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I Took the Drugs Out of ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’

Thirty-five years ago, Michael Des Barres convinced rock’s elite to denounce their most infamous occupational hazard

In the 1980s, Michael Des Barres played the lead villain on MacGyver, sang at Live Aid as the frontman of The Power Station and wrote Animotion’s smash hit “Obsession.” But his most impressive accomplishment — and arguably his most memorable — was somehow separating drugs from their most famous proponents: rock stars. Des Barres himself sobered up in 1981; not long after, he co-founded Rock Against Drugs, a series of PSAs starring a who’s who of ’80s music icons — from Bon Jovi to KISS to Lou Reed.

If Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign was like your disapproving grandmother finding your stash, Rock Against Drugs was like sharing a round of Arnold Palmers with the guys who’d burned through enough stashes to understand that life was better on lemonade and iced tea. For instance, in one of the videos, the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, whose friend and bandmate Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose, looks up from his motorcycle and blurts two simple words: “Drugs suck.”

On this episode of the MEL Stories podcast, Des Barres talks sobriety, rock stars and sober rock stars — the trifecta that made Rock Against Drugs as indelible to 1980s TV as MacGyver. Listen to the full episode via the SoundCloud embed above, or check out some of the best-known Rock Against Drugs clips (with Des Barres’ commentary) below.

Aimee Mann

“Aimee Mann is amazing, but it’s difficult to smash the idea that drugs don’t make you creative — because they do. So it’s difficult when you say things like you can’t create on drugs, because you know it’s a misnomer.”

Jon Bon Jovi

“Jon Bon Jovi will absolutely be the governor of New Jersey in a couple of years. There’s no question. He was very politicized even back then. He’s always struck me as being the John Wayne of rock ’n’ roll: very reliably American.”

Gene Simmons

“Gene Simmons is a good friend of mine and an amazing man. And he means what he says here: He’s never done a drug and neither has Paul Stanley.”

Vicki Peterson from The Bangles and her boyfriend, Jeff McDonald, from Redd Kross

“This one was always my favorite. It was a very Cinéma vérité moment. You could have almost shot it without saying anything. It still brings a tear to my eye because I know how talented Jeff is and how good she is. It’s a rock ’n’ roll Romeo and Juliet moment.”

Lou Reed

“I always found Lou Reed interesting until he did this. It’s too glib for me; to say to anyone you shouldn’t start doing drugs is absolutely a call to arms — for everybody to begin doing them as soon as the ad is over. I always found that odd because Lou’s such a great street poet. And he did write Heroin after all. So he certainly has the pedigree.”

Listen to the full Rock Against Drugs MEL Story below:

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