“The overdose where I died? I remember that”

(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to infer that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)

Back in the wild rock ‘n’ roll 1980s, five young musicians got a band together, and decided to defy the current styles and trends and play only what they liked – their version of hard-rockin’ heavy metal.

The year was 1985, and although they proved popular in all the ‘happening’ clubs around Los Angeles like the Whisky, the Roxy and the Troubadour, their wild behavior and heavy-metal act soon earned them the moniker “Most Dangerous Band in the World.”

They loved the life, and the major labels came knocking. The band signed with Geffen Records in March 1986 and began work on their debut album. Not much got done on it, because the band’s lead guitarist had developed a very close relationship with addictive drugs and alcohol, a serious relationship that followed him for most of the next two decades.

Finally, in 1987, the band released its debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which became a monster hit. The album made the band “Guns N’ Roses” a household name and its members instantly famous multimillionaires. That first Guns N’ Rosesalbum is still the best-selling debut album of all time of any band in American recording history.

It also marks with a big red X on the calendar the approximate start of a two-decade dance with heroin, cocaine, alcohol and other drugs for most band members, particularly guitar virtuoso Saul “Slash” Hudson – although eventually they would all fall under the spell of substance abuse.

The band Guns ‘n’ Roses only lasted a few years, and by the mid ’90s it was over. The band has continued under the leadership of original singer Axl Rose, who purchased the legal use of the name. All the original musicians are long gone, but Rose continues to occasionally appear and record with other musicians using the Guns ‘n’ Roses label.

Today, at 49, Slash is still playing his iconic rock guitar solos, still packing clubs around the world accompanied by other groups he has put together, and he’s still having the time of his life every day – enjoying a rock ‘n’ roll life free of the heroin and alcohol that almost cost him his life – more than once.

Saul Hudson was born in Hampstead, London, UK, on July 23, 1965 of racially mixed parents, both professional artists. His mother was Ola J. Hudson (nee Oliver), an African-American costume designer whose created some of David Bowie’s memorable outfits, and worked for Diana Ross, Sly Stone, Ringo Starr, Curtis Mayfield, the Pointer Sisters and many others. She passed away in 2009.

Slash’s father, Anthony Hudson, is a white English designer and album-cover art director who has created covers for such musicians as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Because of his given name ‘Saul’ and his dark curly hair and complexion, some people in his career thought he might be Jewish. A few erroneous media reports also appeared years ago suggesting that Slash’s American mom was from Nigeria and that his dad was Jewish – both false assumptions and pretty poor reporting!

In his 2008 memoir titled simply Slash, the guitarist commented on his racially mixed background by saying, “As a musician, I’ve always been amused that I’m both British and black, particularly because so many American musicians seem to aspire to be British while so many British musicians, in the sixties in particular, went to such great pains to be black.”

According to various reports, Slash’s mom left the family when Slash was very young to pursue her career in Los Angeles. He was raised for the next few years by his father and his paternal grandparents in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, some 3 hours north of London. Slash didn’t get along well with his dad, and his mom’s departure caused ill feelings and stress on all involved.

Varying reports say Slash was either five or 11 when he and his dad finally joined his mom in Los Angeles. It was probably closer to 5, around 1970 or ’71. Because in 1972, Slash’s younger brother Albion “Ash” Hudson was born in L.A., and Slash was reportedly already there.

But by 1974, Ola and Anthony split up permanently. His dad’s drinking and general behavior were extremely stressful, and when his parents split, Slash chose to stay with his mom. He was occasionally sent to stay with his maternal grandmother (whom he cared for deeply) when his mom’s job took her out of town.

Before his parents’ separation, however, his mom and dad helped make up for lost parenting time by taking him on outings and including him in visits with their crowd of artistic friends such as Joni Mitchell, David Geffen of Geffen Records, David Bowie, Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, and Iggy Pop, lead singer of the influential protopunk band The Stooges, as well as actors and movie industry people.

These experiences, Slash has said, accustomed him to the “moods and eccentricities of musicians” and prepared him for coping with the stress of the music industry and the conflict between artistry and business. “I was exposed to neurotic musicians ever since I was a little kid,” he told The Telegraph. “I used to love the look of the equipment, the concerts, getting into the venue and seeing the place filling up with people, the stage, the lights, the whole thing.”

He had taken to long hair and dressing in jeans and t-shirts that didn’t fit well with the other kids, making him something of an outsider at school. He says he lived “a bohemian life” at home. In his early teens, Slash became a proficient BMX bike racer and won awards and prize money for his exploits. He was given the nickname “Slash” by family friend Seymour Cassel, because he was “always in a hurry, zipping around from one thing to another.”

But things changed when he received a guitar from his grandmother at age 15 while still in junior high school. He struggled to teach himself to play, listening to Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Neil Young – all artists with whom he someday would share the stage. And he credits the Aerosmith album ROCKS with “changing his life,” inspiring him to play and write in his own style and become the best professional rock guitarist he could be.

