Duff McKagan knows about extremes.
For one thing, the guy’s really tall. (6’3″)
For another, he was part of arguably one of the last bands to have a significant impact on rock and roll: Guns N’ Roses. Not only did the band record the best-selling debut album in rock history, Appetite for Destruction, but they presided over one of the last eras in which rock music truly had a dominant grip on mainstream culture.
And McKagan, 52, barely lived through it.
A new documentary, It’s So Easy and Other Lies, based on his autobiography, explores McKagan’s crazy life through the lens of a live reading and performances from McKagan’s current band, Loaded.
“Duff and I were friends for a long time,” director Christopher Duddy explains to PEOPLE. “We met walking our kids to school, before he wrote the book.”
“As a filmmaker I’m always interested in compelling life stories. Stories of family struggle, fame, fortune, drug and alcohol abuse – all these layers that make a great biographical documentary were in Duff’s story. It’s a very inspirational story that many people with drug addictions – or any addiction for that matter – can relate to and be affected in an uplifting way.”
Among McKagan’s CV of self-destruction: He quit a bottle-per-day vodka habit by switching to 10 daily bottles of wine; a Simpsons producer asked him if they could name the show’s signature beer after him because of his drinking abilities (they did); and his pancreas exploded inside of his body, giving his other organs third-degree burns.
“It was challenging working with Duff, but also creatively rewarding,” Duddy explains. “He is a really talented, driven person, a bit of a perfectionist (which an artist should be). We are both survivors in life, though mine was a near-fatal helicopter crash and his was a near-death struggle with drugs and alcohol. We were both given second chances in life, so we connected on this higher level and I think that also because we were friends first, he was comfortable with letting me in.”
McKagan quit drinking at 30, picked up some healthier pastimes – like mountain biking and martial arts – and started taking business classes at Seattle University. He invested some of his GNR cash in some fairly smart places: Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon. Today, he’s more likely to discuss touring expenses with other musicians than where to score, but he’s still remarkably calm and forthcoming when discussing his past.
“It can be a scary place pulling back the curtains for people to see your inner workings, your dark side,” Duddy says. “Duff was incredibly honest and open about his struggles in life.”
Today, McKagan balances his business investments with playing in his own band, Loaded, and the supergroup Hollywood Vampires, which includes Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. Duddy’s next project, which focuses on the Porcaro brothers, who anchored the classic rock group Toto, is currently raising funds. It’s So Easy and Other Lies will be hitting select theaters Friday.