Vince Neil documentary details drugs, death, debauchery and 'a lot of heart, soul and love'
In an early scene in his new documentary, Vince Neil walks through the narrow hallways of the Whisky a Go Go, the vaunted rock club at the heart of West Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
“Back in the day, it didn’t look like this,” he says wistfully as the camera follows his gaze to the photos of rock 'n' roll icons on the walls. “There are a lot of old memories in these (dressing) rooms, that’s for sure.”
Considering that Neil is the 41-year veteran frontman for one of rock’s most gleefully debauched bands, one can only imagine those memories.
The blond-tressed Mötley Crüe yowler, 61, returns to the quartet’s old haunt in “Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil: My Story,” a two-hour documentary premiering on cable's Reelz channel Sunday (8 EDT/5 PDT).
Fans will relish the insight into Neil’s early years: He grew up in Compton, California; took ice skating lessons with his sister; and chose music over baseball, because the high school team would have forced him to cut his hair.
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Neil also appreciated the opportunity to revisit his childhood home and high school, places he hadn’t seen since he moved out of his house at 16.
“It was pretty neat. I was surprised how good the house looks. Seeing the park down the street where I used to play ball, the school shortcuts I took on my bike,” he tells USA TODAY, chatting about the documentary while on tour in Miami. “I hadn’t been to the Whisky in a while, probably since the band did the ‘Kickstart My Heart’ video there (in 1989). When you’re young, you went to watch the bands play there and it all seemed so big. And then you get out there, and the stage is soooo small.”
Neil and his Mötley mates – the umlauts, by the way, were added to the band’s name because they were drinking Löwenbräu the day they picked their moniker – returned to the road this month after a seven-year hiatus and the destruction of their “cessation of touring agreement.”
But the timing of the documentary's release and Mötley Crüe’s involvement in The Stadium Tour (with Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) is merely coincidental.
Work began on the film in January 2021. Director Scott Sternberg (“Live from Daryl’s House,” “The Chris Isaak Hour”), a longtime friend of Neil’s, had hoped to include footage from The Stadium Tour, but the two-year postponement because of COVID-19 tangled up the timing.
Even without recent live footage, there is still plenty to mine in Neil’s history, including the painful recollection of the tragic 1984 car crash – Neil was driving – that killed Hanoi Rocks singer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley, who was only 24.
In the documentary, Mötley drummer Tommy Lee recounts that night, when an inebriated Neil and Dingley took a quick ride to pick up more booze for a party.
“No one thought to tell Vince not to drive to the liquor store,” Lee says.
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Neil was indicted on charges of vehicular manslaughter, sentenced to 30 days in jail (he got out early), paid a $2 million fine and participated in community service to talk to kids about drinking and driving.
“It was tough,” Neil says from Miami. “It brings back all of those memories that rush at you. If you don’t think about it, you don’t think about it, you know? It was hard.”
The documentary also covers another Neil heartbreak: the death of his 5-year-old daughter, Skylar, in 1995 from liver cancer. The grief sent Neil spiraling to the point of contemplating suicide. He also notes in the film that no one in the band reached out to him as he mourned.
The inclusion of Neil’s little-seen adult kids – Neil Wharton and Elle Loomis – in the film was important to Sternberg, who wanted to show a “loving family.”
“We wanted to get those closest and the most meaningful to him,” Sternberg says. “When we talked to his kids, they were so amazingly loving and wonderful. I felt a lot of heart, soul and love from this guy and his family.”
Elements of Mötley Crüe are present (band bassist Nikki Sixx also contributes), including the drug-fueled tensions when recording their 4-million-selling album “Girls, Girls, Girls” in 1987 and the band booting Neil for nearly a decade (“We were dragging around this extra weight,” Lee says in an old clip).
But Sternberg hopes viewers focus on the man.
“He’s a good guy and a smart guy and an artist who just wanted to do what he wanted to do,” Sternberg says. “Let people take away that idea of, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'”
Neil just wants people to acquire a deeper sense of his personal life.
“I’m not in the press a lot, because I don’t like to be,” he says. “I tend to shy away from the other stuff. I’m just a singer in a band.”
The documentary will also air July 17 (6 p.m. EDT/3 p.m. PDT) and July 30 (9 a.m. EDT/6 a.m. PDT).
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vince Neil documentary covers Motley Crue, drugs, death