Browse through the annals of rock history, and you’ll find, just right of the spotlight, the women with whom the most famous and sexually appealing men of the era chose to spend time.
Often, it seems, those women were underage — girls, not women.
Pop culture’s fascination with teenagers is nothing new. Chuck Berry released “Sweet Little Sixteen” in 1958. The Beatles’ opening track on their debut album, “I Saw Her Standing There,” begins with the line, “She was just 17 / You know what I mean?” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” idealizes future sexual potential (“Those little eyes so helpless and appealing / One day will flash and send you crashing through the ceiling”). And for some reason, many of the rich, powerful rock stars, who in their sexual primes could presumably sleep with anyone they chose, gravitated toward girls not old enough to drive.
Some of the girls — who are now grown women — linked to the men on this list have steadfastly maintained that their relationships with rock stars were consensual and overall positive experiences in their lives. Others say the opposite. Thinking about these relationships raises a number of questions about how we interact with the art in our lives. Is it ethical to enjoy music made by an awful person? Are all 25-year-olds who sleep with people under the age of 18 awful people? Should every case of statutory rape be equal in the court of public opinion? How old should teenagers be before society grants them complete sexual agency? Why do we view an average 25-year-old man who sleeps with a 14-year-old girl differently when the 25-year-old man is extremely famous?
What would you do if you knew a mid-20s man who was in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 14- to a 16-year-old girl?
Here are 11 rock stars who have been linked to underage women.
As we detailed after Bowie’s death, David Bowie had strong links to the Baby Groupies of Los Angeles, and famous groupie Lori Maddox (often spelled Mattix) has repeatedly told the story of how she lost her virginity to Bowie when she was just 14. (Bowie was in his mid-20s.) Maddox has told the story many times over the years, and the details remain the same: Bowie pursued her, but she initially rejected him. Then months later she and fellow underage groupie Sable Starr ended up in a hotel room with Bowie, and the rock star took Maddox into a bathroom and took a bath with her and then had sex with her. The two would later have a threesome with Starr. It’s worth noting that Maddox doesn’t have any regrets about her experience with Bowie, noting that she would continue to see him on and off for 10 years after their first sexual encounter. “I feel like I was very present,” Maddox told phicklephilly. “I saw the greatest music ever. I got to hang out with some of the most amazing, most beautiful, most charismatic men in the world. I went to concerts in limos with police escorts. Am I going to regret this? No.”
Lori Maddox lost her virginity to David Bowie, but he wasn’t the only rock star she would sleep with during her groupie days. In fact, she is better known for her relationship with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. In her words, Page had Zeppelin manager Richard Cole “kidnap” her (Cole is also known as the man responsible for the infamous Zeppelin “mud shark” incident.) Maddox was just 14 when their relationship started; Page was 28.
“What happened is that I was kidnapped, literally,” Maddox said once in a documentary. “He told me was going to be with me, and I said no, he wasn’t, and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then we all ended up at the Rainbow [Bar and Grill], and Richard Cole says to me, ‘Get in the bloody car and if you move, I’ll have your head.’ Next thing you know I’m at the [Hyatt House] hotel, and I’m walking down the hall, and next thing you know, I’m pulled into this door . . . And I turned around and, look, there was Jimmy sitting in the corner of the room with a hat and a cane saying, ‘I told you I’m gonna have you.'”
Apparently, Page’s flair for dramatics didn’t end on the guitar. He and Maddox would continue to see each other for the next few years, though he tightly controlled Maddox’s movements when they were together.
“He always left me with his security locked in the room. I wasn’t really allowed to go very many places with him,” she claimed.
Nevertheless, Maddox doesn’t seem to see herself as a victim. Quite the contrary. She speaks graciously of her time with rock stars and fondly recalls their time together.
“It was worth every minute, truly,” she says. “He was a beautiful person and he touched my life, deeply.”
