On December 8th, 1984, the quiet beach town of Redondo Beach, CA became an infamous location in the history of hard rock music. The events of that day serve as a cautionary tale about the excesses of living the rock-n-roll lifestyle while revealing how truly fleeting life can be. The tragic accident involving Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil and Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle remains one of the sadder incidents to occur during the heyday of 1980’s hard rock.
Motley Crue, Hanoi Rocks, and the 1980’s Heavy Metal Scene
The 1980’s music scene famously brought hard rock to the forefront of pop culture. Heavy metal singers and bands sold millions upon millions of albums and packed arenas all over the globe. Money and fame brought trappings. Heavy metal legends lived a lifestyle that frequently led them to controversies.
The rise of heavy metal during the 1980s can be traced to a number of events. Heavy metal slowly emerged as a rock subgenre starting in the late 1960s but remained in the background to other popular music trends. In time, hard rock and metal increased in popularity as a segment of music fans grew tired of what they heard on the radio. Disco, in particular, became an over-the-top mainstream music fad in the late 1970s. The macho, raw, and rude approach of heavy metal served as the perfect response to the disco trend. As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, heavy metal’s popularity grew.
The 1980s were also a decade known for its excesses. The cliche of the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” lifestyle proved appealing to many. The rise of MTV helped packaged hard rock band to young audiences in a visual way that never existed before. Those who dismiss the hard rock movement of the 1980’s often ignored a simple truth: a lot of the music was great. Motley Crue was one of the most successful bands of the time period because they delivered classic tunes and lived a wild lifestyle that helped the members reach mythic levels. Platinum albums, sold-out tours, and multimillions of dollars in royalty checks proved Motley Crue’s fame was deserved.
The rockers from Hanoi, however, were one of the many bands that achieved critical acclaim, gained a fan following, but never reached an A-tier level. The band was actually from Finland and slowly started to develop a solid following on the global metal scene. In 1984, the band launched its second tour of the United States. Success in the US market could have been a breakthrough event, but the tragic car accident would change things forever.
The Fatal Crash
Many hard rock bands wallowed in substance abuse. This is a fact that can’t be ignored. Members of Motley Crue, in particular, dealt with significant substance abuse issues throughout the years. On December 9, 1984, drinking to excess led to tragic consequences. Neil and Razzle, real name Nicholas Dingley, drank to an intoxicated state at a party. When the party ran out of alcohol, a drunk Vince Neil got behind the wheel of his 1972 De Tomaso Pantera and drove with Dingley to a liquor store. Neil ended up hitting another car leading to a major accident. While Neil recovered from his injuries, Dingley wasn’t so lucky. He died instantly on impact in the crash. A person in the other car that Neil struck suffered brain damage.
Vince Neil and the Aftermath
I wrote a $2.5 million check for vehicular manslaughter when Razzle died. I should have gone to prison. I definitely deserved to go to prison. But I did 30 days in jail and got laid and drank beer because that’s the power of cash. That’s fucked up.
This was a comment a regretful Neil made to Blender magazine in 2005 after the incident. Although he was charged with a DUI for the crash, Neil received only a 30-day jail sentence. Actually, he didn’t even serve 30 days as 10 days was reduced from the sentence due to good behavior.
Neil’s blood-alcohol level was 0.17, significantly higher than the legal limit in the state of California, which led to being charged with vehicular manslaughter. In recent interviews, Vince Neil expressed great remorse over the incident and even suggested that he deserved to spend time in prison for what he had done. Neil would run into other troubles with the law over the years including several DUI issues.
Motley Crue would continue to hold its place as one of the premier metal bands of the 1980s. The accident did relatively nothing to hurt the band’s commercial success. 1985’s Theatre of Pain and 1987’s Girls, Girls, Girls, were megahit albums for the hard rock quartet. In time, like other hard rock bands, heavy metal music oversaturation, the arrival of grunge rock, and changing 1990s tastes led to these legendary bands of the 1980’s fade from the forefront of the music scene.
1989’s Dr. Feelgood was the band’s last massive hit going multi-platinum in the United States. Vince Neil would depart the band to go solo in the 1990s. He would eventually reunite with his former band members in the 1990’s and 2000’s, but the music landscape was a lot different than those hard rock and metal glory days of the 1980s.
Hanoi Rocks continue on with a small cult following and Razzle has become a sad footnote in the history of heavy metal.