Mick Mars – Living With Ankylosing Spondylitis

Mick Mars AS featured

As they often insist on reminding us, it is a hard life being a rock star. The demands of the music business, coupled with constant touring, difficulties in forming lasting relationships and struggles with alcoholism, drug abuse and infidelity push many musicians to breaking point. But there are others who have more to face than most, being forced to overcome health issues and personal tragedies to remain at the top of their game. Poison frontman Bret Michaels has spent his entire career coping with diabetes and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in a car crash but continued to perform, while Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars has dealt with the pain and discomfort of ankylosing spondylitis. A type of arthritis that causes inflammation and fusion of the spine, resulting in chronic pain and immobility, AS, as it is sometimes referred to, drastically alters the life of the sufferer, often forcing them to retire from their chosen profession to instead focus on physiotherapy and rest.

Mars was born on 4 May 1951 in Terre Haute, a city on the western border of Indiana. When he was six years old Robert Alan Deal was given a guitar as a Christmas present from his parents and less than a decade later he was performing Beatles songs with a local band called The Jades. But by the end of his teens Deal had begun to suffer severe pains, something that would continue to plague him throughout his life. As he recalled in The Dirt; “I first noticed it when I was nineteen. My hips started hurting so bad every time I turned my body that it felt like someone was igniting fireworks in my bones. I didn’t have enough money to see a doctor, so I just kept hoping that I could do what I usually do: will it away, through the power of my mind. But it kept getting worse…

‘Then, one afternoon while doing my laundry, I started having trouble breathing. At first, it felt like someone had plunged a knife into my back. But as the weeks passed, the pain kept moving around my back. Next, my stomach started burning, and I worried that my whole body was about to fall apart. I thought that there was a hole in my stomach, and acids were leaking out and destroying my bones and organs. I’d grab hold of doorknobs, anchor my legs into the ground, and pull with my hands to stretch my back and ease the pressure out.”

As his passion for guitar playing grew he eventually adopted the stage name Mick Mars, relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. Forming White Horse in the mid-1970s, Mars soon became frustrated that the band only wanted to perform cover songs, while he wanted to write original material. This decision would result in him being fired. Mars placed an advert in a newspaper called The Recycler, in which he described himself as a “loud, rude and aggressive guitarist.” Among the hopefuls to respond was a bass player seven-and-a-half years his junior called Nikki Sixx, who had enjoyed minor success on the Hollywood scene with both Sister and London.

Sixx had decided to start a band with his drummer friend, Tommy Lee, and Mars was invited to audition, in which they performed several songs that Sixx had written. After recruiting Vince Neil, the singer from another act from the L.A. music scene known as Rockandi, Mötley Crüe was born. One of the most successful of the so-called hair metal groups of the 1980s, Mötley Crüe‘s debut album Too Fast for Love was released independently through their own label, Leathür Records, before later being re-released by Elektra Records once the band were signed.

Like many of the other groups who performed regularly around Hollywood, Mötley Crüe soon gained a reputation for their excessive drug use. Sixx and Neil would become the most notorious, while the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle due to Neil driving under the influence cast a darkness over the endless partying the group had enjoyed up to that point. Neil faced prison, the passengers of another vehicle were hospitalised and Hanoi Rocks would split following the tragedy. Being several years older than his bandmates and suffering from a painful illness, Mars seemed less destructive and avoided some of the more embarrassing incidents, although this was not always the case.

As Neil revealed in his autobiography Tattoos and Tequila, while Mötley Crüe were touring Japan a particularly excessive evening brought an intoxicated Mars to the attention of the Roppongi authorities; “Leaving the club wearing a Godzilla mask, Mick terrorized people in the street. Reportedly with his pants around his ankles, he was apprehended by police as he was urinating along the side of the road.”

But for the most part Mars was known as the quiet one from Mötley Crüe, often remaining silent in the background as the other three caused mischief and mayhem around him. “But the more successful we became, the harder it was to enjoy the rewards,” Mars continued. “New ankylosing spondylitis symptoms kept appearing: Something called “iritis” set in, producing bolts of pain in my eyes whenever I looked into bright lights, like I did onstage every night. And my lower spine seized up and froze completely solid, causing scoliosis in my back and squashing me further down and forward until I was a full three inches shorter than I was in high school. That’s why I never take off my platform boots. I don’t want to be a pygmy.”

