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For the better part of three decades, singer-songwriter Anthony Kiedis was the voice of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the genre-bending punk-funk-rock band that rose from the Los Angeles club scene to the top of the pop music business in the 1990s. Kiedis brought a kinetic stage presence to the Chili Peppers' high-intensity stage show, as well as songwriting that extolled the virtues of pursuing women and other earthy experiences in a fantasyland version of their hometown. Kiedis' motor-mouthed, cocksure stage persona stood in direct contrast to his offstage life, which was plagued by serious drug addictions. Intense rehabilitation led to reflective material like 1991's "Under the Bridge," which became the Chili Peppers' breakout hit and ticket to mainstream stardom. Over the next two decades, Kiedis battled drug relapses while negotiating the ups and downs of a life in rock-n-roll. The pain and turmoil of his early years paid off in 2011 when the Chili Peppers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kiedis' difficult rise to the top of his business served as a powerful reminder of the pitfalls of the pop business, as well as a reminder of the redemptive powers of music.
Born Nov. 1, 1962 in Grand Rapids, MI, Anthony Kiedis was the son of John Kiedis, an actor who worked under the evocative, Dashiell Hammett-inspired moniker of Blackie Dammett, and Margaret Nobel. Kiedis' parents divorced when he was three years old, and he spent much of his adolescence in ultra-religious Grand Rapids with his mother, stepfather and half-sisters. For two weeks a year in the summer, Kiedis traveled to Hollywood to live with his father; there, he was immersed in his father's life as a drug dealer, which included his own drug usage at the age of 11. Eventually, Kiedis moved permanently to Hollywood, where he flirted with acting in films like "F.I.S.T" (1978). More importantly, he began friendships with fellow Fairfax High School students Hillel Slovak and Michael Balzary, who later billed himself as Flea. The three bonded over their mutual love of rock-n-roll, classic funk and hip-hop, as well as their seemingly insatiable appetite for hard drugs.
Kiedis became inspired to start a band after seeing Slovak's group, Anthym, which also featured drummer Jack Irons. Kiedis, Slovak and Irons teamed with Flea, who had logged some time as bassist for the veteran L.A. punk group Fear, to form a humorous one-shot act called Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. To the group's surprise, their performance, which was built around a single song, was well received, and after changing their band name to Red Hot Chili Peppers, began developing a fan base on the L.A. club scene. Much of their appeal was their blend of solid musicianship with a stage presence that teetered between madcap behavior and crude humor, as evidenced by their penchant for performing naked save for tube socks over their genitals.
Kiedis served as the Chili Peppers' vocalist, though for most of their early years, he rapped his self-penned lyrics in an insouciant but credible patois. Their mix of punk volume, funk rhythms and hip-hop delivery earned them a record contract with EMI, but their self-titled debut record suffered from the departure of Slovak and Irons, who joined the art-rock act What Is This?, and conflicts with producer Andy Gill of Gang of Four over musical direction. They fared better with their sophomore album, Freaky Styley (1985), which featured funk legend George Clinton at the soundboard. It fared modestly well, and did manage to bring the group to national attention. Slovak and Irons were soon back in the group, and work began on a third album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987).
However, Kiedis' drug habits had blossomed into full-blown heroin addiction, which he repeatedly attempted to kick throughout the recording process. He was eventually dismissed from the group to undergo rehabilitation, which he completed in Michigan before heading back to Los Angeles. However, his habits bloomed anew shortly after his return, and the band once again struggled to finish the album. Shortly after finishing an international tour in support of Uplift Mofo Party Plan, Slovak died of a heroin overdose, throwing Kiedis and the rest of the band into turmoil. By 1989, Kiedis and Flea had recruited drummer Chad Smith and teenaged guitarist John Frusciante to fill out their number, and released what many considered their breakout album, Mother's Milk (1989).
The success of the record was dampened by Kiedis' painful withdrawal symptoms, which led to the end of his two-year relationship with "Say Anything." (1989) actress Ione Skye. He buried his depression in the creation of their fourth album, the Grammy-winning Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), which featured the band's biggest hit single, "Under the Bridge." The depth and maturity of the song's lyrics, which were inspired by Kiedis' own experiences as an addict, surprised many critics, who had written off the Chili Peppers as a mindless party band. It also boosted the album to No. 3 on the Billboard albums chart, and minted the former alternative outsiders as a mainstream rock-n-roll band. During this period, Kiedis returned briefly to acting, most notably as a surfing tough in the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze hit "Point Break" (1991).
At the height of their newfound popularity, Frusciante broke away from the group, and was replaced by Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction. Despite their mutual respect, the Chili Peppers never entirely meshed with Navarro, which held up songwriting and recording sessions for months. The stress of the period, combined with a painful dental problem, reignited Kiedis' drug problems, and by 1995, he was again using heroin and cocaine on a regular basis. Despite his debilitating problem, Kiedis continued to write for and record with the Chili Peppers, who enjoyed additional hit albums with 1999's Californication, which saw the return of a newly sober Frusciante to the group and a Grammy win for the single "Scar Tissue."
The release of 2001's By the Way also saw Kiedis drug-free for the first time in nearly a decade. The newfound sobriety put the singer into a reflective mood, and he poured his thoughts on addiction, fame and past relationships into songs, as well as a gritty tell-all autobiography, Scar Tissue (2004). Following the release of Stadium Arcadium, which earned five Grammys for the band in 2006, the Chili Peppers went on hiatus, during which Kiedis became a father with his then-girlfriend, model Heather Christie. The Chili Peppers reunited in 2011 for their 10th studio album, the Grammy-nominated I'm With You. That same year, the band was announced as 2012 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kiedis also began work on a television series inspired partly by his autobiography as well as his relationship with his father. The show, tentatively titled "Spider and Son," featured a pilot script by John Sayles, and was eventually picked up by the FX Network.
By Paul Gaita
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