Midway through Motley Crue’s closing performance of the Stadium Tour, Nikki Sixx used a small towel to wipe the sweat away from his brow. An eager fan asked for it, bringing a smile to the bassist’s face.
“You want this towel?” Sixx smirked, before throwing it to the fan. “It’s exactly like the towel I gave your mom in 1987.”
The comment drew laughs from the crowd, and Sixx noted that he’s been told to stop making crude jokes. “You can’t fucking cancel Motley Crue,” Sixx responded dismissively, “so fuck that bullshit.”
Though seemingly offhanded, Sixx’s statement raised an interesting point. Celebrity scandals seem to be at an all-time high, but Motley Crue has remained more or less above the outrage, without sacrificing their wild, bad-boy image.
Motley Crue would be viewed through a different lens if they were a new band in 2022, rather than one that emerged from the Sunset Strip music scene of the early ’80s. Their seemingly endless list of shenanigans includes years of sex with groupies, including backstage, in the band’s van, on the road, in the studio and even on top of a car outside of a country club; a fistfight with Guns N’ Roses; urinating on Cheap Trick; and a bizarre train ride in Japan in which Tommy Lee and Sixx terrorized other passengers by pouring alcohol on them and declaring, “We should have killed you all in the war!”
Such actions would surely bring public scorn if they happened today. Instead, Motley Crue’s antics were immortalized in a movie.
None of this is meant to support or condone Motley Crue’s actions. Sixx himself has even stated that the hard-partying group often took things too far. There’s “a lot of horrible behavior” in their autobiography The Dirt, Sixx admitted in 2019. “What I can tell you is that we all lived to regret a lot and learned from it. We own up to all our behavior that hurt ourselves, our families, friends and any innocents around us.”
To that end, some of the elements that helped establish Motley Crue’s notoriety have since been discarded – most notably the band’s drug use. Sixx has been sober for more than 20 years now and guitarist Mick Mars for at least a decade. Meanwhile, Lee and singer Vince Neil have both gone through periods of sobriety, relapse and rehab, but have generally been putting in the work to live cleaner lives.
There’s also something to be said about expectation versus reality. When a beloved, family-friendly comedian gets convicted of sexual assault, there’s a sense of shock and emotional whiplash as fans struggle to comprehend how someone deemed upstanding for so many years could do something so vile. Things like that tend to cause the largest cancel culture uproar because hypocrisy is layered on top of anger and disgust.
For all their warts, Motley Crue never claimed to be anything other than who they are. From day one they were a rowdy, sexualized group of party animals, as likely to get wasted with their audience as they were to start a fight. Love them or hate them, the band stayed true to this image. The wild persona remained a major aspect of Motley Crue’s popularity, so much that a milder, reformed Motley Crue would likely have created far more uproar than any further antics.
Age may have softened Motley Crue just a bit, but they’re still as controversial as ever. Lee’s recent headline-grabbing nude pic is a perfect example. Rather than apologize or ask for forgiveness – as many other celebrities would these days in similar situations – Lee doubled down time and time again, encouraging nudity at Motley Crue’s concerts and even starting an OnlyFans page.
Undoubtedly, there is a limit, even to Motley Crue’s misbehavior. Whether the band has come close to it yet is up for debate, but they have seemingly avoided cancel culture’s ire thanks to containing their wild side just enough. That said, no one should expect Motley Crue to tone things down anytime soon. Rock stars “should be ridiculous,” as Sixx previously argued. “We should be outrageous, we should be pushing envelopes and we should be rebelling against each other. We’re supposed to be loud and rude and in your face.”
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