Despite his symptoms worsening, Mötley Crüe‘s success would continue throughout the remainder of the decade, culminating with their 1989 hit album Dr. Feelgood. By this point the band had become newly sober, following Sixx’s near-death experience and the gruelling experience of recording their last album, 1987’s Girls, Girls, Girls. But, like many of the groups to emerge from the Hollywood scene, the new decade brought changes in the music industry and Mötley Crüe were forced to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Following the departure of Neil, they released a self-titled album with a new singer called John Corabi, although his time would be short-lived and was soon replaced once again by Neil. Further complications would result in Lee quitting the band in 1999 prior to the recording of their eighth studio album, 2000’s critically panned New Tattoo. Sixx then formed a new project called Brides of Destruction with Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns but after releasing only one album, 2004’s Here Come the Brides, he decided it was time to bring together the original Mötley Crüe line-up for the first time in almost a decade.

“I had done a side project or two and when it came time to resurrect the Mötley machine, Mick was nowhere to be found,” explained Sixx in his book This is Gonna Hurt. “It’s always been Mars riffs meets my pop and lyric sensibility that was the core to the songs in the Crüe. Now he wouldn’t answer his phone or the countless notes I left at the security gate at his private estate. I was not only worried about writing music without a partner, but I had that gut-wrenching feeling that something was wrong… What I saw haunts me to this day. A frail man of eighty, maybe ninety pounds, shaved head, gray skin, with a beard to his chest. He was dying, addicted to painkillers, brought on by a disease called ankylosing spondylitis.”

“I immediately got on the phone with our manager, Allen, and started a mission to save Mick’s life,” Sixx added. “First thing was the crazy girlfriend. She had to go. Not only was she feeding him pills by the bucketload, she was spending his cash faster than anyone could imagine… So Mick Mars was living in my guest room, kicking prescription meds, girlfriendless. It didn’t look like a Mötley album was going to happen any time in the near future for sure. After we had settled into a routine came the doctors, one after another… day after day… until finally Allen found the doctor who got Mick sorted out.”

In an article published by MTV regarding Mars’ operation surgeon Dr. Brad Penenberg explained, “The surgery went extremely well. I expect him to be walking with the help of a physical therapist as early as Wednesday morning.” Due to Sixx’s intervention Mars was able to make a significant recovery and Mötley Crüe prepared to make its long-awaited comeback, commencing in early 2005 with a new retrospective entitled Red, White & Crüe. Gathering together material from almost twenty-five years, the album featured two new studio tracks, If I Die Tomorrow and Sick Love Song.

The band were soon on the road once again, although due to his recent health issues Mars found the touring quite difficult. In a 2008 interview with Yahoo’s Associated Content Mars looked back on his comeback tour, “I guess the last tour that I did was kind of messed up from a lot of things. AS (ankylosing spondylitis), of course, which, without getting into too much detail or dragging it on, led to drug abuse, prescription quick-fix drugs, which was crappy, and made me worse, and then there was the hip-replacement.”

The same year he explained to Metal Sludge, “I kept getting worse and worse, and I just stopped playing guitar for almost two years. Nowadays, it’s not so bad, but back then when I was high on all that stuff and Mötley were having a break, I knew if I didn’t stop I was gonna die. In the end, I have to go to a neuro-psychiatrist to straighten me up and he said to me “Just hold the guitar for an hour a day – don’t play it, just hold it”… It was pretty bizarre but I got through it, and in the end I think I’m actually a better player because of it.”

In 2008 Mötley Crüe released Saints of Los Angeles, their first studio album in eight years and, following over a decade of struggling to regain their former glory, produced a record that rivalled their earlier classic Shout at the Devil. Although at present there is no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis, Mars has learned to cope with the illness and continues to perform music, most recently on a sell-out tour featuring Mötley Crüe, Poison and the New York Dolls. “It still hurts. It still grinds now and then, but like I said, music is my whole passion. It’s what I do. It’s what I live for. I guess it keeps me alive,” he revealed in a recent interview with The Times Leader. “I’m just happy to be here, to be able to make people happy, to make people smile and give them what I feel inside from my music.”

