The Story Behind “Kickstart My Heart” and Mötley Crüe Bassist Nikki Sixx’s Struggle with Drug Abuse

Most people think about Taylor Swift when they think about the year 1989. But if you were born before this century, 1989 might bring artists like Janet Jackson, Milli Vanilli, New Kids on the Block, or Mötley Crüe to mind. Interestingly, what these four artists have in common is in 1989, they all had albums reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart. 

One particular artist from that list stands out in particular, however: Mötley Crüe. The 1989 release of Dr. Feelgood became the Crue’s first and only no. 1 album to date. Despite the subject matter of some of its biggest hits, like the title track and “Kickstart My Heart,” it was the band’s first-ever sober album. 

The success of Dr. Feelgood, “Kickstart My Heart”

Charting for 114 weeks, Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood is the band’s most successful LP to date. But as its title suggests, the album is rife with themes of substance use. The album’s most famous single, “Kickstart My Heart,” was written about the band’s bassist, Nikki Sixx, who nearly died of a heroin overdose. 

At their height, Mötley Crüe’s brand became synonymous with the hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. The song became a favorite among Crüe fans and a staple at the band’s shows throughout the ‘90s. In 1990, “Kickstart My Heart,” the album’s second single, peaked at no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it climbed to no. 13 on the Mainstream Rock Chart. 

While the band was working on Dr. Feelgood, Sixx wrote the song himself. The titular lyrics of the chorus refer to the adrenaline paramedics gave him to “kickstart” Sixx’s heart after he’d been pronounced legally dead of a heroin overdose. Oddly enough, Sixx has referred to the song as a “throwaway” track, though he and frontman Vince Neil agree that the story behind the song gave the track a life of its own. 

Nikki Sixx’s Addiction

In the early ‘80s, Motley Crue quickly shot to fame, known for their heavy metal sound, Mad Max-like aesthetic, and hard partying. In 1983, Sixx was introduced to heroin while the band was working on their second album, Shout at the Devil. Then, Sixx crashed his car into a telephone pole and dislocated his shoulder; doctors prescribed him painkillers, but according to Sixx, heroin had become his drug of choice. 

Over the next few years, Sixx’s heroin problem became publicly evident, especially while Motley Crue toured with Ozzy Osbourne in 1983 and Cheap Trick in 1986. Toward the end of the Cheap Trick tour, Sixx nearly died for the first time at the hands of a London heroin dealer, who tried to throw his unconscious body into a dumpster after trying to resuscitate Sixx. In The Dirt, Sixx admits it was at this point he realized he had a problem. 

Sixx’s Overdose, Clinical Death: The Story of “Kickstart My Heart”

On December 23, 1987, Sixx was out partying with fellow rockers, Guns N’ Roses members Slash and Steve Adler, and Ratt’s Robbin Crosby. After too much cocaine and one injection too many, Sixx passed out cold in a bathroom at the Franklin Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Slash’s then-girlfriend Sally McLaughlin tried to resuscitate Sixx via mouth-to-mouth to no avail. 

Once paramedics arrived, they transported Sixx to an ambulance and administered two shots of adrenaline to bring the clinically dead rocker back to life. In the band’s autobiography, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, Sixx recounts waking up to a police interrogation in a hospital room.

After being released on his own recognizance, Sixx roamed shirtless and in a pair of leather pants through the hospital parking lot. There, he spotted two fans were crying after hearing the news of his death on the radio. The teen girls allegedly gave Sixx a jacket, a lecture about quitting drugs, and a ride home. 

Nikki Sixx’s Road to Sobriety

After Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee’s wedding, during which Sixx’s bandmates witnessed him shooting heroin and nodding out mid-ceremony, management held an intervention, convincing Sixx to go to rehab. Sixx later broke out of rehab, however, as he jumped out a two-story window in his hospital gown and promptly walked home. 

During this period, Sixx’s relationship with his bandmates deteriorated, and so did his health until his second brush with death in December 1987–the time that would eventually influence the writing of “Kickstart My Heart.” In January 1988, Sixx entered rehab again, and the band’s manager canceled their upcoming European tour so the band could focus on their sobriety as a whole. 

Life In Recovery

In early 2023, Sixx celebrated 22 years of sobriety. “It has been one hell of a beautiful and sometimes difficult journey,” Sixx said in a post on social media. He also emphasized the importance of seeking treatment and wanting to get sober for yourself, not anybody else. 

Beyond Sixx’s dedication to his own recovery, he’s spent years as a recovery advocate, spreading awareness about the opioid crisis and dangers of addiction as a disease. “People don’t always understand addiction, they think we have some kinda moral affliction when the truth is we are simply allergic to drink and drugs. You are not alone.”

Written by Eric

37-year-old who enjoys ferret racing, binge-watching boxed sets and praying. He is exciting and entertaining, but can also be very boring and a bit grumpy.