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How Mick Mars Learned To Live With Ankylosing Spondylitis

Written by Torrey Kim
Posted on September 8, 2023

Living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) sometimes means dealing with serious pain on the job, and for Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars, this has been particularly true. The movements of a guitar player aren’t easy, but Mars rocked on stage for decades while entertaining crowds during grueling stadium tours.

Some people with spondylitis may feel isolated, but it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone with this form of arthritis. Between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to have spondylitis, and Mars’ story is proof that even rock stars have to find a way to live with this condition.

A Diagnosis at Age 27

Mick Mars was a co-founder and lead guitarist of rock band Mötley Crüe, along with Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, and Vince Neil. The heavy metal band released its first album in 1981 and quickly found fame, which meant live performances were a significant part of life for the musicians. Unfortunately, that didn’t take long to become a problem for Mars, whose real name is Robert Alan Deal.

He recalled dealing with sharp pain in his tailbone starting around the age of 14, which later spread throughout his body. “I remember telling a friend that my back was hurting so bad that it felt like I had a hole in my stomach, and stomach acid was burning my insides,” he told Rolling Stone magazine. “I grabbed a hold of a doorknob and said, ‘Pull on me as hard as you can.’ But my back wouldn’t crack, and the pain kept getting worse. My whole body started to bend. It made me look older than I already was.”

The guitar player continued performing world tours through the pain, which grew increasingly more serious. “My hips started hurting so bad every time I turned my body that it felt like someone was igniting fireworks in my bones,” he wrote in the band’s biography, “The Dirt.” “I didn’t have enough money to see a doctor, so I just kept hoping that I could do what I usually do: will it away, through the power of my mind. But it kept getting worse.”

He was ultimately diagnosed with AS when he was 27, just a few years after the band launched.

Persevering and Touring the World

Mars knew he wanted to continue performing following his AS diagnosis, mainly when he learned that the condition’s symptoms typically don’t affect the hands or feet — which meant he could keep playing guitar, with accommodations.

Anyone living with AS knows it’s helpful to find ways to compensate for the condition’s symptoms, which may mean changing the way you move or do your job. Mars appears to be no different. Although most guitarists in the 1980s employed theatrics as part of their playing, jumping around the stage to entertain the crowds, Mars focused more on his technical skills.

Movement is believed to help ease the symptoms of AS, which could be one of the reasons Mars was able to keep touring for decades after his diagnosis. However, eventually, the symptoms of the condition caught up with him.

“My spine is now one solid bone,” he said, noting that he’s 3 inches shorter than he used to be and can no longer turn his head. “It feels like there’s a 40-pound cinder block tied to my forehead with string at all times, pulling it down.”

Mars is now 72 and no longer tours with the band. In 2004, he underwent a hip replacement and swims to stay mobile. Others who know him have applauded his positive attitude in the face of living with spondylitis.

“We have watched Mick manage his AS for decades, and he has always managed it with utmost courage and grace,” his bandmates said following news of his retirement.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. Here, more than 93,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

Have you seen Mick Mars performing with Mötley Crüe? Do you know of any other entertainers with spondylitis? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on September 8, 2023

A MySpondylitisTeam Member

will everyone who has AS end up with a fused spine? wont biologics prevent that? very discouraging

posted April 13
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Torrey Kim is a freelance writer with MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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