From its 1970 birth via Black Sabbath, heavy metal has mutated and adapted to an ever-evolving communications landscape.
Through the decades, that’s meant going from radio and vinyl records to MTV and CDs, and bringing the hard and heavy to the Internet age from the days of AOL chat rooms to our present existences of hyperactive, 24-7, YouTube and social media connectivity.
Reality television programming is another mass audience trend-turned-cornerstone to which heavy metal has proven to be an unlikely prolific and profitable bedfellow.
With a nod to Steven Tyler’s two seasons on American Idol, C.C. Deville’s one-and-done stint on The Surreal Life, and the hardscrabble, sometimes tragic runs of Steven Adler, Mike Starr, and others on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, here now are the top 10 heavy metal icons who became reality TV stars. Check out more from VH1’s month-long Keepin’ It Real reality TV package.
Reality Star of: Married to Rock; Rock Star Wives
Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan appearing on an E! reality series seems off-the-wall until you consider his co-stars.
Foremost, there’s Duff’s wife, Susan Holmes McKagan. The couple first appeared in the 2007 E! special Rock Star Wives, which featured Duff’s former bandmate Slash and his then-bride, Perla Ferrar.
The McKagans next co-starred in the 2010 E! series Married to Rock, alongside Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and his wife, Etty Farrell (it does seem less surprising that Billy idol guitarist Steve Stevens and The Cult’s Billy Duffy also appeared on the show).
Married to Rock applied the Real Housewives format to heavy metal spouses. (Un)fortunately, it never caught on and only ran for eight episodes. Duff regretted the experience before it even began, and appeared only out of love for Susan. “I am in the McKagan family business,” he explained, “and doing right to those whom have done right by me and stayed with me through it all.”
Duff ultimately fired off a blistering Seattle Weekly takedown of the entire reality TV genre, writing: “I do not like reality shows. No, I actually despise what little I have seen and think that some of this stuff has really poisoned our perception of reality. I don’t believe that there is a real place for ‘rock guys’ on an E! show.”
Reality Star of: Tommy Lee Goes to College; Rock Star: SuperNova
In 1996, Tommy Lee and his then-wife Pamela Anderson redefined the extremes of reality programming (wittingly or not) by way of their early-Internet viral sex tape, which ultimately got an official release as Pam and Tommy Lee: Stolen Honeymoon.
Nine years and one big divorce later, the Mötley Crüe drummer attempted a more conventional reality TV route by starring on the NBC summer series, Tommy Lee Goes to College. After enrolling (sort of) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Tommy took us on his campus experience, from finding a roommate to trying out for the marching band to dissecting a frog in the bio lab.
The following summer, Tommy joined ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and ex-GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke as judges on Rock Star: SuperNova. Dave Navarro played host.
The conceit of the show was that these three metal celebrities had put together a rock band (called “SuperNova” before an existing group by that name sued the show) and came to CBS to audition lead singers.
The concept worked well the previous year with Rock Star: INXS, and the SuperNova edition proved an entertaining and fun way to experience up-and-coming talent. The notion that there would ever be an actual ongoing SuperNova band, though, seemed far-fetched.
The group, finally named Rock Star SuperNova and fronted by Canadian singer and series winner Lukas Rossi, put out a flop self-titled LP several months after the show ended (although it did well in Canada), and conducted a minor tour. That, then, was that.
Reality Star of: Supergroup; Celebrity Fit Club: Boot Camp 2; Celebrity Rap Star; Gone Country
On VH1’s appropriately titled Supergroup (2006), the Skid Row vocalist fronted Damnocracy, an all-star ensemble that also included Ted Nugent on lead guitar, Scott Ian of Anthrax on co-lead guitar, Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard on bass, and rock royalty Jason Bonham on drums. The seven-episode series, as one might gather from such a lineup, proved to be a blast.
In 2007, Bach followed Supergroup as a contestant on MTV’s Celebrity Rap Star, which he didn’t win. Then he competed on CMT’s Gone Country in 2009, which he did win.
