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- November 25, 2002
- Vol. 58
- No. 22
Local Boy Makes Good
These Days Music Is Mostly a Night Job for Jon Bon Jovi, Just Another Hardworking (and Rocking) Family Man
"Good afternoon, Mr. Bongiovi," a secretary calls after him. (Even in rock star mufti of black jeans, leather jacket, boots and shades, this is still a place where he goes by his given last name.) He bounds up the auditorium aisle two steps at a time and lets out a big sigh of relief as he takes a seat beside his wife, Dorothea, who dandles their 6-month-old, Jacob. Just in time: The lights dim, and 9-year-old Stephanie Rose Bongiovi—blonde and blue-eyed like her father—steps onstage to begin Mrs. Taylor's annual fourth-grade stage production. Stephanie plays a parent trying to teach her child to appreciate classical music. "Even though it's not rock and roll," Stephanie says, "it can still fill your soul!"
Both parents applaud and laugh. "For too many years," says the rocker, "there were too many plays I missed when I was on the road. I just couldn't miss one more." Even now, planning a globe-hopping tour to promote Bounce, his band's eighth studio album, he has plenty of home visits inked into his calendar. "The band used to tour and miss who knows how many Christmases and Thanksgivings," says his brother and former road manager Matthew Bongiovi, 28. "Now it's 'I'm home for the holidays.' "
After nearly 20 years heading the band that bears his name, the 40-year-old Bon Jovi is, along with close-by neighbor Bruce Springsteen and U2's Bono, a member of that small society of aging-but-blazing singers who've learned how to stoke fans while keeping the home fires burning. They can rock—or rock-a-bye a new baby. Bon Jovi has been married for 13 years to Dorothea Hurley, but they've been together since they were at Sayreville War Memorial High School in the late '70s. Now they have three children: Stephanie, baby Jacob and Jesse, 7, a second-grader and Pop Warner football player. "I jokingly used to say my house was the singer's house—it was all me, me, me," says Bon Jovi. "No more. Now it's all about kids. I'm right below Copper"—their dog, a German shepherd mix.
Until the day before, the household had been bigger by two foster children, who have now moved to their grandparents' custody after a two-month stay. "I was doing a lot of homework," says Bon Jovi, who admits he was never much of a student (he had formed his first band by 14). "Dorothea knew the kids through the school system. She wouldn't let them be in an orphanage or a home with strangers."
According to her brother-in-law, that's because Dorothea, like Bon Jovi, is a lifelong New Jerseyan—which apparently is something like being a Soprano, only without the crime. "Being from here, everyone knows everybody," says Matthew, who grew up with brothers Jon and Anthony, 36, a video director, in a working-class Italian Catholic family in Sayreville. "You go to your local watering hole. You go to the Jersey shore. When you're from here, and if you don't forget it, it will keep you strong."
And grounded. "We live a normal life," says Dorothea, 40. "Mornings, Jon's making scrambled eggs, and the kids are getting up. Then we'll drive them to school. On Saturdays we all lie on the couch, eat junk food and watch football."
Then again, life can never be totally normal given Dad's workload the past few years—everything from writing new songs with guitarist and longtime buddy Richie Sambora to campaigning for Al Gore ("He's much warmer than he appears to be") to addressing students at (of all places) Oxford University ("I told them to make their plans in pencil because they are gonna change") to acting on TV and in film and even collaborating on a screenplay. (Nearly completed, it's called One Wild Night and is a presumably not autobiographical tale about wife-swapping.) "You have to study to learn how to write a script," he says. "You have to read books on it." Says Matthew: "There is not five minutes of downtime in his life." Bon Jovi gives all the credit to his wife, who runs the house with a staff of 10 and conducts karate classes (she has a fourth-degree black belt) at her own studio. "She's incredibly confident and independent." Asked if he would like a fourth child, he laughs. "I barely have time to make another baby."
Times are surprisingly flush for the band Bon Jovi, which he founded in 1983. Although there have been occasional hiatuses and slack periods for the foursome—which includes Sambora, keyboard player David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres—Bon Jovi's lusty, upbeat blend of pop metal has surged back in popularity in the past few years, a dinosaur that survived the age of grunge and other trends. "Tell me where Pearl Jam's record is these days," says Bon Jovi. "A new generation found the optimism and found reason to make the songs theirs." When the band played at a live NFL season kickoff concert in Times Square in September, 500,000 fans turned out to hear them (okay, Enrique Iglesias and Eve performed too). Heading off to repeat the set during halftime that night at Giants Stadium, "we flew over in six choppers and looked down at a traffic jam like I'd never seen. That's when it hit me. We caused one hell of a traffic jam that day."
That surely reflected in part the goodwill the singer generated with his support for 9/11 causes. He sang on the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon and album and performed at a Manhattan firehouse. "If I knew a family and I could help in some way, I did," says Bon Jovi, who sings about the country's post-9/11 resilience in some of the songs on Bounce. A huge flag remains draped over his front door.
The gratifying gridlock also owes something to Bon Jovi's shrewd move into acting, where he has capitalized on his romantic appeal. Call it a second career should the music thing not work out. "I'll never be the fat Elvis," he says about his rock and roll future. "I won't ever drag the name of the band down to where we're playing state fairs. I'll make movies, or I'll learn how to mow the lawn."
