Let's face it: Jon
Bon Jovi is a made man. No, not in The Sopranos way. More in the sense that this
Jersey guy has it made in every sense of the word. Great marriage? Check. He's
been happily married to his high-school sweetheart, Dorothea, for 16 years.
Great kids? Yep. Four of them, ages 1 through 12.
Stardom and success? C'mon. To date, he and his self-titled band have sold more than 100 million records and remain a top-10 concert act. The good life? Puh-leeze. Could you "make do" with a riverside, 19,000-square-foot estate in Middletown, N.J.? A place that's just 45 minutes from where Bon Jovi used to tailgate before New York Giants games?
Oh, and that's not all: Bon Jovi has never forgotten that he was born John Francis Bongiovi, and that—if he ever starts pulling the star diva thing—there are a buncha guys around from the old days who are more than happy to bust his chops. In fact, Bon Jovi take his cues from an old-school Jersey guy, Frank Sinatra, rather than the modern stars.
"Frankie became everybody's brother, everybody's friend," says Bon Jovi, 43, taking a break at home with his current touring schedule looming large. "People identified with him because he overcame such adversity. He won his Oscar after he had been as low as he'd ever be in his career. He worked until he was 80. He toured and made movies all his life. And he'd walk through the front door of the biggest casinos in Vegas arm-in-arm with Sammy Davis Jr., at the time when Sammy was supposed to take the back door. One of the great regrets of my life is that I never met Frankie. I really have few regrets, and that's one of them."
KEEP THE FAITH
Which speaks to the heart of why Bon Jovi still matters when other 1980s rock stars—David Lee Roth, please phone home— have been reduced to non-entities, or worse, bad jokes. Bon Jovi has always done it the right way. Many in the music industry say the VH1 Behind the Music show on Bon Jovi was the most boring episode ever, and that's actually a compliment. No major scandals. No bitter breakups. No concert no-shows because he and the band were too trashed to play. In fact, the concept behind his new album and intentionally ironically titled single, Have a Nice Day, speaks to the individualist who doesn't play to either the record-company suits who wish he'd be more mainstream, or the edgy crowd who wishes that he'd drop the family thing and act like a rocker for a change.
"I always wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star, but I wanted to do it my way," he tells Arrive. "I want to live my life the way I want to I was never going to conform—ever— to anyone's ideas of what my music and my beliefs and my approach to having a family should be. So, yeah, when I'm saying 'Have a nice day,' it's meant to be a bit sarcastic. All I can say is do your own thing and leave me out of it. Like Frankie said, 'I did it my way.' I'm going to do the same, and I'm going to live a long life."
Don't get him wrong, Bon Jovi isn't jaded. It's difficult to be that way when you have what he has—a beautiful, classic-French decor home, a loving family, and, yes, that flowing mane of amber-hued hair and Men's Health cover-worthy abs that no middle-aged man should be allowed. (He works out, hard, five days a week.) As he's chatting, Southside Johnny is recording in his studio on his estate. That's Southside Freakin' Johnny! In HIS studio! At HIS house! He has survived by being, by all accounts, a consummate professional who remains fiercely loyal to his fans, band mates, family and community.
Both he and Dorothea are fully involved parents, and when he's not touring, Bon Jovi takes up the school and sports-chauffeuring duties, and, yeah-yeah-yeah, he's changed more than a few diapers through the years. He has regular-guy concerns just like any working dad—he worries about what sites his kids are calling up on the Internet, and what they're watching on TV. And, like the rest of us, these freaking housing assessment increases are driving him nuts. "Let me tell you!" Bon Jovi says, getting plenty sore. "My taxes are [bleeping] killin' me! But I choose to pay taxes here in the state of New Jersey because this is where I want to live. The cost of living would be so much lower [somewhere else]; car insurance here is astronomical. But we're not leaving." Perhaps that's because he's so committed to local communities. After all, if you're a young punk who's made it big and you don't give back, you'll always be a punk. And Bon Jovi's civic passion has increased significantly in the past year, since he became co-owner of an Arena Football League (AFL) team, the Philadelphia Soul. He confesses that he originally wanted to buy the team so he could smoke fine cigars in the owner's box. But it's become much more than that. "I wanted this team to be an essential part of this city," he says. "The best and most effective way to do that was to get out there and be visible in giving back to the community."
The team signed up a major sponsor, Samsung Electronics, and has partnered with Samsung and its Four Seasons of Hope foundation. As a result, Bon Jovi and the team have donated more than $500,000 to local Philadelphia causes: the Police Athletic League, shelters, AIDS prevention/awareness efforts and a youth helpline. The team contributions also helped pave the way for a playground to be built at a local foster home. "This home was the classic old Father Flanagan place, but die kids literally had nowhere to go outside and play," B on Jovi says. "It was heartbreaking. I said, 'There isn't even a place here for kids to be kids.' So I called up a guy I know who's a builder and told him that he had to come down here and build something for diem."
When it comes to the Soul and its community efforts, Bon Jovi is as driven and focused as he is with his music career, says Craig Spencer, his AFL business partner and co-chairman of the team. "As a celebrity, you can make much more of an impact by turning die public's attention to die cause, as opposed to simply writing die check," Spencer says. "Jon is more than willing to do that. The football tiling has become an appealing way to change a community. It's important to him and important to me and the rest of the team. If we had to choose between accomplishing these things and winning a championship, well, it would be difficult to make that choice."
BLESSED BE NEW JERSEY
None of this comes as a surprise to longtime friends of Bon Jovi's, many of whom go decades back. There was never anything phony about him. Growing up in a classic blue-collar neighborhood of Sayreville, NJ., B on Jovi never wanted to be anything but a rock musician. He'd play hooky to jam with pals. He took a gopher job in a recording studio just to be where music was happening. It must have been like a dream, because the studio was New York's legendary Power Station, and it was quite common for artists like the Stones and Dylan to drop by. Never mind that B on Jovi did all of the work that nobody else wanted to do. If the guys in the band wanted a bag of burgers and Eskimo Pies at 3 a.m., he'd hunt them down. If the band tossed the wrappers on the floor two hours later, he cleaned up the mess.
"They ran him ragged," recalls Obie O'Brien, his best friend and an engineer/producer for the band. "And every minute he wasn't doing that kind of stuff, he'd be writing and trying to record there. He lived in an apartment on an upper floor of the studio, so he was there all the time. I'd come up from Philly to serve as an engineer, and he'd let me crash on his bed while he slept on the floor. That's the kind of guy he's always been. At 18, he had more focus on what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to get there than I've had in my entire life."
Not that it will come at the expense of his family. So far, Bon Jovi has struck the fine balance between being an involved husband and father and managing the recording/touring/ filming schedule. And much of that comes from establishing solid boundaries.
"I'm not a victim of my schedule," he says." If I truly don't want to be somewhere—at this point in my career—it's off. With the band, we all sit around and discuss these things. We're in controlnies."