Aerosmith has been rocking the world’s faces since 1970. The band has been such a pervasive presence on the field of hard rock that even people who break in hives at the sight of Steven Tyler on TV probably know how to hum a few bars of the band’s smash hits such as "Dream On," "Janie’s Got a Gun," "Walk This Way," and "Sweet Emotion," never mind the earworm power ballads of their 1990s era.
That being said, apart from their music and faces, what do we really know about Aerosmith? Despite being famous rock stars, they haven’t really put their lives out in the open like, say, Mötley Crue. So apart from the occasional interview, memoir, and (of course) scandal, the public basically just knows them as the "Toxic Twins" of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, plus three other dudes. This is a shame, seeing as almost five decades of rock star life have left these guys with some really strange and awful tales to tell. Let’s fix this issue right now by taking a long, hard look at the tragic real-life story of Aerosmith.
Steven Tyler’s tragic time
Even rich and famous rock stars can face unexpected challenges that pull them right back to the lands of the mortals with the rest of us. Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steven Tyler, is no exception. In 2006, he revealed to Access Hollywood that three years earlier, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C. He’d carried it for years and years without knowing, and things had reached a point where it had to be dealt with. Unfortunately, getting rid of an extremely stubborn liver disease is difficult, no matter how many screaming fans you have. Tyler’s rock star life turned into 11 months of chemotherapy and Interferon medication, which he says "about killed" him. However, the treatment did manage to clear the virus from his bloodstream, so it was all worth it in the end.
Still, the whole hepatitis C situation wasn’t the only problem Tyler had at the time. According to the New York Post, this period also saw some serious marital difficulty between the rock star and his wife, Teresa Barrick, and Biography writes that the two finally divorced in 2006 … just in time for Tyler to enter his next crisis in the form of a potentially career-ending throat surgery. If it wasn’t for his fortune and fame, you’d almost be tempted to think that some guys just don’t catch a break.
Aerosmith and the Philadelphia incident
It’s easy for a touring rock band to develop favorite cities and venues, as well as ones they’d probably prefer to avoid. As Ultimate Classic Rock tells us, Aerosmith is no exception. In fact, at the early stages of their career, the band members spent around a year boycotting the city of Philadelphia. To be fair, they did have their reasons. In 1977, they were playing a concert in the city, when someone in the audience unexpectedly threw something on the stage. That something turned out to be a cherry bomb, which promptly exploded, catching singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry in the blast.
The bomb burned Tyler’s cornea and ruptured an artery in Perry’s hand so badly that there was blood shooting from his arm. The incident forced them to take some time off the road, and it soured them so badly that they turned down all offers to play in Philadelphia until 1978. Their eventual return to the City of Brotherly Love probably didn’t do much to warm them to the place, as Tyler was promptly injured again when someone threw a beer bottle onstage, and flying shards of glass bloodied his face.
Tom Hamilton’s battle with cancer
No matter how rich, famous and successful you are, there are some things in life all the money in the world can’t avoid. Aerosmith’s bass player, Tom Hamilton, found this out the hard way in 2006, when he discovered he had cancer of the tongue. This dramatic change in his health situation forced him to take a hiatus from touring in order to go through radiotherapy, and while he was soon declared free from cancer, the disease returned with a vengeance in 2011 … only, this time it had spread to his voice box.
In order to vanquish cancer once and for all, Hamilton decided to undergo a radical laser surgery procedure, and as the Long Island Pulse tells us, the move was highly successful. After a few biannual check-ups, the doctor finally told him in 2015 that the battle against the disease was won. Hamilton still insisted on keeping up with the regular checks, though, and really, it’s pretty hard to find fault in that.
The perils of an Aerosmith drummer
While singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry are the most famous (and famously indulgent) faces of Aerosmith, other band members have gone through their share of turmoil. Drummer Joey Kramer, in particular, seems to have led a pretty rough life, which he describes in his aptly named book, Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top.
In a 2009 interview with Billboard, Kramer said the book is an account of his indulgences and addictions, and that it also focuses on two particularly difficult relationships in his life: his damaging relationship with his father and a confrontational, "co-dependent" one with none other than Steven Tyler. While he doesn’t really go into detail about either, it’s pretty telling that the foreword of the drummer’s book is by Mötley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, a man who’s famously wrestled with very similar-sounding demons when it comes to familial and band relationships, let alone substance abuse.
