Page last updated at 01:29 GMT, Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Guns N' Roses' bassist Duff McKagan's 'wake-up call'


Duff McKagan says he was drinking '10 bottles of wine a day' - and that was when he was trying to cut down his alcohol intake

An attack of acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis was the "wake-up call" former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan needed to give up a lifestyle of heavy drinking and drug abuse.

Seventeen years ago at the age of 30, he ended up in hospital when his pancreas swelled to the size of a rugby ball and ruptured, leaking digestive enzymes into his body and causing third-degree burns.

"I found myself getting closer and closer to insanity as my drinking got worse, and my drug intake got worse. I knew something would give," he told the BBC's Hardtalk programme.

"Fortunately for me my pancreas did go, otherwise I might have just drowned in vomit."

He said he had begged the surgeon to kill him, the pain was so bad.

Occurs when the pancreas (a gland in the abdomen) becomes inflamed
Gallstones and excess alcohol are the most common causes
Extremely painful and usually accompanied by vomiting

"When they gave me morphine and the pain didn't go away, that's when I knew I was in real trouble. They did an ultrasound - my pancreas was huge. The surgeon said they would have to cut out part of my pancreas, and that's when I said 'Just kill me'.

"It was a real, real wake-up call. It was a gentle relapse off the alcohol. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and it gave me time to really think about how I got there."

'A good son'

Apart from his doctors telling him he would die if he didn't stop drinking, McKagan says getting well for the sake of his mother was his incentive to finally become sober.

"I'm the last of eight kids, my mother came into the hospital. She had Parkinson's, and her youngest son was in hospital with tubes running in and out of him. I was on my deathbed and I knew the order of things was absolutely wrong.

For the first few months I still had the shakes and I didn't know anybody sober - so I rode my bike, and first of all it was like self-flagellation

"I thought, if nothing else, I will make it better for my Mom. I will try to rise to the occasion of being a good son. That's really what started my whole upward swing."

In 1986 Guns N' Roses were living in a one-room rented flat, with no money - but within a year of that, their best-selling debut album took off and their lives changed.

McKagan said there was no "how to video or manual" to teach him how to deal with this sudden change in lifestyle.

He began drinking heavily because he thought it would help to prevent his panic attacks - which he had suffered from since he was a teenager. At his worst, he says he was drinking "a gallon of vodka a day", and then 10 bottles of wine a day "when I was trying to taper down".

He does not blame rock and roll for his addiction, but says that the band's huge success meant that he did not have "time to address my panic disorder, which was really the root of my drinking and self-medicating".

Thirst for water

After his pancreas had returned to a normal size and he was allowed to leave hospital, he did not go to rehab but instead got into mountain biking.

Duff McKagan performing
McKagan set up his own wealth management company

"For the first few months I still had the shakes and I didn't know anybody sober, so I rode my bike and first of all it was like self-flagellation, I was beating myself for failing my Mom and some of my friends.

"But it also started to make me feel whole, I was drinking water for the first time, I literally didn't drink water for 10 years. I started eating healthy food, and reading books."

He also came across some financial statements from his Guns N' Roses days in his basement which he didn't understand and was too embarrassed to ask anyone to explain to him - but it was another turning point which set him off on a quest to learn about finance.

"I was 30 years old, sober, a millionaire - and I didn't know what a stock or a bond was, and didn't really trust anybody in my industry, so I went to a class at a community college."

He became interested in academia and enrolled at Seattle University - a big step as he had never graduated from high school. Now he writes a regular column for Playboy called Duffonomics and has set up his own wealth management company to help musicians with their finances.

However, he also says that Guns N' Roses could not have made the music they did without the lifestyle they were living. "We had to go out on the edge to get the songs we got... Our first record was all about the life we were leading."

Watch the full interview with Duff McKagan on Wednesday 14 December on BBC World News and the BBC News Channel.

Watch recent episodes online (UK only) or find out who is coming up on the programme by following Hardtalk on Twitter .

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