Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ Movie: Fact vs. Fiction
Motley Crue’s highly anticipated biopic The Dirt is streaming into homes worldwide thanks to Netflix. The film is an unapologetic look at the band’s rise to fame, both as international rock stars and notorious troublemakers. Drug abuse, women, brushes with death, all this and more gets covered within the movie.
While it’s impossible to perfectly distill more than three decades worth of stories into 108 minutes without condensing or combining some events, The Dirt strives to capture the life and times of the band in the most honest way possible. Even with Motley Crue's autobiography to guide filmmakers, it was inevitable that some events depicted in the movie would be historically inaccurate to some degree. We poured through various moments in the film and found 10 worth fact checking:
The Other Guitarist
As The Dirt begins in the early days of Motley Crue, there is a scene featuring a borderline incompetent guitarist auditioning for the band. He is quickly outperformed by Mick Mars, who is given the job. While Mars did blow his future bandmates away, the event shown in the film is FICTION, at least according to Greg Leon. The closest known connection between the scene (in which the hapless guitarist is not mentioned by name) and reality, Leon was a highly regarded guitarist who briefly rehearsed alongside Sixx and Tommy Lee. Leon had performed with Lee in the group Suite 19, with the drummer later attempting to recruit the guitarist to join the band which would become Motley Crue. “He was great from the very first note we played,” Leon recalled of his time jamming with Lee. “I drove Tommy to meet Nikki, and they wanted me to join the band before they even had a name. I told them that I wasn’t interested and I was going to put a band together and write my own songs and do what Eric Clapton does or Jimi Hendrix. … That was more of my thing and where my heart was.”
Motley Crue's Original Singer
The film makes it seem as though Vince Neil was Motley Crue’s first vocalist. This is FICTION, as another man briefly fronted the group. O’Dean Peterson, at the time simply called O’Dean, was the band’s first singer. In the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, Tommy Lee describes him “as a round, dumb fellow.” “He was an amazing singer, but Nikki didn't like him because he didn't sound like Brian Connolly from the Sweet. O'Dean's other problem was that he was very uptight about this pair of ultraclean white gloves he always wore. He was under the impression that the gloves constituted having a look, and we tried not to say anything to the contrary because he was all we had.”
Meeting Doc McGhee
The film’s depiction of the moment Motley Crue met their future manager, Doc McGhee, is FICTION - and the movie openly admits it. In the character's introductory scene, McGhee makes his presence known by punching an unruly party guest. Mars, played by Iwan Rheon, turns to the camera and bluntly states, “This didn’t actually happen. Doc never came to this filthy shithole. We met him at the Santa Monica Civic Center after a show. He also brought his partner, Doug Thaler. Doug was a good guy and it’s kinda shitty he got cut from this movie, but I think this is as good a version as any.” Thaler – who is only briefly seen on screen – then disappears, never to be featured again in the film. Historically, it’s a strange choice, but clearly filmmakers believed it necessary to keep the narrative moving.
In The Dirt, McGhee gets a tattoo that says Entertainment or Death, the original title for the band’s third album. Neil promptly informs him Sixx has just changed the title to Theatre of Pain, rendering the ink irrelevant. This happened, but not to McGhee, so we have to label this one FICTION. According to The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, it was Thaler who was permanently marked with the discarded album title, not McGhee. Perhaps Thaler achieved some level of relief when the band finally used Entertainment or Death as the title to their 1999 live release. Clearly with Thaler vanishing earlier in the movie somebody else had to get the tattoo.
Securing the Rights to Their Catalog
In the film, after only the briefest of previous conversations, Elektra Records executive Tom Zutaut meets Sixx at a bar and tells him the label is handing over the rights to the band’s publishing. Though steeped in actual events, the moment is FICTION. In real life, Motley Crue securing their music rights was a long and heated battle. The event happened in 1998 when the band decided to cut ties with Elektra, which was being run by Sylvia Rhone at the time, with former A&R rep Zutaut out of the picture. The band wanted to control their own music and were determined to secure the rights from their label. In an interview with Reuters, Mars summed up the negotiations. “They owed us a lot of money, in the eight-digit area. It was like, ‘We’ll forget this, we’ll take our masters, we’ll take seven figures instead of eight and give us our masters.'”
Nikki Sixx's Death Reported on TV News
This moment gets classified as FICTION, but only due to semantics. On Dec. 23, 1987, Sixx was pronounced dead due to a heroin overdose. In the film, Neil hears the news via a television report, however in real life the Crue frontman found out about Sixx’s passing on the radio. “Maybe deep down I knew it was going to happen one day,” Neil later recounted in The Heroin Diaries. “It still tore me to pieces because I loved Nikki – even though he was an arrogant selfish shit. I cried. And I never used to cry then.” The movie captures the rest of the events accurately - from Sixx’s life-saving adrenaline shot, to his exit from the hospital only to be greeted by mourning fans.
Motley Crue Working on a Post-Dr. Feelgood Album with Vince Neil
Following the huge success of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood album, Motley Crue began working on new music. The Dirt shows the band rehearsing new material with Neil (barely) around this time, a FACT that did happen in the early ‘90s. With tensions high and bandmates arguing over musical direction, the singer soon departed the group. Whether he quit or was fired has been a point of contention for many years (even the film leaves the course of events ambiguous). "I wanted the band to continue a straight hard-rock direction but they wanted to go in a blues direction," Neil explained during a 1993 interview with the LA Times. "We had been rehearsing for a few months but we didn't do any recording. It just wasn't sounding good to me.” He later added that his departure from the band was "the last thing (I) thought would happen.” Though Motley Crue went on to record an album with John Corabi on lead vocals, the material from those Neil rehearsals never saw the light of day.
Poor Attendance at the Corabi Shows
Following Neil’s departure, Motley Crue recruited Corabi of the band the Scream to be their new vocalist. The new lineup recorded one album together, 1994’s self-titled release. Due largely in part to Neil’s absence, though also partially because of the mainstream's changing musical tastes, Motley Crue was a commercial failure. Fan turnout was poor while the band toured to support the release, a FACT that the film got right. “Maybe we needed to make that record that we did without Vince but not call it Motley Crue,” Sixx explained during an interview with Rolling Stone. “We were burnt the fuck out. But we made a great record and we went out on that tour and there was fucking no one there, dude.”
Nikki Sixx Slices Open His Own Arm, Then Blames His Mother
Early in the film, a teenaged Nikki Sixx gets embroiled in a heated argument with his mother. In a fit of rage, the future rock star cuts his arm with a knife, then tells police that his mother attacked him. It’s a powerful scene, capturing the turmoil of Sixx’s home life, while also showcasing the intense extremes he was willing to go to get what he wanted (a character trait that would serve him later in Motely Crue). But did this self-inflicted injury really happen? While Sixx himself has openly discussed his traumatic childhood, the incident in question has largely gone unexamined. However, at least according to the book Cemetery Gates: Saints and Survivors of the Heavy Metal Scene, which describes the story in detail, this one is a FACT.
Sixx Connects with His Half-Brother, Then Visits His Father's Grave
At the end of the film, Sixx connects with his long-estranged half-brother and together they visit the grave of the father Sixx never knew. While the scene is both poignant and heartbreaking, it’s INCONCLUSIVE just how factually accurate it is. We do know that the Motley Crue bassist has a half-brother in real life. In the film's credits, he is named Randy, but research states that the man's actual name is Rodney Anthony (whether Randy is a nickname, we’re not sure). In an interview with Howard Stern, Sixx admitted that he went to his father’s grave years after his death, but he did not specify who if anybody accompanied him.
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