Mick Mars AS article

17 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. gail January 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm -

    I have never been a big Motley Crue fan but living with this disease myself. Mick Mars has become one of my hero’s because I know what agony he is going through getting up on stage and playing!!
    Please, if you are healthy don’t take it for granted.
    I am happy that he is able to live his passion but I also know he pays dearly for it.
    Keep rockin’ Mick!!! You are an inspiration!

  2. steven gilbertson January 9, 2012 at 4:19 am -

    NO beleave me or not no one eles has but if u do the reseach u find that every thig that i an abiut to tell is the abulute thruf My soon to be wife Stormy Deal Is Mick mars daughter his real name is robert allen deal and he has what is called tin man desease which is slowing killig him now in seem to pass and stormy has been decared diabled i don/t no if it is guilt of whet==at ever but somethigs got to chage And all we realley is to get poper medical treatment I will find a way to mack every to com to geathe call me at 7602516320 so he dose all this and cant even help his own kid

  3. Kelly lapp January 25, 2012 at 5:53 am -

    I have been a motley crue fan for over twenty years and had a chance to see them in concert in prince george b.c. I never knew mick suffered from a.s. but when he came out on stage me and all my friends noticed mick was bent over just like me. I suffer from a.s. and have allways been insecure about my posture seeing mick and doing research on how mick has dealt with living with a.s. has been a big insperation to me. Thank you mick, keep on rockin Kelly lapp

  4. Stormy Deal March 11, 2012 at 6:24 am -

    Daddy i so sorry for ehat you have gone through.. I wish i couldve been there.. I knew something was wrong when you stopped taking my phone calls.. even through I have A.s. too Im your lil gurl and I will always be there for you.. I feel abit guilty about my compliants… but i scared too.. for you and myself.. I had know Idea how Nikki found you.. I love you.. with everything I have.. your loving daughter S.D

  5. Gregg Masi March 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm -

    Hey Robert,

    One of my best friends, who I feel is my younger brother suffers from the same disease as you…Keith Savage. He is a young Dude with 3 kids, a beautiful wife and a future of pain….please reach out to him on Facebook or by email, keithsavage.9@gmail.com…He can use the support….Thank you

  6. Kelly lapp March 25, 2012 at 4:24 am -

    Stormy ur dad is a insparation to everyone who has this awfull disease. I hope u can patch up ur differences life is to short. I have done lots of reaearch on A.S. if u ever need any info feel free to email me. Hope to here from u soon take care.

  7. Marcia Tucker June 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm -

    Stormy Deal I had you a few weekend when you were just a baby.I am Eriks mother you know the brother you call a basterd. It may serve you better if you just suck it up. Mick doesn’t have children when he has a girlfriend. So till that changes you are fighting a losing battle. Now try to be nice or you may get a hump like your daddy. god bless

  8. ty August 14, 2012 at 10:55 pm -

    I loved the Crue many years’ back. when they hit their mega successful times, i looked to other bands, louder, faster ones- Anyways- i was at the Namm show a few years’ ago and watched Mick stand at a podium for hours, greeting a mile long line of fans. Having two surgeries on my L4 L5 from a motorcycle accident years’ ago, I can relate, a little. It blew me away how much time he took with his fans- moving slow and obviously in a lot of pain. I did not see him at the last show, hope he is alright, and knows that they are making great advances almost daily in treating the most chronic of back problems.

  9. vivian garcia February 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm -

    crue fan til the end…Always hoping that Mick feels great,and I am thankful that every show I have attended, its with all original members.rock on!!

  10. debrakinsky February 1, 2014 at 8:54 am -

    Not a Motley Crue fan, but definitely inspired by what this man has to go through. Not too cool to wish “the hump” on anybody or to describe it like a curse. It’s a sign of suffering. This guy obviously doesn’t want anybody’s pity and doesn’t seek it out; he just can’t hide what he has. Be real careful – I wasn’t too understanding of people who were sick or “weak” when I was younger and guess what happened to me – I’m learning the hard way what it really means now that it’s happened to me.

