Rocker Bret Michaels Tackles Diabetes on "Celebrity Apprentice"
Published April 12, 2010; updated April 13, 2010
As front man of the glam rock band Poison, Bret Michaels was once best known for the 1988 No. 1 hit "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." But Michaels, 47, now has a new generation of fans because of his romantic adventures on the VH1 reality show Rock of Love and his boardroom chats with Donald Trump on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice. Michaels, who has lived with type 1 diabetes since he was 6 years old, is competing this season on Apprentice to benefit people with diabetes. In the season's first episode, Michaels brought in $100,000 for the American Diabetes Association. In the April 11 episode, Michaels found out that his 9-year-old daughter, Raine, had diabetes symptoms, including weight loss and frequent urination, and was being tested for the disease.
Michaels recently released a new single, "Nothing to Lose," featuring Miley Cyrus, and he's touring to promote a solo album, "Custom Built," which comes out in June. (Michaels underwent an emergency appendectomy on April 12 and is expected to reschedule some tour dates). He spoke with Diabetes Forecast about his music, his diabetes, and his TV career.
You talk about your diabetes on Rock of Love and Celebrity Apprentice. Why do you want to let the world see this side of you?
There is no doubt that a huge part of who and what I am is that I'm a diabetic. I have great days and I have bad days. When I was a child and had diabetes, a lot of the old-school ways they tried to teach you [diabetes management] was through scare tactics—a guy with his leg amputated or blindness. It worked a little bit, but it also made you feel depressed. I want to say, look, there are complications and it is a tough disease to manage, but I've done it, and I live a ridiculously outrageous, crazy life. I still race around on a BMX bike and I'm 47; I will compete with kids and win. I go out there and try not to let [diabetes] get me down. It's mind, muscle, music, and motivation over matter. You can have all the doctors, but unless you can self-motivate, no one can make you exercise or take your [insulin] shot at the right time or use your pump right. Find that one thing [that motivates you]. Like making sure I'm around to watch my daughters grow up.
What's it like having fans know so much about your personal life?
I take full responsibility for walking in and doing a reality show, but yes, it is strange when people you don't know will walk up to you at dinner and talk about a relationship with somebody and what they would have done differently. I was out on a date with someone who had nothing to do with the show, and all of a sudden a husband and wife walked up and said, "Oh, we love Amber [from Rock of Love]," and I was thinking, I'm on a date! And the girl I was with was like, "Oh, Amber? I thought you guys were broken up." It's weird to have that happen. People will talk like I'm not in the room. I'm really happy to have done Rock of Love and Nashville Star [formerly on USA network, premiering on NBC in June], but Apprentice came from a very personally motivated side—to raise a lot of awareness and money for diabetes.
What are your tips for keeping diabetes under control while keeping a hectic schedule?
I'm a really motivated, passionate person, and I find a way. I wish I knew a magic formula. It depends on self-motivation and how much you want to take on. You have to decide what works best for your life. For me, the more you do, the harder you work, the luckier you get. Like this week, I've got to fly back while I'm doing a show because we're doing a new Rihanna [music] video. I fly in, then fly back out after five shows in a row. It gets tough, the blood sugars fluctuate, but I find a way. I'm going to have to get up earlier, get on the mountain bike, work out, get my blood sugar right, and go and do it. I want to do it.
Tell us about your diabetes management.
About six to eight blood sugar tests and four shots per day have been working for me. I wake up—whether it's 8 a.m. or noon—and the first thing I do is test my blood sugar. I notice I'm high or low and adjust my insulin accordingly. I eat egg whites with turkey or chicken in one of those burrito wraps, and throw in a little fresh fruit. One thing I've learned about diabetes is to really lessen the portions you eat. If I could cut loose, I'd eat potato chips from day to night. I have to mentally fight it.
I exercise right after that. If I'm on the bike, I turn my cell on and do a bunch of business calls so I don't realize I've ridden for an hour. Then I lift weights or whatever. Find whatever motivates you—go out and play hoops, just find a way to exercise. It's not been a joy ride for me. I don't want people to think I wake up at 105 [mg/dl] and life's a breeze. I just find a way to control it. You have to accept that you have diabetes because it is the card you've been dealt.