After all, the body is still lean and muscular—he runs daily and hits the weights up to five times a week—and the hair is blond and full, if less elaborately highlighted and blow-dried than when Bon Jovi the band was at its peak with albums like 1986's Slippery When Wet. (The trademark cut was created by his father, John Bongiovi, 63, a hairstylist and ex-Marine.) Starting with tiny movies like 1995's Moonlight and Valentino, he has recently made more of a dent, costarring with Matthew McConaughey in 2000's U-571 and playing Calista Flockhart's boyfriend in the final season of Ally McBeal. Nothing in two years of acting lessons prepared him for one of his first scenes, in which the quirkily neurotic Ally sniffed his backside: "But I'm sure the scene was much harder on Calista than on me." He prefers movies. "I really don't want to spend five years tied to a series."
With his family in the Jersey 'burbs, the dependably steady steamroll of the band—"It's this huge machine we built," says Sambora, 43—and a steady acting career growing in Hollywood, Bon Jovi pretty much breezed through the dreaded 4-0 birthday March 2, celebrated by Dorothea with a "vicars or tarts" costume party at which guests dressed as priests or prostitutes. "He's very satisfied with the place he's at in his life," says Dorothea, a L'Oreal chemist's daughter who once upon a time sat next to him in history class (he copied her notes). She's been at his side ever since, says Matthew, "from watching him flipping burgers at the mall to getting a record deal to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world," selling an estimated 93 million albums.
One thing she has noticed over the years, Dorothea says, is that "he's developed more of a sense of humor. Now, when he'll crack a joke, I'll say, 'Oh, my God, who are you and what have you done with my husband?' " And, says his brother, he's mature and sensible enough that he no longer needs a driveway full of expensive toys: "Early on he had the motorcycle, the Ferrari, the classic cars. He got rid of them. He said, 'How many times can you really drive a Ferrari in Jersey?' "
The deepest change came with the children. "You think you're in love when you're a kid and you meet your wife and get married, but you know you're in love after you have a child," says Bon Jovi, who was in the delivery room for each of the births. "I was elated, overcome with joy." Says Dorothea: "The happiest I ever see Jon is with those kids."
On this recent afternoon, though, the kids aren't in sight—Stephanie's play is over, and she and Jesse are still at school—as Bon Jovi conducts a tour of his mansion and 16-acre waterfront estate. The interior of this 19,000-sq.-ft. home, where he and Dorothea have lived since 1999, is decorated not in Jersey modern but expensive 17th-century French: marble tables, gilded lamps and varnished settees. "This couch is 230 years old," says Bon Jovi, as he gingerly settles down on the worn, fragile fabric. "I've never sat on it before. And this will probably be the last time I sit on it." He leaps up to push a button: A French tapestry rises up to reveal a built-in projection booth. Another button: An 18-by-10-ft. screen rises from the floor. (Friday night is usually movie night for the family.) The estate also includes a recording studio and an English-style pub, where on Saturday nights he likes to shoot pool with childhood pals. "The barkeep," says Bon Jovi, "is yours truly."
So much planning was involved in the two years it took to build their dream home, says Dorothea, "everyone said, 'You're going to be divorced by the time you finish.' But we agreed on 99 percent of everything." In fact, she adds, "we agree on a lot of things."
"Dorothea is Jon's mirror," says Sambora, who has known Bon Jovi since the band's inception. "When you get to a place where you are as big as he is, you need people who will tell you the truth. He can look in his wife's eyes and get the truth." (The L.A.-based guitarist, of course, has his own reflection: actress Heather Locklear, 41, whom he wed in 1994. The two couples don't have a chance to spend much time together, he says, but "Heather and Dorothea dig each other a lot—amen.")
Dorothea certainly doesn't kid herself about the potential pitfalls of living with a sex-symbol rocker. "I've literally had women crawl over me to get to the band," she says. "But I'm also...I don't know if it's stupid enough or smart enough...to think he's going to come home to me at the end of the day. So I'm not going to sit and bite my nails and get gray hair over it." Bon Jovi, visibly annoyed by the topic, says he knows how to avoid temptation. "Rock and roll is a business of excess—there is nothing I can't get two of," he says, getting heated in his own defense. "If I wanted two pizzas, I could get it. If I wanted two women, I could get it. But I don't need two pizzas. And I don't need two girls. And it would be nobody's business if I decided I wanted to eat both of those pizzas by myself anyhow."
One of the few times she came close to snapping, Dorothea admits, was when her husband, back from shooting Ally McBeal in L.A., announced that he wanted to work on his music—and almost scuttled her plans for a 10-day vacation. "I wanted him to take a break and be with the baby and have the family come together," says Dorothea, who had just given birth to Jacob. "I usually never have a meltdown, but that was one of the only times I put my foot down and said, 'I'm telling you now, I'm going to be mad....' "
"There's no manual for this," says Bon Jovi. "When we brought Stephanie home nine years ago, we were by ourselves with this thing, and we didn't know how it worked. Where do the batteries go, where's the warranty? That's what you try to figure out as a couple. You do what you can, and if you screw up, you beg forgiveness."
Now Dorothea has brought Jacob into the room. Bon Jovi gives the baby a cuddle and his wife a squeeze around the waist as Copper bounds in.
"What time are we picking up the kids?" he asks.
"About 3," she answers, as Bon Jovi gives Copper a pat.
"Now that," Bon Jovi says, "is the laziest, luckiest dog who ever lived!"
Natasha Stoynoff in Middletown, N.J.
- Natasha Stoynoff.
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