The Real Runaways: Still Rockin' 30 Years Later

03/21/2010 at 01:15 PM EDT

The Real Runaways: Still Rockin' 30 Years Later
Joann Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford
Dave Allocca/Startraks; Jemal Countess/Getty; Bobby Bank/WireImage
The Runaways, the biopic about the groundbreaking all-girl rock band starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, just opened this weekend – and PEOPLE caught up with real-life members to catch up on their lives 30 years after their split.

Best known for hits like "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise" and controversy-courting style in the days when rock music was dominated by men, the band became an international sensation, inspiring countless artists who followed.

"People would say, 'Girls can't play rock 'n' roll,' because socially, rock 'n' roll is sexual and that was threatening to a wide majority of people," says Joan Jett, who was 16 when she co-founded The Runaways.

Adds Lita Ford: "We were before our time. Lady Gaga, Beyoncé – even though they're not [musically] like us, we led the path for a lot of women in the industry."



Here's what happened after The Runaways' cut ties in 1979:


Guitarist/Singer Joan Jett


After famously being turned down as a solo artist by 23 labels, Jett formed her own Blackheart Records in 1980 and churned out hit after hit including "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," "Crimson and Clover" and "Bad Reputation." Now, more than 20 albums later – including her new greatest-hits CD – she's also acted in films (like Light of Day with Michael J. Fox), TV shows (Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris) and on Broadway (The Rocky Horror Show).

Jett, who's single and a vegetarian, likes to unwind at her beach house in Long Island, N.Y., with cop shows, her guitar, and cats Greta, Stephanie and Dion. The Runaways' legacy, Jett, 51, tells PEOPLE, is simple: "It's about sticking to your dreams. Walk your own way and don't let other people dictate your path."

Guitarist Lita Ford


Post-Runaways, Ford, 51, went solo and enjoyed a reign in the '80s as the queen of metal, earning hits like "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Close My Eyes Forever" with Ozzy Osbourne. She married Nitro singer Jim Gillette, 42, after dating for just two weeks in the '90s and decided to put her career on hold for more than a decade so she could homeschool their sons James, 12, and Rocco, 8, at their island home in the British West Indies.

She returned to the spotlight in 2009 with a new album, Wicked Wonderland – and no regrets. "You can't do interviews while you're trying to teach pages of multiplication, you know?" says Ford, who brings her boys on the road now that they're old enough to appreciate learning about new cultures first-hand. "Rocco visited three [European] countries on his last birthday," says Ford, who's developing a reality show. "How much more educational can you get?"


Singer Cherie Currie


Lead singer Currie, 50, penned the new book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway on which The Runaways is based. After leaving halfway through the band's run, she pursued acting (she co-starred with Jodie Foster in Foxes and Demi Moore in Parasite), conquered a cocaine addiction (she's now sober) and became a drug counselor and personal trainer before marrying Airplane! star Robert Hays, with whom she has a son Jake, 19, a tattoo artist.

After they divorced (she calls him "the best ex-husband in the world"), Currie reinvented herself again by learning a dangerous new craft: chainsaw carving. "Creating art is very personal," she tells PEOPLE. "There are only three things out there: the wood, the saw and me. I just love it."

Bassists Micki Steele, Jackie Fox and Vicki Blue


The Runaways' first bassist, Michael Steele (aka Micki Steele), 54, left after just a few months and in 1983 joined another all-girl group: The Bangles. Then came Jacqueline Fuchs (stage name: Jackie Fox), 50, now an entertainment attorney with a degree from Harvard Law School who also writes an L.A. cat care column for Examiner.com.

Victory Tischler-Blue (aka Vicki Blue) joined the Runaways after Fox left and the two later became friends when Tischler-Blue, a longtime TV producer and director, made the 2004 documentary Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways. Later this year, Tischler-Blue, 50, who raises Andalusian horses on her Palm Springs farm, will release a photography book featuring the animals, Pura Raza Testosterone. Says the producer: "Being in The Runaways just opened up a whole new world for me."

Drummer Sandy West


Sandy West (real name: Sandy Pesavento), who co-founded the band with Jett, died in 2006 at age 47 after a long battle with lung and brain cancer, which followed an even longer struggle with addiction and the law. Despite her struggles, she had a reputation for being a loyal friend and, says sister Ellen Pesavento, a professional violinist, "was the most genuine well-meaning person."

Adds Currie: "She was just a beautiful, beautiful human being who also had problems. Ever since The Runaways broke up, she just couldn't find her footing. She was just the greatest friend you could ever hope for and it will never be the same without her."

For more on Jett, Ford and Currie's lives since the Runaways, check out the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands now.

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