What was it like leading the first task for the men's team on Celebrity Apprentice?
In some ways I think it was great because that is sort of the story of my life: I was running on a fume; I literally played León, Mexico, the night before. I got in and found out the opposing team will pick who they want to be team leader. I said, "Guys, trust me, they'll pick me. They know I'm tired. If they've seen Rock of Love, they'll think I'm one and done." [But] they forgot one thing: I spend most of my life running on a fume. Now I was fighting mad. I'm fighting for diabetes not only personally for me—I've had type 1 since I was 6—but [for] my daughter Raine.
And you won $100,000 for ADA.
What an amazing win. I was glad I wasn't first to be fired. Most importantly, the whole purpose was to raise money for diabetes—not only awareness but for the charity. I think one of the biggest parts of diabetes—while we're looking for a cure—is to help people who have already got it.
How about when you got the phone call that Raine was being tested for diabetes?
I literally found out while I was [filming Apprentice], and it left me at a big fork in the road: As a responsible father, you leave [the show] then and there, but at same time I knew this was the whole purpose. The irony is I'm fighting to show people you can live a great, normal life with diabetes.
With the TV shows, a new album, touring—what has meant the most to you?
I love being a father to my daughters Raine and Jorja . And their mother, Kristi [Gibson], is a huge part of my life. My most important thing is making sure my daughters know their dad loves them. So I make every effort to be home, fly them out with me, and make sure they're doing well in school.
Will you be doing a fourth season of Rock of Love?
They would love me to do a Rock of Love 4, and those three seasons were good, I had fun. But after Apprentice and touring … there's a lot of partying on Rock of Love, and I need to take a year's break from that. I don't regret any of it. But I think my lips might need a break!
Rock of Love was all about your love life; how has diabetes had an impact on your relationships and dating?
I think sexuality is an important part of any healthy relationship. The more active you are, the more motivated, the more excited you are. In Rock of Love, there were moments that I would be on there and say I'm having a really low blood sugar; you're going to have to give me time. Sometimes with diabetes it's a lot to be on your mind. So far it's mental motivation that makes the physical part of my relationships great.
How has your work on television affected your music and fan base?
Poison had two generations [of fans]—the original, and the college generation. With Rock of Love and Miley and Rihanna, and I did Guitar Hero 3, all of a sudden we've opened up to this third generation of young fans. Also, I did Nashville Star with LeAnn Rimes, so we opened up to country fans.
What projects are you working on now?
My new solo album "Custom Built" comes out June 8. All this year I'm doing Bret Michaels solo. The other members [of Poison] are taking a year off to rest; I'm just not that smart! Then next year will be Poison's 25th anniversary of our album "Look What the Cat Dragged In."
Next year we're going to have a movie based on my Roses & Thorns autobiography [to be published later this year]. There have been so few legitimate rock movies made. Almost Famous is good, and Spinal Tap is probably one of the truest ones. That comedy of errors is truly what happens in rock and roll. I want to make a legitimate movie. We'll be shooting in the fall.
Have you ever had a severe low during a concert? Do you do anything special to prepare for a show?
I try to let my blood sugar slide up a little bit before I go onstage, like 150 to 170, because it comes down dramatically while I'm performing. My first time ever playing Madison Square Garden, I went into insulin shock on stage. When you grow up on the East Coast all you hear is, "When you make it, kid, you play the Garden." My first time ever, I was so excited and nervous. I took my insulin but didn't eat. I woke up in the emergency room, and I was, like, what just happened?
You said in a Forecast interview, "Humor is essential to winning with diabetes." How do you use humor?
Self-deprecating humor shows a side of us that can roll with the punches. One thing with diabetes: When I get overly stressed, my blood sugar can spike. It can go from 120 to 280 just over being stressed out about something—nothing to do with food—and I think in my situation being able to laugh at things that happen [is key]. To trip over my own two feet and laugh at it has helped me to maintain my blood sugar. The other day we were playing a show and we were in the middle of it, and I said, "Forgive me, everyone." I told them to enjoy a song from my band, and I went and checked blood sugar. Rather than freaking or hiding it, I just took care of it. The arena laughed, I took some juice, and I came back on stage.