The sum total of Kramer’s life has apparently been damaging enough, and his survival of it all inspiring enough, that he wants to use his story to help others. As he explained to Billboard, "Because I’ve been allowed to do what I’ve done via Aerosmith, I’d like to be able to carry it on as I get older, on another level. Whatever that may be is really unbeknownst to me — maybe some sort of a lecture series or circuit or whatever — but I know that it will come."
The tragic story of Julia Holcomb
In the 1970s, Steven Tyler became infatuated with a 16-year-old girl named Julia Holcomb, and he approached the matter in a way one would be hard-pressed to call anything but creepy. LifesiteNews reports that the singer, who was in his late 20s at the time, talked Holcomb’s parents into signing over guardianship to him (according to Holcomb, he achieved this by telling them he needed the papers so she could "enroll in school" while she toured with the band).
The singer now had a teenage ward who felt betrayed by her parents and believed Tyler was her only hope in the situation, which he apparently thought was a perfectly healthy foundation for a romantic relationship. (We really want to stress here that Julia was a minor, and Tyler was a drug-addled adult.) The couple wanted children, but when Holcomb became pregnant, Tyler essentially left her alone in their apartment with no funds, no means of locomotion, and just a little food. In the end, Tyler ended up pressuring Holcomb into an abortion at an estimated five months of pregnancy, so in 1975, she had a painful abortion while Tyler sat beside her, snorting cocaine whenever the nurse left the room. Unsurprisingly, their relationship didn’t recover, and they separated an unhappy year later.
All of this was made even more disturbing by the fact that Holcomb’s pre-Tyler life had already been extremely tragic. Apart from a turbulent family situation, she’d been in a car accident where she suffered injuries and lost several members of her family. Without a doubt, Steven Tyler’s icky involvement with Holcomb is the most disgusting moment in Aerosmith history.
Aerosmith’s close call with the law
With the amount of drugs Steven Tyler and Joe Perry alone took during the first half of their careers, it’s not exactly shocking that the members of Aerosmith have risked running afoul of the law on occasion. In 2017, bassist Tom Hamilton and guitarist Brad Whitford told NME about a particularly close call from back in the day. The group was driving to a gig on the New Jersey Turnpike, when a police car unexpectedly pulled them over — which was a problem, because they were carrying two bags of marijuana. The police officers suspected as much, and when a cursory search led to the discovery of a pot seed in the back, all five men were handcuffed to a roadside railing, and when a search of the car failed to locate the drugs, taken to the police station.
There’s no telling what would’ve happened to them if it wasn’t for Tyler’s quick thinking. He noticed that the room next to the one where they were being held had its door open and lights off, so he took the drug-filled bags from Whitford and quickly tossed them in the dark space. And that’s when the lights flickered on as a detective entered and took the band for fingerprinting. However, the police failed to notice the bags, and they allowed the rockers to go about their merry way. They made it to the show, and were rewarded for their troubles with a crowd of dozen or so people. Rock glamour, everyone!
The revenge of the Aerosmith road crew
Members of Aerosmith have been known to be fairly indulgent, and as such, they have not always been the easiest people to tour with. And according to singer Steven Tyler’s memoir Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, their road crew didn’t always care for the band members’ antics. However, they had their own ways to cope with the situation. Whenever the band made the technical crew’s blood boil, the roadies had a stealthy (and stinky) measure of revenge by sneaking up to the band’s catering and wiping their behinds on the musicians’ deli meats. Tyler says he was completely unaware that some of the bologna slices on their menu had been spiced in a rather unsanitary way until years later, when one of the band’s roadies confessed to what went down. Sadly, we don’t know whether this soured the band on those "Aerosmith road crew" shirts they sell.
Aerosmith’s creative slump
In 2009, guitarist Joe Perry told Reuters that a string of medical issues among band members were a large part of why Aerosmith hadn’t recorded new material since 2001’s Just Push Play. However, Perry also revealed that this was just a part of their slump. Apart from touring, the band members were rarely in contact with each other, and to top things off, the songwriting partnership between Perry and Steven Tyler was basically nonexistent. In fact, they hadn’t written a song together in ten years, for reasons even Perry couldn’t quite comprehend.
Perry himself was writing songs on a daily basis, but when those didn’t end up on an Aerosmith album, he decided to pour his creativity through other channels and release those songs as an obscure solo record, with a random German singer his wife found on YouTube handling vocal duties. Meanwhile, his main band didn’t release any new music until 2012’s Music from Another Dimension!, which the critics found rather mediocre.