  11. Missy March 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm -

    Its good to know there are successful people out there dealing with the same thing i’m feeling with for a few years now. I’m almost 40 & this has been slowly coming on for about ten years now…i’m glad there is hope for going thru this without opiates, because of course that’s the first thing doctors wanna give you. Thank you for the article and the insight.

  12. Scott April 2, 2014 at 3:18 am -

    It is inspiring to read the above mentioned responses, as it provides a sense of inclusiveness as related to AS. Along with AS, I also suffer from Crohn’s Disease. I have had both hips replaced and 4 operations on my bowels, repairing numerous perforations. I empathize with all those suffering from this nasty shit. I have to hand it to Mars, he is an awesome lead and to do what he does under such painful conditions, is certainly admirable. Rock on Mick and long live the Crue, Bitches!!!!

  13. Denise August 18, 2014 at 6:37 pm -

    I was always a Motley Crew fan. I had no idea you suffered with this horrible illness. I was diagnosed years ago with this and know all too well how painful it is. I suffer everyday. It is an invisible illness but we all need to get the word out there so maybe one day there can be a cure. God Bless Xoxo
    Denise Love

  14. Silvi August 29, 2014 at 10:43 am -

    Mick Mars is an inspiration to me he is a wirhout a doubt one of the best guitarists in Rock & Roll , Punk & Heavy Metal History. To of suffered with a horrible debitating arthritic condition since being a young guy and still be able to play a mean guitar like he does is a true testament to his love for music and his raw talent that burns inside him . I am so grateful that Nikki Stix pursued Mick Mars and got him to turn his life around and get the right medical treatment I can understand how Mick Mars got to the point of where he was I suffer from chronic Lyme Disease which destroyed most of my joints in my early 20’s I was so lucky to of found the best drs who took me under their wing and thru aggresive antibiotic therapy and bi lateral hip replacements and Hyberbaric Oxygen Treatments at a private facility gave me my life back but I had to get my head on right too. It’s so easy to get caught up into taking pain meds which is just a band aide treatment given to patients because drs don’t know what else to do for ya. I had to pursue and find the right drs who cared enough to help me without the support from friends & family and being smart enough to find the help I so desperetly needed to get my life back on track I wouldn’t be here today. So I can relate to what Mick Mars has gone thru .There are so many cracks about Mick looking not so good but I got to hand it to him he’s a survivor he has the will and drive to get up and play dispite feeling like crap how lucky for him he’s doin what he loves to do and how lucky we the fans are to get out and see them all jam and have a awesome time ain’t nothin like seeing the Crue play ! Got a big milestone b day coming up and I’m gonna celebrate by seeing the Crue I can’t wait to dance my ass off and to see Mick & the guys do their thing that they all have been doing for the last 33 yrs and that’s putting on one hell of a Show! God Bless Mick Mars the Gang!!!

  15. Brianna Lopez August 31, 2014 at 4:58 pm -

    As a rocker, this guy is by far one of my favorite guitarists! And how he openly talks about dealing with the same diagnosis I have gives me so much inspiration, I cant even begin to tell you. He is what gives me hope and reason to keep fighting this auto-immune crap disease A.S.

  16. Kathy Martin March 16, 2015 at 2:43 pm -

    At 63 and living with ankylosing spondylitis since 1978, I have lost 5 full inches in height, once had a long neck and torso, not so anymore. Mine started after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1977. As a woman it was fairly uncommon unless you throw in the Crohn’s factor. Still try to be as active as possible, recently quit smoking which was a huge step. Have had a couple surgeries, not related to the AS but healing after that was very difficult. Thank you Mick for sharing your story. Thanks to all for sharing

  17. craig watson March 23, 2015 at 9:17 pm -

    I will be 44 on 4–17-15, and will have been sober for 3yrs by then. I was diagnosed with AS 5yrs ago after 20 something years of horrible back problems and constant pain in my joints all over. This, amongst other things, led me to a life of prescript drug abuse, and when that didn’t cut it anymore, I started to go HARD with alcohol and cocaine. After pretty much dying 3 times from various shit attributed to my abuse and new diseases popping up, I read about Mick’s probs and have since gained a better perspective on life and how to deal with this fucked up disease. Thank you so much for letting the public know about your suffering and triumph over this shit and being an example for not letting this disease beat you out of a good and productive life.

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