Shedding drugs, weight and breast implants, Stevie Nicks whirls back
ENTHRONED UPON HER FOUR-poster bed, incense and candles burning as the clock nears midnight, Stevie Nicks nestles into a stack of pillows and tries to remember the last 10 years of her life. It doesn’t come easy: Nicks, the hottest femme in pop’s pre-Madonna firmament of the 1970s, degenerated into a bloated, drugged-out cliché of the era’s rock-and-roll excess. “I know how serious things were, and it scares me to death,” she says. Her nightmarish fall began with a cocaine habit that consumed millions of dollars and burned a hole through the cartilage of her nose. But as the Fleetwood Mac singer reveals for the first time, in a bedroom interview in her sprawling, adobe-style Phoenix home, cocaine was just the start of her long slide into darkness. It seems late in the day to meet the press, but for Nicks the bewitching hour is the right time to conjure up her ghosts: “This is when my life gets going.”
In more ways than one. Nicks, now 49, slimmed-down, drug-free and in her best health in years, has executed a turnaround worthy of her heyday as Fleetwood Mac’s doe-eyed dervish. Enjoying a rebirth of interest in her music and even her over-the-top look—designers Isaac Mizrahi and Anna Sui aped her slit maxis and sky-high platforms in their recent collections—Nicks has been riding a new career high since last May. That’s when her old band regrouped after a seven-year recording hiatus to cut a No. 1 album, Dance, and launch a three-month, sold-out tour. This week, Nicks’s once contentious, newly copacetic Mac mates—her former flame, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, 50, drummer Mick Fleetwood, 50, bassist John McVie, 52, and his ex-wife, keyboardist Christine McVie, 54—are to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during ceremonies in New York City. For Nicks the event will be especially sweet. “Stevie bridges the gap between the powerful rock singers of the ’60s, like Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, and what’s going on today,” says alternative diva Sheryl Crow, echoing a chorus of surprising fans that includes the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and Courtney Love. Adds Crow, who will deliver the induction speech: “She is the woman all young girls wanted to be and all men wanted to be with.”
That proved too heavy a burden for Nicks, who grew up in Northern California as the daughter of a well-traveled executive, Jesse Seth Nicks, and his homemaker wife, Barbara (they now live near Stevie in Phoenix). In 1974, Nicks and Buckingham, her former high school classmate, joined Fleetwood’s struggling blues band, helping to transform it into one of the most successful groups in pop history.
But like others who made the leap to stardom in the 1970s, Nicks fell for cocaine’s allure. Recalls Fleetwood: “Sometimes I worried myself sick about whether she would survive.” His own addiction, he adds, landed him in that “same dark place.” While she remained a member of the band, Nicks launched a solo career with her hit Bella Donna album in ’81. Meanwhile she continued to snort so much coke that in 1986 a plastic surgeon told her, “If you want your nose to remain on your face, stop right now.”
Nicks took his advice, completing a 28-day stint at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., that year. “But after I quit cocaine,” she says, “things got even worse.” She continued to gain weight and looked constantly fatigued. In 1987 friends who feared she would relapse on cocaine persuaded her to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed Klonopin, a powerful tranquilizer to which she became addicted. “The drug changed me from a tormented, productive artist to an indifferent woman,” says Nicks, who became so zonked-out that she barely remembers an entire solo tour in 1989. “I vegetated into my own little world.” While hosting a bridal shower for a friend in late 1993, Nicks crashed into a fireplace and gashed her head but didn’t feel a thing. That scare gave her the courage to face a brutal, 45-day detox. “It would have been so easy for me to call a limo from rehab, go to another hospital and ask for Demerol because I was in so much pain,” she says. “Instead I stood on the edge of the cliff and said, ‘I need to live.’ ”
Back home and drug-free in 1994, Nicks embarked on a six-month solo tour despite weighing 175 pounds and still feeling tired. Described by one critic as “twirling toward oblivion,” Nicks recalls walking off the stage at tour’s end and vowing “I would never sing in front of people again. Singing is the love of my life, but I was ready to give it all up because I couldn’t handle people talking about how fat I was.”
While her growing lethargy had been diagnosed as the effects of Epstein-Barr virus, which causes constant fatigue, Nicks and her mother suspected it might be related to silicone breast implants that she had received in 1976. “Like cocaine, the whole world was getting them back then, and everyone was told they were safe,” Nicks says. “But I’m living proof that they aren’t safe.” Indeed, several doctors advised that removing her implants would be painful and unnecessary, but Nicks had the surgery anyway in 1994. “It turned out they were totally broken,” she says.
With her health restored, Nicks also decided to slim down, and in 1995 she lost 30 pounds on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. When her band-mates called last April suggesting a reunion, Nicks was game. A highlight of the ensuing tour was her performance of her previously unreleased 1977 tune “Silver Springs,” which chronicled the breakups of Nicks and Buckingham’s relationship and the McVies’ marriage. “There was such a multilayered story being told,” drummer Fleetwood says of the song. “It was our moment of high passion. It floored me every night Stevie sang it.”
No old romances were rekindled during the tour, says Nicks, who has remained single since a brief 1983 marriage to Kim Anderson, the grieving husband of her best friend, Robin Stucker, who had died that year of leukemia. Though she has also been involved with rockers Don Henley, Joe Walsh and producer Jimmy Iovine, Nicks says she doesn’t mind being single. “I’m free,” she says. “So when someone starts telling me what to do, it’s like, ‘See ya!’ ” Nicks appears to have cast off her troubles with equal assurance. “I’m so far away from that now, it’s almost like another person,” she says of her stoned past. “I don’t want to be her ever again.”
Steve Dougherty & Todd Gold / People, Vol. 49 No. 2 / January 19, 1998