Sunset Marquis: Secrets of Rock 'n' Roll's Wild Hotel

The Black Crowes at the Sunset Marquis
The Black Crowes at the Sunset Marquis
 Getty Images

Flea's rooftop cannonball, David Lee Roth's roomful of cocaine: Delicious (and sometimes debauched) tales of excess from the music industry's legendary hangout.

Gruen: I arrived there with The Clash on their first tour. As we walked into the hotel, Mick Jones dropped his bag and put out his arms and said, “Honey, I’m home!”

Des Barres: We used to get rooms together on the same floor, and the middle doors were always open. It was like that scene from A Hard Day’s Night where all the Beatles go to their four suburban homes but when they get inside it’s a palace. Except with us it was the most disgusting, lotus-eating bacchanalia -- maids lying on the beds with a joint and some inept working-class bass player on top of her.

Martin Lewis, producer: The first night I stayed there, in 1982, my TV wasn’t working. I tried phoning the front desk, but no one answered. So I stormed down to the lobby to remonstrate. The guy behind the desk was stoned out of his head. “My TV isn’t working!” I snapped. “Well, throw it in the pool, dude,” was his reply. I was sold. This was my hotel. It was like that scene in The Producers where Zero Mostel exclaims, “That’s our Hitler!”

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Wilson: If you’re a newcomer rock person, it can be a really exciting place to be. Jeff Beck by the pool, Jimmy Page in the restaurant, Keith Richards at the bar. It’s this crossroads.

Dennis Arfa, agent (Rod Stewart, Shakira): You can be stuck there for two hours, running into people. But it goes both ways. Sometimes you’re stuck running into people you don’t want to run into.

Frankie Banali, Quiet Riot: I ran into Ozzy, and he asked if I would be interested in auditioning for his band. Ozzy had been enjoying a bit of the drink and I really didn't think he was serious. He wanted to meet at the Sunset Marquis at 8 a.m. Seeing that it was now 4:30 in the morning I agreed fully expecting that there was no way Ozzy would make the meeting. I later heard that Ozzy and Sharon did indeed appear for breakfast, and I was a no-show.

T.C. Conroy, publicist: I first came through with Peter Gabriel when he had that big hit, “Sledgehammer.” You never knew who you were going to run into. I was having lunch with Joan Jett outside by the swimming pool and Robert Plant comes up and Bruce Springsteen is sitting at a table across from us. And Grace Jones would come sweeping through, and it’s like, just another lunch at the Sunset Marquis.

Sebastian Bach, Skid Row: One time I was looking down at the pool from my room and saw Dusty [Hill] from ZZ Top. I was staring at his long beard when this 5-year-old girl showed up and they started talking. He put her on his knee, and for a minute there it really looked like Santa Claus talking to her.

Lauper: Roy Scheider use to sit outside in the sun. His skin was like a lizard’s.

Lewis: In those pre-cell phone days, Scheider would lie on a chaise lounge outside his room with a telephone on a long extension. He looked like something from the baggage department at Bloomingdale’s. Once every hour he would plunge gracefully into the pool to cool off. One day Chris Chappel, tour manager for Bruce Springsteen, and I set up a ghetto blaster on a second-floor balcony and waited patiently for Scheider to take his hourly dip and then, when he dove into the pool, we blasted the theme from Jaws. Roy was not amused.

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Gruen: I watched a movie one night with James Woods starring as a real estate agent who becomes this crazed coke addict, and he’s really scary. And the next morning I walked out of my room by the pool and there he was, reading a newspaper right in the next chair. I wanted to go back in my room and hide.

Bryan Rabin, event producer: I was having a lunch meeting, and I looked up and sitting at three different tables were Martin [Gore] from Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson and Liza Minnelli. That kind of sums up the Sunset Marquis for me.

Lauper: You really had the sense that there was a community of artists that stayed there.

Julian Lennon: My introduction was on my first world tour, in ’86. You very much felt that it was a home away from home because even if you were heading to L.A. on your own, without question you would run into somebody you know within the first hour of being there.

Navarro: There were always the same familiar faces. It was like if you took Warhol’s Factory and the set of Cheers and fused them together.

Dierks Bentley, country singer: Everyone’s looking for a little time by the pool. Everyone lets their guard down. You strike up these great conversations.

Conroy: When Dave [Gahan, Depeche Mode’s singer] and I were staying there as a married couple, our bungalow had an adjoining wall with Whitney Houston. And she was rehearsing in her room so loud and for so long that it was driving David crazy. He was like, “Shut it down!” So you’d have these battles of the guy from Depeche Mode trying to shut down Whitney Houston.

Lennon: Steven Tyler and I wrote the song “Someday” in the first-on-the-right, ground-floor villa, which is my favorite. And Tyler was staying above me. He would come back from the studio and play mixes at full blast at 3 in the morning. And you think I would be used to that, but let me tell you: After a while, I did need some earplugs.

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Rob Halford, Judas Priest: I had a boombox feud with a guest next door who was pounding metal through the wall behind my bed. Game on! I’d recently purchased the biggest and loudest one, and so turning it up past 11 and jamming the speaker to the wall, the entire room started shaking. A few moments later, the guest’s volume declined with a whimper, and the metal god claimed victory!

Conroy: When you stay at the bungalows, you park your car kind of in tandem with your neighbors sometimes. And Dave and I were smoking way too much weed, and he got paranoid when Gene Hackman was parking his car at the same time. Dave thought he was stalking him.

Rod Gruendyke, general manager: When I started there, three different times in the first week I walked into rooms that had the gas left on the stoves -- rockers were using them to light their cigarettes and then walking away. The first thing I did was pull out the gas lines for the kitchens in the hotel. It scared me to death.

Gruen: With rock ’n’ roll people, there’s a lot of parties, late-night things going on. And the hotel basically didn’t bother you unless you were really bothering them.

M. Rosenthal: Steven Tyler told me the Sunset Marquis felt safe. All of the wild things that were going on in the industry, people felt like it was a safe environment to experiment with those things.

Oreck: It was a really decadent environment where you could never see what was going on. You were always hearing about things that were going on.

Wilson: You feel like, "Boy, if the walls could talk, you’d almost see the cocaine dust on the tables."

Steve Lukather, Toto: They tell me I had a great time there.

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Spheeris: I remember being there with David Lee Roth. It was a total coke fest. He was talking about trying to make a movie with me. All I remember is he was telling me he’d been in Stockholm and there was so much snow and he’d had to ski to the venue to perform. And I remember wondering, “Is this his coke hallucination, or did he really have to do that?” I still don’t know to this day.

Navarro: There is definitely an unspoken level of respect for the place, and I think a lot of it is due to the fact that we were allowed to run amok and I never saw the police called. Things were generally handled internally, which is great.

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