Bret Michaels on recovering from health scares, why he won’t talk Trump |

Bret Michaels on recovering from health scares, why he won’t talk Trump

Natasha Lindstrom
Bret Michaels, former Poison front man and native of Butler County, performed Friday at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre.
Courtesy of Bret Michaels
Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels boasts an unabashedly eclectic taste in music, which the multi-platinum rock star credits with getting him through life’s ups and downs and all the messy emotions in between.

When Michaels works out, he’ll blast AC/DC.

If the Poison front man and singer-songwriter is feeling reflective, he’ll throw on some James Taylor.

Shortly after his dad, Wally Sychak, a Navy veteran and longtime steelworker at Armco’s mill along Route 8 in Butler, died in August, Michaels found a quiet stretch along the Susquehanna River and listened to Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer.”

“And I needed it. It really, really saved me,” Michaels told the Tribune-Review. “Music 1 million percent is therapeutic for me.”

Clad in his sweat-soaked, signature bandana tucked beneath a patriotic, skull-emblazoned cowboy hat, Michaels rocked an audience spanning multiple generations Friday at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

The Hometown Heroes Tour show featured opening act The Stickers, a country-rock band trio of brothers from Brookline gaining national acclaim. Michaels calls them “his buddies.”

A Butler native who spent time growing up north of Pittsburgh as well as in Central Pennsylvania, Michaels is a self-dubbed “yinzer rocker” and diehard Steelers fan who never misses a chance to twirl his Terrible Towel on stage.

A custom-made Gibson guitar he dedicated to the Steelers hangs on display at the Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh, let me say this, has some of the damned best musicians and artists in the world,” Michaels said. “The talent that comes out of there is just unbelievable. And not just football and sports, but the arts — and the food, let’s never forget the food — and the way the city is resilient. It’s always reinventing itself.”

Michaels, 56, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., but makes frequent trips back home to visit friends and family in Western Pennsylvania. And he’s not the type to shy away from traversing the region’s many bridges, rivers and tunnels once he gets here.

“I get to visit all the time with my kids, and the first thing that I do is I get into the car and I drive everywhere,” Michaels said. “We have good times.”

It’s been a busy several years for Michaels, who splits his time among several roles: Poison front man, solo singer-songwriter, reality TV star and producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and proud father. The Michaels Entertainment Group includes Pets Rock Collection pet accessories, the “Rock Bands” workout programs and the “Thorns and Roses” cologne line. He’s donated more than $300,000 toward diabetes research and other charity work via the Bret Life Rocks Foundation, and helps with local causes in every city in which he performs, such as sending children to diabetes camp or donating to veterans groups.

“My dad always said I had a little extra energy, and I just try to make that productive when I can,” Michaels said.

His fans probably didn’t notice it, but Michaels still has nerve issues in his hands stemming from a 2010 brain injury that flare up now and then while jamming on his guitar. He spent three intensive months regaining his ability to talk, walk and mostly recover from the trauma caused by a brain hemorrhage and ensuing stroke that nearly killed him.

Michaels has confronted a barrage of serious medical issues, starting with his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes at age 6. He’s also confronted serious injuries from car and motorcycle accidents, kidney problems and a hole in his heart.

He credits surviving his biggest health scares to the support of his family, “grace of God, good medical attention and goodwill of people.”

Michaels has two daughters, Raine, 19, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model 2019 finalist who is studying broadcast journalism, and Jorja, 13, with whom he penned the song “Unbroken” earlier this year.

“This song right here is about being stronger than our storm,” Michaels says in an introduction to the video for “Unbroken,” which has hit nearly 1.3 million views on YouTube.

The Trib caught up with Michaels before Friday’s show.

Michaels touched on why he’s shied away from talking politics since performing at President Trump’s inaugural ball in 2017. He hinted about a new reality TV show in the works and hitting the road again next year with new music from Poison.

Here’s what the resilient rock star who’s sold more than 32 million records had to say about several topics — including why his toughest moments have led to his greatest hits and what he’s learned since Poison’s glam metal, tight leather pants and wild manes first stormed the rock scene in the mid-1980s and 1990s.

You’re still doing physical therapy to work on issues with your hands since your brain hemorrhage nearly a decade ago. Tell me more about your recovery.

“A brain bleed, you don’t think about. Like, of all the things in my life that I never thought would happen … There’s no rhyme or reason, but all you can do is fight back and pray that you’ve got great medical attention.

I was driving them crazy (at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix). I was bouncing off the walls, learning to talk, walk. … I’ve had about a 95 percent complete recovery.

“Most of the recovery was about three months, and then I felt functional, and even the little things that weren’t right, I mentally, I said, it’s my Pittsburgh background. That hard-working, steel-curtain mentality. Once I could do anything, I just kept doing everything, and eventually, in order to stay positive getting back on the road and making music, being around my family, my kids, it really was the best rehabilitation ever.

Has your strong connection to music played a role in your recovery?

