— Steven Tyler’s journey from Aerosmith frontman to “American Idol” judge has given him enough stories for several lifetimes. In a candid interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, Tyler tells many of them, discussing his musical journey as well as overcoming his own drug use and how it affected his family life.
Tyler rose to stardom with Aerosmith, one of the top bands of the 1970s that enjoyed a robust second act starting in 1984. What the band did, both on and off the stage, has become the stuff of legend.
But that second act, which helped the band earn induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, nearly didn’t happen. And his place on “American Idol” was only made possible when he checked into the Betty Ford Center for the final time in 2009, in an effort to beat his addiction to prescription drugs.
“The week before I went to the Betty Ford Center in December 2009, I got a new manager. I said, ‘get me a job, I don’t care what it is ... get me ‘American Idol,” Tyler told Lauer.
As Tyler says in the interview, that battle was no new thing for him. Pervasive drug use, including budgeting for cocaine in the band's touring contracts, lead to the breakdown of the band in 1979.
"There's three things that happen to you when you're addicted to drugs after they take hold, is death, jail and insanity," Tyler said in the interview. "And I can't preach that enough. The only reason I wind up in rehab is because I used to the point of falling down. My kids tell me, 'Daddy, I don't know who you are anymore.' Wives leave, bands break up, and it's really a one-way street. I still liked the ride, but it's a one-way street."
When asked if there was anyone who ever questioned his drug use, Tyler was emphatic: "Absolutely not.
"No. 1, it was the thing to do in the '70s ... And by the way, bands like Aerosmith, if you looked at the '70s, how many albums we did, how many songs and how many territories, you know, we conquered, you know, we were troubadours going from town to town, state to state," Tyler said. "We had no MTV or anything. We would play for Mahavishnu Orchestra. Anybody to open up and get our songs heard. And in doing so, in playing three shows in a row, I needed blow. I needed that cocaine. I needed that — I needed it.
"How did we get through? It's a little funny now, but if you look back at history, managers didn't care," Tyler said. "They were glad we were makin' 'em all money. And they may get angry at that, but it was also a thing to do, I can give it up at that."
In addition to the drugs, personality conflicts also cropped up within Aerosmith. In part, Tyler blames his struggles with what he calls “LSD” — but not the drug.
“Lead Singer Disorder ... we all have it. ‘We front the band? Why don’t they listen to us?’ Tyler said.
Tyler became the father of two daughters during that era, actress Liv Tyler (with fashion model Bebe Buell) and model Mia Tyler (with Cyrinda Foxe). After admittedly not being a great father to them in their childhood, he’s tried to make up for it since.
“That's what drugs did. That's what it did. On one hand, it can put you in a place you've never been, so you can use that experience, and on the other hand, for me, I rode it like a gypsy rode a horse. And it took my children away, it took my life away, it took my band away, took my marriages away, and I was on my knees,” Tyler said.
Now, Tyler is reaching a new generation as one of three “American Idol” judges, along with Randy Jackson and fellow newcomer Jennifer Lopez. Many wondered what he would bring to the table, besides the dose of credibility that his own musical journey provides.
In addition to being the funniest of the three judges and the one who can ground everyone else when they get too pretentious, he’s been instrumental in the new attitude surrounding the show this season. It’s been a kinder and gentler crew than the one characterized by the biting sarcasm of Simon Cowell, and from Tyler’s perspective that’s no accident.
“I got three daughters, so I can't sit there and say, 'you can't sing, what did you come here for'?” Tyler said, of the attitude he’s had since the auditions. “I don't want to be Steven Tyler, the one they all look up to and tell them they can't sing and for whatever reason that girl leaves there and doesn't sing to her child because I told her she can't sing. That kills me inside.”
And while Lopez is on a one-year contract, Tyler doesn’t sound like someone looking to leave anytime soon.
“It's not a show about who can sing best. I mean, I told the producers, that's not it. That can't be it for me. Because, there are so many stars out there right now, but they're not the best singers," Tyler said. "But they sure got character. And I like to say that, you know, as this was established early on, it's what I love about J. Lo and Randy. It's the whole package.”
Tyler is optimistic that this run of good fortune will continue.
“Sober, I can do anything. And now I’m happy again,” he said.