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“We went there to have a whale of a time – a sex holiday, really. But it got out of hand”: Billy Idol on the Thailand vacation that ended with a visit from the army

In 1989, Billy Idol desperately need a break from his troubles in Los Angeles, but things went from bad, to worse, and then to much, much worse



By 1989, Billy Idol was out-of-control. 1983’s Rebel Yell had turned the former Generation X man into a star, and 1986’s Whiplash Smile, while being greeted less warmly by the critics, was still a commercial success. 

His personal life however, was in turmoil. Perri Lister, he mother of his son, had flown back to England the previous year after catching the singer cheating, and while the two tried to patch things up, Idol was caught in a cycle of indiscretion and depression, his bad behaviour matched only by the despair he felt about his inability to maintain the relationship.  

He also fell victim to the rock’n’roll lifestyle, and all that entails. He desperately needed a break, one that would sever the supply lines. And a friend, Harry Johnson, had the answer: a trip to Thailand.   

“We went there to have a whale of a time – a sex holiday, really,” Idol told Classic Rock. “But it got out of hand. Bad things started to happen.”

It had started perfectly innocently. 

“We were just going to drink and not take any drugs,” Idol remembered. “After about a week, drinking all the time was getting really heavy so we asked this cab driver if he could get us some blow. He went off and came back with this thin vial. It was six or seven inches long. We looked at each other, like, ‘What do you think this is?’ Because cocaine doesn’t usually come in a long thing like that. My friend put his finger in it and had a taste [mimes gingerly dabbing a sample on to his tongue]. It wasn’t blow.”

You can probably guess what happened next. It was heroin. And it was some of the strongest heroin around.

“You only needed a pinprick and you were out of your mind,” said Idol. “Then we had to work out, well, how are we going to take this? We needed some tin foil [to smoke it off], so we went around all the supermarkets in Bangkok looking for that but they don’t have it there. We ended up using the foil from the chocolate bars at the hotel. 

“This stuff was so strong and severely addictive that we then had to get off it before we could fly back home. It’s a fourteen-hour flight, and there’s no way you could do that while coming off heroin [laughs]. You had to get semi-well so you weren’t shitting yourself. We went to a pharmacy and got all these downers to knock ourselves out until we were kind of normal again.”

The process took a couple of weeks, and it did not go smoothly. 

Idol: “The only trouble was that we’d got a lot of Valiums and heavy tranquillisers. I don’t do well on tranquillisers at all. It just made me change personalities completely. I would become violent and start smashing things; I’d been lifting weights so I was massively powerful. I think we went through a few hotels like that before the Thai army escorted me out of the country on a gurney [laughs].”

According to legend, the army were forced to shoot Idol with a tranquilliser dart, although a more believable version of the story has him being injected with a sedative by a nurse. Either way, Idol almost certainly got off lightly, with Thai authorities able to enforce long prison sentences in the country’s notorious prison system for those caught in possession of narcotics.  

The following year, Idol’s leg was almost ripped off in a horrifying motorcycle crash in Los Angeles, and it was the beginning of a turnaround. As he was rushed to the emergency room, screaming in agony, his thoughts flickered back to Thailand, and being escorted from the country, lashed to a stretcher. Something had to change.