By: George Varga
Keeping busy is easy for self-described “passion-aholic” Bret Michaels. Staying alive has been more of a challenge for this veteran rock star turned TV-fueled pop-culture sensation (“Celebrity Apprentice,” VH1’s “Rock of Love With Bret Michaels”). Indeed, his multiple near-death experiences this year only seemed to slow him down momentarily before he sprang — well, limped — back into action.
“My absolute strength and my absolute weakness are the same thing, because I love to work,” said Michaels, 47, who is being considered by the producers of “American Idol” to replace head judge Simon Cowell. “My passion is my blessing and my curse. It’s a tough thing for me sometimes.”
Make that a very tough thing.
So far this year, the man born Bret Michael Sychak has suffered a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. He also underwent an emergency appendectomy and learned that he has a hole in his heart, which will require major surgery in January to try to correct.
Someone less determined might regard these as good reasons to consider early retirement. Or, perhaps, as the impetus to take up less demanding activities, like learning macrame or teaching Ozzy Osbourne how to make pastry.
But not Michaels, a lifelong Type 1 diabetic who rose to fame as the lead singer for the glittery hair-metal band Poison in the second half of the 1980s.
Witness the prelude to his late-May victory on “Celebrity Apprentice,” which saw him literally stagger out of his hospital bed after suffering the aforementioned brain hemorrhage and stroke (and undergoing that emergency appendectomy). That he then flew to New York against the expressed advice of his doctors was a no-brainer, at least to him.
Never mind that when he joined “Celebrity Apprentice” host-cum-TV-boss Donald Trump and this season’s other finalist in a Big Apple TV studio, Michaels strongly resembled the namesake of “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” the title track from Poison’s second album. (Sample lyric: I look like hell / Half alive or half dead / I just can’t tell.)
“Absolutely everybody at the hospital said: ‘I don’t think this is a smart idea,'” Michaels recalled with a wry chuckle. “But here was my problem: I worked really hard to win ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ And I felt, if I had the proper medication, I’d be all right. I didn’t feel great, I’ll be honest. I mean, you know I’m sick when I don’t go to my own after-party! But I needed to go on the show. I knew it would never be the same to win and be sitting in my hospital room or in a small satellite TV studio.
“I didn’t know I’d be the winner, but I knew I was going to be in the finale and I knew it was down to two people, Holly (Robinson-Peete) and me. I knew in my soul I wanted to go back to New York for the finale because I wanted so bad to win.”
That desire to persevere, if not triumph, has been a constant for Michaels through much of his life. It has helped him through heady success (starting with Poison’s heyday in the 1980s) and extended doldrums (most of the next decade until Poison’s 1999 reunion), a previous near-death moment (the 1994 car crash in which he broke his ribs, nose, jaw and fingers) and pre-fame labor (working a double-shift as a fry-cook and a bus boy at a Bob’s Big Boy in his native Pennsylvania).
Michaels laughed when asked what skills he acquired as a rock star that helped him not only to make the final cut but to win “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“I’ve learned every business skill I’ve needed to learn from the entertainment business, mostly from rock ‘n’ roll,” he replied.
“You must have nerves of steel when you get into the rock world, because you’re dealing with some of the best people and some of the sleaziest lowlifes in the universe. As I said on ‘Apprentice,’ never mistake my kindness and respect for weakness.”
Fair enough. But what about Trump, the show’s host? Just how good an air guitarist is the real estate magnate?
“I’ve never seen Don play air guitar,” Michaels said. “But I did my homework before going on ‘Apprentice.’ I looked back at Don’s life and found he excelled at music at a young age, so that was good news for me. We didn’t bond on the show, but we (now) talk about sports and music and life.”
Michaels is now completing his autobiography, “Roses & Thorns: The Reality of My Rock & Roll Fantasy.” His current concert tour is timed to promote “Custom Built,” his latest solo album on Poor Boy Records, the label he launched in the mid-1990s.
An uneven mix of new songs and old, “Custom Built” includes a remake of the chart-topping 1988 Poison ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” It is the first (and, likely, last) album by anyone to feature vocal cameos by both teen idol Miley Cyrus and Jason Miller, the lead singer of alt-metal band Godhead.
“It’s not too thought out,” Michaels said. “Most of the guests on my album are there because of friendship.”
Given his near-fatal spate of recent health issues, should he be as active as he is — let alone preparing for the fall run of his new VH1 show, “Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It,” while embarked on a national concert tour?
“I’ll never have a clean bill of health, but I feel like I’m back at 90 percent,” he said. “After all I’ve been through, part of me wants to go out and sky-dive and part of me wants to stop and savor every moment. It’s a weird mindset to be in.”
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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