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She's got eyes of the bluest skies as if they thought of rain/ I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain."

Guns N' Roses founder Axl Rose—infamous for heavy metal screeds like "Back Off Bitch"—is generally not known for his love songs. But the raucous rocker's 1988 hit, "Sweet Child O' Mine," was as tender as a power ballad can get. A No. 1 single, Rose's song was written for then girlfriend Erin Everly—a waiflike 22-year-old whose father, Don, had been half of rock's singing Everly Brothers. In 1990, four years after they met, Axl and Erin were married. By Everly's account, however, the couple's duet had dissolved into screams and violent discord long before they made it to the altar. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE done before the O.J. Simpson case focused the nation on domestic violence, Everly describes a pattern of abuse frighteningly similar to the Simpsons' relationship preceding Nicole Simpson's murder. Everly says that throughout her four years with Rose, she suffered regular beatings that left her bruised, bloodied and sometimes unconscious. "You never knew what would set him off," she says.

Like other alleged batterings, the final one, meted out in Rose's West Hollywood luxury condo in November 1990, ended as abruptly as it had begun, with an argument over her cleaning of his CD collection. But this time, Everly says, she did something she'd never done before. "I didn't think I could survive mentally any longer; I was dying inside," she recalls. "At the door I turned around and said, 'I want you to look at me, because you're never going to see me again.' And he never has."

Now, four years later, however, Everly, 28, is indeed hoping to see Rose, 32, at least one more time—in court. In March she filed suit in Los Angeles, charging that he had subjected her to physical and emotional abuse. Everly claims that during his frequent, unpredictable rages, Rose brandished guns, smashed her belongings and yanked telephones from the wall. At one point, she alleges, he removed all the doors inside her apartment so that he could monitor her movements. "I was afraid when he came in, when he left, when he wasn't there," she says.

Rose refused to be interviewed about Everly's accusations, but in court papers he claims that the 5'6", 104-lb. Everly provoked him—Rose is 5'9", 145 lbs.—and that his actions were purely in self-defense. A friend, who agreed to speak for Rose anonymously, concedes that the couple "did have a combative relationship. But," she adds, "Erin portrays herself as the victim and him as the evil aggressor. From what I witnessed, she was the aggressor." Everly, in turn, denies striking Rose. "That was never my reaction, to hit somebody," she says. "I don't even spank my dogs."

Everly launched the suit after being subpoenaed in a court action by Rose's former girlfriend, model Stephanie Seymour. In that case, Rose and Seymour exchange similar charges of physical abuse (see box, page 52). Now waging legal battles on at least two fronts, Rose reportedly plans to take time off from Guns N' Roses, whose last album, The Spaghetti Incident, sold far less than its predecessors and whose fortunes appear to be fading.

Promising futures seemed to await both Axl Rose and Erin Everly when the two met at a party in L.A. in 1986. He was an unknown 24-year-old with a fledgling rock band. Everly, then a 19-year-old Los Angeles native who had moved to New York City at 16 to model for the Wilhelmina agency, quickly fell for the ambitious rocker and moved back to California lo be with him. "It was the first relationship I had had—I felt like we were two people who didn't have much but who had found each other," says Everly of the state of mind both brought to the romance. "I was looking for someone who wanted to get married, have a bunch of children and a station wagon."

Neither she nor Rose had ever had a traditional family life. By his own account, Axl and his younger siblings, Stuart and Amy, had hellish childhoods. According to Axl, he was sexually abused at 2 by his father, William, and allegedly beaten by his strict fundamentalist Christian stepfather, Steve Bailey. Axl, who believes his biological father dead and is estranged from his stepfather, has also said that anger he felt toward his mother, Sharon, contributed to his admitted misogyny. A bright but troubled student who joined the chorus and track team, Rose dropped out of his Lafayette, Ind., high school in his junior year. By 1982, when he moved to L.A. with then girlfriend Gina Siler, 17, he had been arrested four times for minor offenses and placed in a court-ordered alcohol-abuse program.

According to Siler, now 28, Rose was alternately affectionate and abusive during their relationship, which ended three years after the move to L.A. "Tumultuous is putting it mildly," Siler says. "He could be kind and loving, and at other times he was violent and irrational."

As Everly would later be, Siler was moved by Rose's accounts of his early years. "Axl told me [that] when he was a baby, his real dad went insane, and his stepdad was oppressive," she says. "I think he's always had this 'life owes me' attitude."

Everly too had endured a rocky childhood. Beset by drug problems, her father suffered a breakdown in 1963, was later hospitalized and received electroshock treatments. In 1970 he split from second wife Venetia Stevenson, a former actress (1958's Darby's Rangers), with whom he had three children: Erin, sister Stacey, now a 31-year-old California artist and brother Eden, 25 and a musician in L.A. "I never had bad memories of him," says Erin, who was 7 when her parents divorced. "I had no memories."

When Don Everly, pleading poverty, balked at paying child support, Stevenson took work as a clothing designer. In 1974 she moved the family from an upscale Studio City neighborhood to a more modest rented home in L.A., and the children transferred from the exclusive Buckley private school to public schools. A slow learner who suffered from dyslexia, Erin enjoyed being home and playing with her dolls and baby brother and, as she got older, offering emotional support to her mother. "I always felt like I had to look after her," she says. "I'm a caretaker."