Aerosmith and drugs
The members of Aerosmith, as you may have gathered if you’re even passingly familiar with the band, have been known to be quite liberal when it comes to drugs. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry in particular are quite open about their history of drug addiction, with Perry admitting he was whacked out on heroin during his own wedding in 1975. In an interview with Louder, Tyler reminisced about the days of 1977’s Draw the Line, when he was so out of it from valium and muscle relaxers that he couldn’t walk properly and had trouble uncrossing his eyes (which, of course, didn’t stop him from driving a car). According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the singer also estimates that he’s spent $6 million on cocaine alone over the years.
Judging by how everyone involved is still alive, it seems the band members have cleaned up in their later years. But as the The Fix notes, this took Tyler a whopping eight stints in rehab, the last one being in 2009. Of course, the Toxic Twins have managed to find ways to go overboard even during their cleaner periods. For instance, during their drug-free tour for 1989’s Pump, they had a juicer … and ended up drinking so much carrot juice that their palms and the soles of their feet went orange.
That time Joe Perry quit
It’s easy to assume that Aerosmith is one of those bands that’s always had a stable lineup. Surely, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have always been around, getting on each other’s nerves like a stateside, hard rock version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? Well, oddly, that’s not the case. In fact, as Ultimate Classic Rock tells us, the Toxic Twins did in fact spend a good chunk of what might’ve been the most fruitful (or destructive) years of their career apart.
In 1979, an escalating series of on-the-road arguments culminated to a backstage fight that led to Tyler drunkenly firing Perry from the band. While everyone involved retrospectively recognizes Perry’s ensuing departure as a bad move, the fans made their feelings clear from the beginning. While the Night in the Ruts album from the same year was a decent success, the band started spiraling soon afterwards, falling out of favor with their label and audiences alike thanks to a dwindling creative spark that gave the world the underwhelming Rock in a Hard Place album.
It didn’t help that the band’s other guitarist, Brad Whitford, also quit in 1981, and that replacements Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay were unable to fill his and Perry’s shoes, at least in the eyes of the world. It wasn’t until a surprise backstage encounter between Tyler, Perry, and Whitford in 1984 that the old wounds started healing, and the old magic was discovered again.
The tragic death of Johnny Thunders
Sometimes, life’s biggest tragedies aren’t what happens to us, but what we have to witness happening to others. Such is the case with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who Louder writes got to know the legendary New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders in the 1970s. Perry, who was by no means an abstainer himself at the time, witnessed Thunders’ drug addiction and fall from grace at a close distance as the scene legend was scouring the streets, trying to get enough money for the day’s fix. "He was walking death," Perry says of Thunders’ lowest point in the 1980s. "Every time I ran into him, he was desperately trying to get from hour to hour. You’d hear that he’d tried to clean up, and then he’d be back living on the street again."
When one half of the Toxic Twins says you’re that low, there’s really only one way things can go. In the end, Thunders went out with a tragic mystery for the ages. Loudwire reports that in 1991, he was found in a "ransacked" New Orleans apartment, with his body twisted oddly out of shape and a significant (yet possibly not fatal) amount of drugs in his system. He was also suffering from advanced leukemia. To this day, Perry mourns his late friend to the point that his Hollywood Vampires side project was paying homage to Thunders as recently as 2019.
The story of Aerosmith’s latter-day troubles
Aerosmith has been around since 1970, so a hiccup or two is only to be expected at this stage. However, when you look at the various things that have derailed the band recently, it seems the bits that aren’t hiccups are slowly starting to be in the minority. Rolling Stone writes that in 2017, the band’s tour had to be cancelled due to a mysterious Steven Tyler health scare that, according to the man himself, was totally not a heart attack or a seizure. USA Today notes that in 2018, Joe Perry collapsed onstage while moonlighting with Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. As Blabbermouth reports, Perry’s health again drew concerns in 2019, thanks to a winded performance during a concert in Las Vegas. And according to the Tampa Bay Times, Tyler’s Loving Mary Band side project had to pull out from a festival that same year due to "unforeseen circumstances".
With all these cancellations and troubles, there’s been speculation that the Toxic Twins are finally starting to feel all those decades of living in the fast lane. Then again, despite their advanced years and the fact that they announced in 2016 that they’d break up after a final farewell tour in 2017, Joe Perry has since stated that the band is planning to hit the road again when the band turns 50. So who knows? When civilization ends and humanity is extinct, maybe these guys will still be jamming with cockroaches and Keith Richards.