On Feb. 6, 1962, William Bruce Bailey was born in Lafayette, Ind.
Bailey, like many musicians, had a rather difficult upbringing. His parents split when he was very young, and his biological father molested him before disappearing on the family entirely. Once his mother remarried and had more children, Bailey grew up in a strict religious household. Perhaps the only good that came out of it was that he was given classical piano lessons and sang in the church choir when he was young.
According to Stephen Davis’ Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N’ Roses, Bailey discovered rock and roll one day at school when he heard Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker,” and he would never be the same. He was banned from listening to anything but classical music at home, which only intensified his rebellious desires as he got older.
As a teenager, “Bill” Bailey was a delinquent. He drank, smoked marijuana, dropped out of school and had frequent run-ins with the police. After several arrests throughout his late-teens, he was threatened to be charged as a repeat offender, so he set off for Los Angeles to pursue the dream of being in a rock band.
Following years of fronting different bands, staying at girlfriends’ apartments and acclimating to the Los Angeles street culture, the future star met up with an old friend from Lafayette, Izzy Stradlin. The two decided to take music seriously and went through a handful of lineup changes in bands. It wasn’t until they settled on Duff McKagan, Saul “Slash” Hudson and Steven Adler that the stale, commercial state of rock music would change for the better.
Bailey eventually changed his name to W. Axl Rose, and has since been known as one of the most legendary, talented and volatile frontmen of all time.
Despite all of the original members leaving by the late ’90s, Rose remained the sole consistent warrior in Guns N’ Roses. With a new lineup, he released Chinese Democracy in 2008, and embarked on several tours in the following years. Eventually, he rekindled his relationship with Slash and McKagan, who ended up returning to the band as permanent members in 2016.
Without Rose’s five-octave, eclectic vocal styles and dominant personality, Guns N’ Roses’ legacy would be much less profound today. Scroll through the gallery below to see photos of the iconic singer throughout the years.
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