All that reality programming must have prompted Sebastian Bach to pack on a few pounds. For the 2010 season of VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club: Boot Camp 2, Bach successfully battled his excess bulk alongside Nicole Eggert, Bobby Brown, and Kevin Federline.
Reality Star of: Ink Master; ’Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave; Rock Star SuperNova
For six seasons, Jane’s Addiction axe-slinger Dave Navarro has hosted Spike’s tattoo competition series Ink Master. He first muscled up his emcee chops back in 2005, doing the duties on both Rock Star: INXS and the following year’s metallic follow-up, Rock Star: SuperNova.
Prior to Navarro’s Rock Star-dom, though, he appeared alongside Carmen Electra, his then bride-to-be, on the 2004 MTV documentary series, ’Til Death to Us Part: Carmen and Dave. The show chronicled the rocky (pun intended) road up to an including the couple’s wedding. The series lasted seven episodes. The marriage lasted about four years.
Reality Star of: The Surreal Life; Remaking Vince Neil; Skating With the Stars; Celebrity Wife Swap; Celebrity Ghost Stories
Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil broke heavy metal-reality TV ground in 2003, when he co-starred on the first season of the celebrity Real World redo, The Surreal Life. Among his co-Surrealists were Corey Feldman, Emmanuelle Lewis, and MC Hammer.
While that first taste of the Surreal launched an entire series, Vince moved on to the 2005 made-for-reality-TV documentary, Remaking Vince Neil, which followed the badass belter through a 12-week tearing down and rebuilding of both his career (he begins work with legendary songwriter Desmond Child) and his body (diet, exercise, haircut, and, oh yes, plastic surgery).
Vince displayed that his physical revamping remained in place five years later, when he competed on ABC’s Skating With the Stars, partnered with ice pro Jennifer Wester.
Five years after that, in 2015, Vince Neil appeared on ABC’s Celebrity Wife Swap, where he and lite-metal longhair Gunnar Nelson exchanged significant others.
Reality Star of: Celebrity Apprentice; Growing Up Twisted; Rock the Cradle; Gone Country; Celebrity Wife Swap
Twisted Sister’s hilarious, gregarious, sharp-as-nails-but-soft-on-the-inside front-beast Dee Snider first took to the reality TV airwaves via the 2008 season of the singing contest, Gone Country. Alas, he didn’t saunter off with the golden ten-gallon hat.
Dee also didn’t conquer the 2008 MTV competition Rock the Cradle, which featured rock star parents mentoring their musician kids. He did, however, come off super-cool—and was gut-bustingly funny as always—coaching his eldest offspring, Jesse.
Growing Up Twisted (2010), A&E’s late-to-the-feeding-frenzy Osbournes/Family Jewels knockoff, charmingly and amusingly showcased Dee at home with his wife Suzette, aforementioned son Jesse, and three other kids. It was seven airings and kaput.
At long last, Dee Snider made a proper splash on the 2011 edition of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, alongside Penn Jillette, Lou Ferrigno, Arsenio Hall, Lisa Lampanelli, Clay Aiken, and others. He returned, with Penn, for Celebrity Apprentice: All Stars in 2013.
In between getting Trumped on NBC, Dee traded spouses with iconic reality TV sensation Flavor Flav on a 2012 installment of ABC’s <Celebrity Wife Swap.
Reality Star of: Supergroup; Surviving Nugent; Surviving Nugent: The Ted Commandments; Runnin’ Wild… From Ted Nugent; Wanted: Ted or Alive; Spirit of the Wild
The Motor City Madman is as much a visual tornado as he is a firestorm on guitar and lightning frenzy when he starts running his monumental mouth. So when it comes to reality television, Ted Nugent is an absolute natural.
“Natural” is the key word for a succession of The Nuge’s series, as he been documented blissfully camping, hunting, fishing, shooting, riding, communing with the elements, and just generally taking a stand by going back to the land on the outdoor challenge shows Surviving Nugent (2003), Surviving Nugent: The Ted Commandments (2004), Wanted: Ted or Alive (2005), and Runnin’ Wild… From Ted Nugent (2009).
His ongoing series, Ted Nugent: Spirit of the Wild, is an absolute staple of the Outdoor Channel.
