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Musicians Whose Personal Problems Haven’t Stalled Their Career

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R. Kelly’s personal travails are well-documented. Hell, the protests alone for his appearance at last year’s Free Press Summer Fest drew local and national media coverage. Kelly, who returns to Houston tonight at Toyota Center, has a well-documented history with allegations involving improper relations with underage girls.

Not that those allegations have deterred fans from supporting the talented R&B musician. Since his 2002 indictment on more than 20 counts of child pornography, Kelly has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide and released four platinum records. He’s far from the only musician whose personal setbacks haven’t affected their musical legacies. Here are ten more who, in spite of their transgressions, have weathered the storm commercially. (Note: list is in alphabetical order)

One of the founding fathers of rock and roll, Berry is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also the man behind “Johnny B Goode,” one of the most iconic songs in rock history. He’s a legend. He’s also the man who, as a troubled teen, assembled an impressive rap sheet that included armed robbery and theft. Berry went a step further in the late 1950s when he kidnapped an underage girl and drove her across state lines. Doing so made the crime a federal matter, and Berry was cited for “immoral purposes” and sentenced to three years in prison.

Bieber is an entitled brat who parties too much and treats pretty much everyone with the same level of disregard. Basically, he’s the Johnny Manziel of pop music, one who has been popped for DUI, assault, vandalism and for generally being a sorry human being. Not that it’s affected his commercial game. After all, dude has more than 82 million followers on Twitter, and his latest release, last year’s Purpose, will likely become his best-selling album by year's end.

There’s not a whole lot more ground to cover on this one. Cobain was a charismatic front man, and Nirvana was probably the biggest thing going in 1992-1993. Then, under the weight of infighting and Cobain’s drug abuse, the band began to lose its spark around 1994. Then Cobain committed suicide at his Seattle home, and both he and Nirvana’s legacy were secure. After all, as many would agree, it’s better to burn out than to fade away, and Cobain's legacy far outweighs Nirvana's musical catalog. 

Eminem’s personal struggles didn’t hinder his path to stardom; hell, they actually paved the road. His traumatic upbringing with an addictive mother. His being the victim of bullying. His addictions. His tumultuous relationship with two-time ex-wife Kim Mathers, including the time he pistol-whipped an alleged suitor. These real-life struggles were the lifeblood of Eminem’s first three albums (all classics), as well as his underrated 2010 comeback album, Recovery. They were also the catalysts behind one of the most commercially successful careers in music history, to the tune of 130-million-plus records sold.

You could argue John Lennon is the most beloved musician in the world, even nearly 40 years after his death. What you can't argue, however, is that for all his talk of peace and love, Lennon didn't have a dark side. Lennon outright admitted to abusing women (including Yoko Ono), was an absentee father to son Julian (who claimed Paul McCartney as more of a father figure than his own), and even mocked handicapped people. To top it all off, he basically broke up the greatest rock band of all time. 

Give Mötley Crüe credit – they didn’t get short-changed by the rock-and-roll lifestyle. Neil, the band’s notorious front man, had various minor run-ins with the law as the band rose to prominence, none nearing the level of what happened in December 1984. After a day of partying with friends and bandmates, Neil and Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas Dingley hopped in the car to make a liquor-store run. Neil lost control of his car and hit an oncoming vehicle, killing Dingley. Neil was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 30 days in jail (he served half that), probation, restitution and community service. As for Mötley Crüe, the quartet went on to release three more platinum records while headlining a number of sellout arena tours.

Ozzy is another musician whose personal setbacks only further his legacy. Perhaps the most notorious front man in rock history, Ozzy caught hell (and was arrested) for a February 1982 incident in which he got hammered, put on one of his wife’s dresses and proceeded to relieve himself on the Alamo. Ozzy later apologized, and San Antonio – which loves itself some metal music – has since welcomed him back for a bevy of sold-out shows over the years.

While Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo has certainly attempted to take the mantle, no one in rock and roll history has shown more contempt for his fans over the years than Axl Rose. The delayed, or outright canceled, sets. Lashing out at bandmates, essentially breaking up one of rock’s most iconic bands in its prime. Accusations by former girlfriends of domestic abuse. Allegations of homophobia. And don’t even start with the train wreck that was Chinese Democracy. Point being, Axl Rose has done everything in his power to alienate every last GN'R fan. And yet, tickets for the band’s upcoming reunion tour – including a stop at NRG Stadium on August 5, are selling quite well.

Sid Vicious was a junkie with limited musical ability. That said, the Sex Pistols’ bassist embodied everything that punk fans loved about the genre – the fashion, the attitude, the drugs. It was the last of those three that finally did Vicious in, when he awoke in October 1978 to find his manager/girlfriend Nancy Spungen dead of a stab wound. Vicious was charged with murder, but ultimately the trial would never come to pass; Vicious died of a drug overdose in February 1979 at the age of 21. Despite producing only one album during their initial run, and despite Vicious’s various issues, the Sex Pistols (Vicious in particular) are still regarded as among the godfathers of the 1970s punk wave.

Even if you avoided TMZ altogether and simply listened to her breakthrough album, Back to Black, you quickly got a sense that Amy Winehouse was working through some issues. Songs such as “Rehab” and “Back to Black” charted her path of drugs and abusive relationships, and critics and fans alike couldn’t get enough. Back to Black sold more than 12 million copies worldwide, won a slew of Grammys and ended up on most year-end “best of” lists. Unfortunately, Winehouse’s tales of drugs and alcohol were all too true, and she would die of alcohol poisoning in July 2011, less than five years after Back to Black made her a superstar. 

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