Jon Bon Jovi: I've been no saint but my wife still rocks
Jon Bon Jovi admits he's 'been no saint'. But, as he prepares to launch the 02 Millennium Dome, he reveals how one woman kept him sane - and offers some fatherly advice to the new generation of wildchild stars
The Molly Pitcher Inn, overlooking the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey, is not the obvious choice of meeting place for a fully-paid-up member of the rock god fraternity.
The median age of the hotel's clientele is approximately 97 and should said rock god take it upon himself to trash one of the hotel rooms, you can be sure that he would be met with stern disapproval from the other guests.
But the residents needn't worry, for Jon Bon Jovi is the rocker in question, and, after 24 years in the music business, he's one of the industry's official elder statesmen.
One baffled guest, encountering him in the lift, coos "You look just like that Jon Bon Jovi", to which he coolly replies: "I am Jon Bon Jovi."
Tantrum-throwing of the don't-you-know-who-I-am? variety is apparently not his thing.
Frankly, though, there can be very few people on the planet who don't know who he is.
The lead singer of Bon Jovi, he and his fellow band members (Richie Sambora, Tico Torres, David Bryan and Hugh McDonald) have shifted huge quantities of records (when their cumulative album sales passed 100 million three years ago, they released a box set entitled 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong).
The critics have never been particularly enamoured of the band's blue-collar ethos and determined unfashionability (they can sing of working in diners all day and women being akin to loaded guns apparently without irony), but with those kinds of sales, frankly, who cares?
Certainly not Mr Bon Jovi himself, who ambles on to the patio looking terrifically rock godular in shades, pin-striped jacket, jeans and a tight - T-shirt which ably shows off his honed physique.
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At 45, he looks unfeasibly youthful and healthy for someone who has spent all of his adult life in a band, though he says: "You should have seen me yesterday. I've just flown from Philly to Honolulu to Maui to LA to Vegas to Boston in eight days and I came home Sunday night. By Monday, I couldn't get out of bed as my back was killing me.
"I'm old, old. I'm Humpty Dumpty," he says, rubbing his right knee which appears to be giving him some trouble.
"In fact, that's going to be my room name on the next tour."
But it is his hair, of course, to which one's attention immediately shifts. When he lopped off his locks some 15 years ago, it was deemed so significant that even CNN reported on it.
"My wife has educated me on Botox and hair weaves and when we're out, she'll point out all the people who have had something done. I'm so blind, I can't even spot a toupee."
Is Bon Jovi trying to break it to us gently that he wears a rug?
"Ha! No! It's all mine. Go on, you can pull it! (I do - it's very real and soft)."
So, no Botox either?
"God no! See, everything moves."
He removes his sunglasses and scrunches his forehead to prove everything moves.
If fading looks are the downside of ageing (for everyone apart from Bon Jovi) then its benefits include a certain mellowing of temperament which Bon Jovi appears to have acquired.
The band's latest album, Lost Highway, which Bon Jovi co-wrote with guitarist Richie Sambora, is a thoughtful collection of songs, some way removed from the air-punching anthems normally associated with the band.
It has a slight country feel to it (indeed, LeAnn Rimes duets with Bon Jovi on one of the tracks) and, says Bon Jovi: "It took just three months to write because it was so personal.
"We finished touring last August and typically a two-year period goes by before you do something. But seeing what was happening with Richie and Dave (in the band) kind of inspired me to write."
What was happening with Richie and Dave were that both band members had gone through painful divorces - David Bryan from his wife April McLean and Richie Sambora from actress Heather Locklear.
Richie's subsequent relationship with Denise Richards (former wife of actor Charlie Sheen) ended shortly after his father died of lung cancer this year.
Indeed, Sambora has just been admitted into a rehab facility in California for an undisclosed problem.
"Richie's OK, but he's a work-in-progress, you know," says Bon Jovi softly.
"We've been in the band together for so long and gone through a whole range of experiences, but to be honest, we'd had no real strife until recently.
"Then parents were passing away and divorces were happening and kids were coming of age and suddenly it wasn't me, me, me any more, but we, we, we. The subject matter for the album just presented itself.
"There's a song called Whole Lot Of Leaving, an obvious phone call home to my wife saying: 'Hey baby, be strong, because there's a whole lot of leaving going on.'
"I'm there as the third person sitting on that bed while Richie's telling Heather or Dave's telling April that they're strangers and I'm there telling them there's light at the end of the tunnel.
"There's another song called Seat Next To You. For Richie, it was about missing his father. For me, it was about missing my girl when I'm away."
While relationships have imploded all around him, Jon Bon Jovi's own marriage to high school sweetheart Dorothea Hurley has lasted some 18 years, producing four children - Stephanie Rose, 14, Jesse James, 12, Jacob, five, and Romeo, three ("and we're definitely not having any more").