This one is dark. R. Kelly was a rising producer when he met teenage singer Aaliyah Haughton. He became the producer and lead songwriter for her debut album. He illegally married Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 14 and he was more than a decade her senior. He even had the guts to name her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. “The marriage was quickly annulled once Aaliyah’s family and the public found out,” reported the Chicago Sun-Times, but more troubling allegations involving underage girls would continue to pile up around Kelly. In 2002, Chicago prosecutors charged Kelly with 21 counts related to child pornography, mostly revolving around one sex tape involving a then-35-year-old Kelly and a 14-year-old girl that included intercourse, fellatio, and urination. Yes, this is the incident Dave Chappelle mercilessly ridiculed on his Comedy Central show in 2003, but you have to remember — there was a real 14-year-old girl in that video, according to her friend’s testimony at the trial. The charges against Kelly did not result in a conviction.
Journalist Jim DeRogatis was the pop music critic at the Sun-Times when someone anonymously shipped two sex tapes starring R. Kelly to the paper. When DeRogatis described the case against R. Kelly to our former sister paper Village Voice two years ago, he used the descriptor “stomach-churning.”
“Dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing lawsuits,” he said. “The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his ‘gift.’ It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!”
Ted Nugent released a song in 1981 called “Jailbait.” Here are some of the lyrics:
“Well, I don’t care if you’re just 13 / You look too good to be true / I just know that you’re probably clean.”
“It’s quite all right, I asked your mama / Wait a minute, officer / Don’t put those handcuffs on me / Put them on her, and I’ll share her with you.”
Yeah, sure, the lyrics are creepy, especially the part about asking a girl’s parents for permission to “share” their daughter with a police officer in order to evade arrest. But what’s even creepier is how those lyrics mirrored real life. Nugent couldn’t legally marry 17-year-old Pele Massa in 1978, so he arranged with her parents to become her legal guardian. They would stay together for nine years, and Nugent would say that at the time he was “addicted to girls.”
At least the one underage groupie who slept with David Bowie proclaims no regrets. Such is not the case with Steven Tyler.
Julia Holcomb had just turned 16 when she met the Aerosmith singer at a concert in Portland, Oregon. She had not lived a happy life before meeting him. Her father abandoned her mother early on, and her younger brother died in a car accident when she was 13.
She was in a fragile place when a 24-year-old woman befriended her, dressed her in revealing clothing, and got them backstage at an Aerosmith concert.
Holcomb tells this account in a 5,000-word essay on Life Site, an anti-abortion blog with an obvious agenda. Perhaps as a result, she skips the details of how she and Tyler met and skips to her mother granting Tyler guardianship over her, the reason being so that he could bring her on tour with him over state lines.
Tyler ended up impregnating her, and by her account, they almost ended up married. Things soured, however, and Tyler pressured her to get an abortion at five months, one week before the legal limit. She went through with it, moved home, and except for a few phone calls, never heard from Tyler again.
“In spite of everything, I do not hate Steven Tyler, nor am I personally bitter,” Holcomb writes. “I pray for his sincere conversion of heart and hope he can find God’s grace.”
Jerry Lee Lewis
Yes, it was 1958. But even back then, a 22-year-old marrying his 13-year-old cousin while still married to another woman was scandalous. And yet that’s exactly what Jerry Lee Lewis, one of rock ’n’ roll’s most important pioneers, did. It was in 1958 when British journalists learned of the tender young age of Myra Gale Brown, and the ensuing uproar caused Lewis to cancel his tour and spoiled his chance to dethrone Elvis as the king of rock.
There’s one detail that is particularly unsettling: When Brown moved out of her parent’s house to join Lewis on tour, she packed her belongings in the only container she had — her dollhouse.
“It’s been as if my life has gone on without my permission. I have been a bystander in my life,” she told the Philadelphia Enquirer in 1989.
At 14, the couple had a child, who would die in a swimming pool accident three years later. Lewis’s infidelity and drug use further strained the marriage, and they got divorced in 1971. Lewis, who is still alive, married for a seventh time in 2012. He kept it in the family again — she was reportedly his cousin’s ex-wife.
Here’s an interesting bit of music trivia — who is Marvin Gaye speaking to in “Let’s Get It On”? The answer is Janice Hunter, Gaye’s second wife and father to two of his children. They met when Hunter was 17, and according to Hunter’s 2015 memoir, After the Dance, Gaye took her out to dinner and bribed the waiter $20 to serve his underage companion apricot sours.
They began an intense sexual relationship, according to Hunter. She quickly learned of Gaye’s possessive side.
