Local Boy Makes Good

11/14/2002 at 12:00 PM EST

Jon Bon Jovi is not a man who can afford to be late for a show. Buckled into his black Dodge Viper on a Thursday afternoon, he roars out of the garage of his home, an imposing limestone residence that resembles a French château plunked down in central New Jersey. He shifts into high gear and in less than 10 minutes pulls into the parking lot of the local elementary school. He dashes into the principal's office to get a visitor's pass, which he slings around his neck.

"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.

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