Was he any good? He formed his first band when he was 16. So by the time he was 19 or 20, Slash had made something of a name for himself playing around town. And in June 1985 he was invited by Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin to join a new group called Guns N’ Roses with Duff McKagan and Steven Adler completing the line-up.

The rest is history. And the stories of this band are legion, far beyond their meager three albums in 7 years of performing and 5 years of recording. They became one of the most iconic of all rock bands for the proverbial phrase “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Within a very short time indeed, too, heroin and alcohol were Slash’s daily diet from morning until…well, morning again.

But the drugs had began even before Guns N’ Roses, Slash says. He started using heroin when he was still a teenager, and just continued after the band was formed. “I already had the lifestyle down,” he said. “Guns N’ Roses just kicked it up a notch. It was always the music that made me focus and persevere.”

But he didn’t need drugs to get on stage and perform, like other musicians often did. “My drug habits were always in between tours, because there’s this huge amount of movement and energy and activity that goes on when you’re on the road that you get very much used to, and then it just stops,” Slash said. “One thing would always lead to another, and that’s how I would fill my time between tours. I used to drink vodka in the morning like people drink coffee. I did it to the hilt.”

But “in between tours” wasn’t enough of a buffer to protect himself from the dangers of opioid overdose. Heroin doesn’t care how often you use it, just how much, and in combination with what. So Slash was a victim of not one or two, but numerous near-fatal overdoses.

How bad did it get? There are so many stories about Slash and near-death experiences, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction. “It’s interesting that I’m still alive,” Slash told the London Telegraph some years ago. “The drugs killed me a dozen times and for some reason they always resuscitated me. Eventually I thought, ‘Somebody’s trying to keep me here so I shouldn’t take advantage of it so much.'”

Legend has it that Slash once overdosed, was pronounced dead, revived, then checked himself out of hospital because he had a show to play, the Telegraph said. Well, Slash describes the incident himself with a nonchalant attitude:

“The one where I died in San Francisco? I remember exactly what happened. These drug dealers came to my hotel room at 5am. They had everything and I took all of it. I started down the hallway and I ran into a maid, and I asked where the elevator was and then bam! I collapsed. Little Spanish lady, it freaked her out.

“When you overdose, there’s a certain kind of scene where everybody is just moving really quickly and there’s noise from radios and everything. I’ve experienced it a bunch of times. They took me to the hospital but I said, ‘I’m fine’, signed myself out, went back to the hotel and we flew to the next gig.”

By 2001, Slash woke up in a hospital, dying of congestive heart failure – an old man’s disease, and him only 31 years old. The doctors said it was caused by his years of alcohol and drug abuse. He was given six days to six weeks to live, but he survived through physical therapy and the implantation of a defibrillator.

In 2000, he was married to Perla Farrar, whom he’d met some years earlier. After the heart problem was under control, Slash got clean and sober briefly, but fell off the wagon several times. By 2006, and with the birth of his two sons (London Emilio born in 2002 and Cash Anthony born in 2004) Slash was finally convinced it was time to get sober and stay that way. And he gives a lot of credit for finally heading to a rehab center to his wife Perla. And in 2009, following his mother’s death from lung cancer, he quit smoking too.

Slash says the whole sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll thing finally wore thin. “No matter how good of a party it was, there’s this invisible line it crosses where it becomes a major burden. And so eventually, you just get tired of all of it.” He told CNN-Asia not too long ago that his first really successful rehabilitation, the one that has resulted in being clean ever since, “was good.”

“It was very cathartic. I think the main reason – I mean, I’d established in my mind that I was finished with all that stuff. And the main reason, really – my thinking, at least, at the time, for going to rehab was just to get away from everybody and just have a month where I could get my head straight. And that’s exactly what rehab did for me.

“And it gave me some insight into a lot of other things. You know, because I went in not fighting it – sort of surrendered to it, as the saying goes. And sort of just went in and open mindedly looking at what it had to offer. And it was good. It was a healthy, whatever it was, 30 days, or something. And I got a firm grasp on what I needed to be doing. And that I was really done sort of, you know, with that sort of merry-go-round of drugs and alcohol – that sort of roller coaster.”

As the years have gone by, and with the drugs and alcohol behind him, Slash says that getting to play with his musical idols has meant everything to him.

Standing on a Paris stage alongside Jeff Beck and Joe Perry “was overwhelming,” he once said, and yet at the time he was already a world-famous rock star himself. He’s played with Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Rogers, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson, Brian May and many more, and never gets over his good fortune and the many great friends he’s made.

Meanwhile, the guitarist has also been an actor in several movie and television projects. And he’s an honorary board member of Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit that works to restore and revitalize music education programs in disadvantaged public schools. He’s an activist for animal rights and recently wrote and recorded a music video supporting the banning of the ivory trade to end the horrendous slaughter of African elephants. It’s titled “Beneath the Savage Sun” and you can watch it on Youtube. And although he and Perla just divorced last year, they’re still friends, and he enjoys spending time with his two sons.

There can be life after a life ruled by heroin and alcohol addiction. And here at Novus, we are uniquely privileged to see such lives blossom every day as our patients get their lives back free at last from substance abuse.