She was also a magnet for Rose. After they moved in together in 1986, she continued modeling to pay the rent on their Hollywood apartment. Nights were spent accompanying him to the seedy Sunset Strip bars where he and Guns N' Roses bandmates Saul "Slash" Hudson, boyhood friend Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler (he and Stradlin left the band in the early 1990s) performed. "When you're in love, you want to be with the person every minute," she says. "My life was taking care of Axl."

And a high-maintenance task it was. Guns N' Roses hit big in 1987 with Appetite for Destruction—the biggest-selling (17 million copies) debut album in history—and Rose seemed ill-prepared to handle the pressure. He turned up late for shows and battled with police, security guards, fans and anyone who triggered his temper. Lawyers for ex-bandmate Adler claim their client saw Rose throw a woman down a flight of stairs in 1990 after she refused to have sex with him.

According to Everly, Rose was bringing his tantrums home early on. She can't recall the first time he hit her. "It's like an earthquake where after it's over you think, 'What was that?' " she says of beatings that often began over matters as trivial as stubbing his toe or being awakened by a ringing telephone. "There's so much anger in him. Maybe I was this easy person to take it out on."

As Rose's career took off, Everly's faltered. In 1987 she abruptly canceled one of her last modeling assignments, a lingerie shoot. "She told me [Rose] had dragged her from her apartment and that she had abrasions up and down her body," says her New York City modeling agent, Faith Kates. In the end, says Kates: "it was sad. She'd had this sparkle in her eye, and it was gone."

Like many domestic-violence victims, Everly protected the partner who she now says beat her. When her model friend Taryn Portman called the L.A. police after one violent episode in 1986, Erin told officers it was a false alarm. "I was really torn," Everly says. "Here was my best friend trying to protect me. But there was Axl [hiding behind the door]. My fear was bigger than you can imagine."

According to Everly, Rose had no compunction about abusing her in front of others. Her friend Heidi Rich-man, an independent TV producer, says she witnessed Rose hitting Erin at a crowded 1987 barbecue at a house in the Hollywood Hills. "He was beating her, pulling her hair," says Richman. "He was like a rabid dog.

Despite pleas from friends and her mother to leave Rose, Everly refused. "I always believed things would get better," she says. "And I felt sorry for him. I thought I could make [his early childhood suffering] all better."

On April 27,1990, says Everly, Rose, who by then had moved out of the couple's home and bought a luxury condo above Sunset Strip, showed up at her door unannounced at 4 a.m. As she tells it, he told her he had a gun in the car and that he would kill himself if she didn't marry him. On the long drive to Las Vegas, she says, he promised that he would never hit her again and never divorce her. Twenty-four hours later they look their vows at the Cupid Wedding Chapel. One month later, says Everly, Rose first threatened divorce. And two months after that, he beat her so badly she was hospitalized.

While Everly was in the hospital, he sparked a reconciliation by moving her belongings into his condo. Domestic bliss, if it ever materialized, was short-lived. By then, Everly says, she was forbidden to see her friends and Rose, who had become a wealthy man, refused to give her money or even a door key; she claims that he often locked her out, then gave her permission to return only when he felt like it. Says Everly: "I used to go into the bathroom to cry. I'd turn the water on so he couldn't hear me, because that would set him off too."

In September 1990, Everly learned that she was pregnant. "This was all I wanted," she says. "I thought it could have been a cure for Axl." If so, it didn't take: Everly says that Rose's elation quickly soured and that he threw her out of the condo and threatened to take the baby. When she miscarried in her third month, Everly had to sell her Jeep to cover medical costs. As Everly recuperated, Rose trashed the house in the Hollywood Hills they had been preparing to move into, causing $100,000 in damages.

Everly had finally had enough. In November of that year—after suffering that last beating, she says—she walked. "I'd lost everything," she says. "I had no more fight and no more compassion for the abuse he had gone through."

After the breakup (the marriage was annulled in January 1991), Rose continued to try to contact Everly for more than a year, she says, sending her flowers, letters and even caged birds. Everly, who received no financial settlement and camped with friends and family, sold her wedding rings for cash and in 1991 rented her own condo in the San Fernando Valley. "One day the phone rings," she says. " 'Hello, it's Axl.' I moved the next day."

In 1992 she briefly dated Donovan Leitch, son of '60s troubadour Donovan; she also began psychotherapy. Ironically, Rose too began therapy around the same time, admitting in interviews that he was manic-depressive. "I'm trying to channel my energy in more positive ways," he said in 1991, "but it doesn't always work."

Last year, Everly began seeing actor David Arquette, 22, brother of actresses Rosanna and Patricia. At first Everly was so skittish she'd flinch if Arquette moved suddenly. "I don't know how many times I've had to tell her, 'I'm not going to hit you,' " he says.

Although Arquette encouraged her "to stand up and talk about" her ordeal, it wasn't until Seymour's lawyers subpoenaed Everly to testify about her experiences with Rose that Everly began to feel she was a victim. "She [thought], 'It was my fault; he's not abusing Stephanie,' " recalls Taryn Portman. "So when [that] case became public, that did a lot of healing."

Rose's camp believes Everly is pressing the suit for monetary gain, but Erin, who lives in L.A. with support from family members, insists she merely wants to put the traumatic relationship with Rose behind her. And though Arquette, now her steady, contends that Everly still fears Rose, she asserts that she no longer feels helpless. "It's not a matter of winning or losing," she says of the suit, which her lawyer hopes will be heard within the year. "I would like to give [Rose] back this pain. It doesn't have to be my burden anymore."

STEVE DOUGHERTY
KRISTINA JOHNSON and LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Kristina Johnson,
  • Lorenzo Benet.