Although in the past he has admitted that when the band initially took off, he might not have been altogether well-behaved on the woman front ("I've not been a saint. I've had my lapses"), the motto for the band now appears to be: "Whatever goes on in Bon Jovi stays in Bon Jovi."
"One of those big publishers gave us a million dollars recently to write a book about our experiences," he says, "but we just gave the money right back because it's no one's business.
"They wanted the cliched story about being a rock star and I'm not going to tell them. It doesn't mean it didn't happen and doesn't mean it did happen; it just means, isn't there anything more important to talk about?"
Certainly Dorothea appears to be made of impressive stuff, "I wouldn't trade her in for anything," he says fondly.
"The fact that she's independent and isn't needy or possessive helps and she is just a very strong woman (being a karate instructor can't harm).
"I've been cognisant of the fact that relationships have been breaking up around us, but it hasn't made me cling to her or the other way round.
"And although everyone says we're about the only couple still together in the rock business, it's not really true.
"There's Bono and his wife Ali and Bruce (Springsteen) and Patti. We're not the only ones."
So there will be no trading his wife in for a younger model, as is a rock star's wont?
"No. I find that women are much sexier when they age gracefully. I want to see them in cowboy boots and blue jeans and not with so much liposuction that they can't even close their eyes.
"You see women with it everywhere in Hollywood and, urgh..." he grimaces, leaving the sentiment unarticulated yet completely understood.
Bon Jovi has been one of the few rock stars to make the transition from the music industry to Hollywood to critical acclaim with roles in films such as U-571 with Matthew McConaughey and TV shows such as Ally McBeal and Sex And The City.
There have, though, been occasional stinkers, as he himself concedes, and as he says now: "Did you see me in National Lampoon's Pucked? My God, what a piece of s***," he says disbelievingly.
"I'm not doing stuff like that any more. The thing is, I hate it in Hollywood. It's such a terrible town.
"Look at what the world of Hollywood is doing to our young kids. There's Lindsay Lohan - gorgeous girl and a pretty decent actress too, but she needs to get out and go anywhere else in the world but Hollywood.
"Britney, too. And as for Paris: I think it's sad that that young girl has to go to jail, but I also think her poor great-grandfather (Conrad Hilton, who founded the Hilton hotel empire) would be turning in his grave over what's happening now because he worked hard for what he achieved.
"They need to get the hell out of that town. When I go there, I just do my business and run.
"This year, our family's moving from New Jersey, so we've decided to move to New York.
"It's scary, but we need the change and it's not so far away from New Jersey, where I grew up."
The band have always been inextricably linked to their New Jersey roots. John Francis Bongiovi, its lead singer, was born in Sayreville, New Jersey, to third-generation Italian immigrants.
He is the eldest of three sons to father John, a hairdresser, and mother Carol, a former Bunny Girl turned florist. Both parents instilled in their young son the belief that he could achieve anything he set his mind to.
By his teens, he was playing in local bars and clubs and when his first song, Runaway, was played by a local radio station, he formed the band that was to become Bon Jovi.
It was after the release of their third album in 1986, Slippery When Wet, which included the hit Livin' On A Prayer, that the band reached stratospheric heights and although their success continued, by 1991 the pressure took its toll.
"I had a crisis of some description," he says. "It was to do with the music business. There's a reason why it's called a 'business'. I questioned it.
"We were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway one time and I was in the passenger seat thinking I was just going to throw myself out of the car.
"I went to see a shrink but was late for my appointment and so he told me my time was up and I thought to myself: 'Well, I'll just have to get over this in my own time.' I call that period my 'Grey Summer'. It lasted about two years.
"I started doing other things to broaden my experiences. I wrote the soundtrack to the film Young Guns and that led me to acting, so it worked out pretty well.
"In order to be an honest-to-God artist, not just a pop star, you have to have the ebb and flow of a real career. God knows we've had our lows, but we've never jumped ship. We just do what we do."
He recently appeared on an episode of American Idol as a coach to the acts ("I liked Simon Cowell - he was nice"), and admits that although it "works as a TV show, it's important that the kids learn to write their own songs.
"With these kids, their first album goes multi-platinum, but where do they actually go to learn their chops?"
As befits Bon Jovi's elder statesman status, he does much work for charity in association with the organisation Habitat For Humanity and four years ago bought a 50 per cent stake in an unprofitable minor league football team called Philadelphia Soul which "provides a safe and accessible haven for families to come to".
Bon Jovi's next big project will take place on Sunday, June 24, when the band are due to open London's new O2 arena, which was formerly the Millennium Dome, although the man himself isn't holding his breath.
"It was the same story with the new Wembley stadium, but the only pictures you ever saw of me were outside the stadium. All I'll say about the O2 arena is that I'll believe it when I see it."
Proof enough that for Jon Bon Jovi, wisdom really has come with experience.