. "That's what Razzle's life, and the permanent health of those other two kids, was worth, according to the judicial system. ... It was kind of had to deal with the fact that I caused so much damage in a lot of people's lives and basically all I got was a slap on the wrist. ... While I was [in jail] I drank and got laid and got a nice suntan. Putting me in jail didn't, it didn't do anything."
While he was away, Neil's wife, Beth, and the couple's daughter (also named Beth) moved out, leaving him with only his Camaro and the Rolex McGhee had given him for staying sober. The Motley Crue singer didn't see them again for another 10 years.