In 2006, Uncle Ted made the small screen seem a whole lot bigger as his usual, irresistibly over-the-top self amongst a gaggle of other rock stars on the VH1 miniseries, Supergroup.
Reality Star of: Gene Simmons Family Jewels; Gene Simmons Rock School; Celebrity Apprentice; Shannon and Sophie
Just as Kiss rolled with the disco beat back in 1979 with “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” front-tongue Gene Simmons saw a ripe opportunity to lick up after Ozzy Osbourne made it more than sage for a heavy metal dad to do a reality show—he made it into a goldmine.
Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels ran on A&E from 2006 to 2012, taking fans inside the life of the Demon, his longtime life-partner and Playboy model Shannon Tweed, and their two kids, Nick and Sophie.
While often charged with being among the most “real” (per se) of reality shows, Family Jewels always provided viewers with a great time. The show essentially climaxed in the wake of the man who relentlessly decried getting married (“They tell me marriage is an institution,” Gene always said, “and you have to be crazy to be in an institution!”) humbly popping the question to the mother of his two children.
Just prior to Family Jewels in 2005, the Kiss bassist starred in a British reality series copped from the classic movie, School of Rock (2003). Gene Simmons’ Rock School put our hero in charge of turning a classroom full of kids into a functioning kickass rock band. The show ran two years, and the second season ended with the youngsters opening for Judas Priest, Rob Zombie, and Anthrax.
In a Family Jewels spinoff that might even baffle the God of Thunder himself, Shannon Tweed and Sophie Simmons co-star on Shannon and Sophie, a wacky mother-daughter reality comedy on the—brace yourself—Christian-oriented UP network.
Reality Star of: Rock of Love; Celebrity Apprentice; Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It; Nashville Star; Celebrity Househunting; Celebrity Ghost Stories; Celebrity Close Calls
Poison crooner Bret Michaels took a cue from hip-hop hysteric Flavor Flav’s Flavor of Love reality dating series and, from 2007 to 2009, starred for three seasons on VH1’s Rock of Love with Bret Michaels.
VH1 stuck with Mr. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” for the 2010 show Bret Michaels: Life as I Know It. The documentary series debuted less than a week after Bret made his permanent mark on reality TV history over on NBC.
Michaels dominated the entire third edition of Celebrity Apprentice, and ended up in the top two contestants alongside Holly Robinson Peete.
In between the final regular competition episode and the live Celebrity Apprentice finale, Bret had his appendix removed and suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage, which he was mistakenly believed to have gotten after a head-bonking mishap during the 2009 Tony Awards.
During the brain treatment, doctors discovered a hole in Bret’s heart. All this, of course, was in the face of Michael’s lifelong battle with type-1 diabetes.
Despite this devastating onslaught of health crises, Bret defied doctors’ orders and flew from L.A. to New York for the final go-round of Celebrity Apprentice. Donald Trump happily told him, “You’re hired!”
Alas, when Michaels returned for Celebrity Apprentice All Stars in 2013, he was the first at whom Trump barked, “You’re fired!”
Reality Star of: The Osbournes
One of reality television’s definitive, game-changing mega-hits, The Osbournes debuted on MTV in 2002 and, by the first season’s end, stood as the most watched series ever in the history of the network.
The Osbournes famously filtered Ozzy Osbourne, at that point a broken-brained Prince of Darkness, through an ironic take on Father Knows Best. Wife Sharon, son Jack, and daughter Kelly became instant celebrities, and remain deeply ensconced household names today (and tomorrow and forever).
While skeptics claimed much of The Osbournes veered too far from actual reality by way of preconceived set-ups and producer interfering (which was often the case), what makes the show extra fascinating in hindsight is how it legitimately rewrote the reality of celebrity obsession in popular culture.
The Osbournes added its ostensibly ghoulish, obscenely discoursing cabal of heavy metal Hollywood vampires to our collective consciousness, effectively assimilating them to the point that everyone alive has now long known every major event in the life of Ozzy, Sharon, Jack, and Kelly. On top of that, the public has felt close to these individuals, every step of the way.
That’s at least as freaky as biting the head off a bat.