“Long before my brain hemorrhage, I pick up my acoustic guitar and I play it all the time. I sing songs, write songs, play songs. … And this is the beauty of music. It is the soundtrack to everybody’s everyday life. Meaning: there is a song for every one of us going through any emotion at any given time.”

Speaking of overcoming obstacles, tell me about “Unbroken,” the song you wrote with Jorja.

“First of all, to write in with my youngest daughter. She was just turning 13 going into 14, a tough age to begin with, and she was going through a really tough moment in her life.

“She goes to a school of music and arts, and I said, ‘Let’s sit down at the piano and write what we’re both going through,’ and we bonded as a dad and a daughter. It was an amazing moment. We shot the video very raw, and part of it in the recording studio. We shot in Arizona and Los Angeles both.

“I encourage everyone to check out the video for it and the songs and the lyrics and with that is going to be an entire tour, the’ Unbroken World Tour.’”

How has your songwriting evolved or stayed the same over the last few decades?

“My songwriting has always stayed the same.

“This is how it starts: It’s an emotion, a feeling. It can be a good-time feeling, it can be a drumbeat feeling. If I have a feeling like ‘Every Rose,’ it starts with a deep sigh and an acoustic guitar.

‘Talk Dirty to Me’ and ‘Nothing But a Good Time’ are good party songs, but I always tell people: The toughest song to write is a party song, because you’re having a good time.

“The songs that are the easiest to write directly are the ones that come from the toughest moments in your life. The ones that become the biggest hits are because it’s an exact emotion. You write it exactly, and then people relate to it.

Like, ‘Unbroken’ is not just about what Jorja and I were going through. Everybody goes through stuff, everybody. And you hope that what they do is relate to the song.”

What advice do you have for people who feel like what they’re going through is insurmountable?

“You’ve got to have a fighting spirit and do the best you can with what you’re given.

“There are absolute fights that we have that are much, much tougher than others. All we can do is give it the best we can, but I promise you one thing as a lifelong diabetic, I never allow it to break my spirit.

“I’m a ‘drealist.’ So I’m a dreamer and I’m a realist. And there’s a part of me that realizes some things may be insurmountable, but you still have got to keep your fighting spirit if you’ve got a chance to beat it.”

You’ve said that you considered your dad to be your best friend and lifelong role model, and that it’s been especially tough wanting to reach for the phone to call him after a Steelers win. How have you been coping with losing him?

“We had an amazing military burial, and I took about a week or more, maybe two weeks completely off, just to help my stepmom, to help stepsisters and my sisters and family, to try to mentally adjust to this.

“Every day is tough, but I know my dad is with me in spirit and I love him for all he did for me.

“He was a good host. He liked making people feel good. He liked having a beer with you. He loved this country, loved the freedoms that we were afforded. He fought hard for the freedom of opinion. For everybody’s opinions.”

Do you still keep in touch with any of your childhood friends from Pennsylvania?

“All of them. …. My dad had an amazing way of bringing everybody together. At his funeral, there was hundreds upon hundreds of people, everybody from every different walk of life, all my best friends.

“My dad liked to have some fun and gamble a little. So we threw a big party after the military burial at the racetrack out at Penn National next to the (Hollywood) Casino. We had a celebration of my dad’s life, and we all came together, and I’ll see a lot of them at my shows. From Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philly, everywhere.

With your affection for Pennsylvania, what made you decide to settle in Arizona?

“Everybody’s got to find their place that makes them feel right.

I’m a boots-in-the-dirt kind of guy.

I love people, I love being around people, but when I get my private time on my ranch, on my dirt bikes or quads or walking around … it really spoke to my soul.

Soon after your win on the third season of “Celebrity Apprentice” you praised Donald Trump’s business acumen and said you weren’t surprised he won the 2016 election, then performed at the 2017 inaugural ball, but you’ve have been reluctant to discuss your political takes more recently. Anything to say about the Trump administration?

“I won’t talk politics, but I’ll talk solutions.

“I feel this: If you really want to get stuff done, you’ve got to find solutions. You don’t want to get into political battles because the only people that suffer are the people in need of medical attention, the people in need of education, better jobs.

“I’m volunteering myself. I’m a good negotiator. I’m a get-it-done, solutions type of guy, both parties, all parties. Bring me in and I will help get solutions for the people that need answers.

“The real solutions come from all of us putting away any vetoes, any egos, put those all away and figure out what’s right for the people. … Let’s work on getting it done. Our country is awesome. Let’s all give our opinion and let’s look for a solution.”

From “Rock of Love” to “Rock My RV” to “Life as I Know It,” what have been some of your most and least favorite reality TV experiences?

“I am thankful for people that have watched all the reality TV shows that I have either been on or co-created.

“The girls on ‘Rock of Love’ — three, four seasons of insanity — they were the rock stars, they made that show great.

“To ‘Rock of Love,’ we’re working on a brand-new show now that is going to be awesome, and I’ll talk to you more about it at the beginning of next year. People are going to love it.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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