“I don’t want to share you,” she says he told her. “There are all those strapping young high school football players looking to love on you. They’re my competitors.”
As an aside, Hunter was the part of Marvin Gaye’s estate that successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for plagiarism, prying more than $7 million from the two musicians’ hands.
No one cares about the bass player if the bass player doesn’t sing, even if that band is the Rolling Stones. Perhaps that’s why no one seems to know or care that Wyman began a sexual relationship with a teenage girl in the mid-’80s.
Mandy Smith told the Daily Mail that she began hitting the English club scene at a young age, where she eventually ran into Wyman. The two began a relationship when she was 13 and he was in his 30s, and it became sexual when she was 14. They married in 1989 to much fanfare, when Smith was 18, but just two years later would get divorced. In an added wrinkle, Wyman’s son from his first wife ended up marrying Smith’s mother.
When the Daily Mail writer asked Smith whether it’s appropriate for a teenage girl to marry a much older man, Smith reacted strongly.
“‘It’s not about being physically mature. It’s emotional maturity that matters,” she said. “I don’t think most 16-year-olds are ready. I think the age of consent should be raised to 18 at a minimum, and some girls aren’t even ready then.”
The King of rock can thank Jerry Lee Lewis’ libido for disrupting a challenge to the throne, but Presley wasn’t without his own girl problems. Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ wife, was just 14 when the couple met. The King’s attention quickly overwhelmed her, and by age 17 she was living with Elvis in Graceland. His demands eventually overwhelmed her personality.
“I was someone he created,’ she told the Daily Mail in 2010. “I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”
Alanna Nash compiled tales from Elvis’ lovers in a 2010 book, Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him. In the New York Times‘ review of the book, Janet Maslin noted that the book contains a series of pictures of Elvis’ girlfriends, who all share one unsettling physical trait.
“The pictures tell a powerful story,” Maslin writes. “He worked his way through a lifetime’s worth of women who looked like his brown-haired, soulful-eyed mother, Gladys.”
The same review quotes Lamar Fike, a close associate of Elvis, with this observation of Elvis’ fixation with Priscilla:
“I’ll give you Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla in a nutshell. You create a statue. And then you get tired of looking at it,” Fike told Nash.
Iggy Pop was one of baby groupie Sable Starr’s many celebrity lovers. There’s no ambiguity here — besides the many pictures of the two together, Iggy wrote a song, “Look Away,” from the 1996 album Naughty Little Doggy, about their relationship. “I slept with Sable when she was 13 / Her parents were too rich to do anything / She walked her way around L.A. / Till a New York Doll carried her away.”
(Starr moved to New York City to live with New York Dolls member Johnny Thunders at age 16, and their relationship ended in a torrent of abuse. “After I was with him, I just wasn’t Sable Starr anymore. He really destroyed the Sable Starr thing. Se made me throw away all my diaries and all my phone numbers down the incinerator, and he ripped up my scrapbook,” she says in Please Kill Me: the Uncensored Oral History of Punk.)
Now, Iggy Pop is about 10 years Sable’s elder. “Look Away” is a mournful song, a blurry reminiscence through a hazy lens. Iggy seems to carry a little shame at how he treated Sable, and how when he saw a nasty situation developing between the teenager and the New York Doll, he simply ignored it — looked away.
“I found her in a back street with her looks half gone / she was sellinsomething that I was on,” he sings. He later concludes the story, “So a few years later Thunder died broke / Sable had a baby back at her folks / Me, I went straight and serious too / There wasn’t much else that I could do.”
Lori Maddox relates a story about having BDSM-flavored sex with Jagger when she was 17.
“I remember being 17 and hanging out at the Record Plant in LA. I was friends with the owner and everybody recorded there. I saw three of the Beatles with Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder having this great jam session. But then Mick started fighting with McCartney or Lennon over who would sing on a particular song. Mick got pissed off. He took me to one of the bondage-themed bedrooms that the studio had. Mick said, “Let’s go fuck and get high.” We did blow all night and talked and hung out until the morning. We tried to have sex all night, but, at a certain point, he couldn’t get hard anymore. We were both very high. Another time, Mick [had me] on a bathroom floor while Bianca was getting ready for surgery. The sex was very consensual.”
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