Jon Bon Jovi Looks Back on 40 Years in the Spotlight (and Reveals the Songs He Still Loves to Sing)

Jon Bon Jovi

Here’s the thing about Jon Bon Jovi: Just like the well-traveled cowboy in his 1987 anthem, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” he has seen a million faces . . . and he’s rocked them all.

But when the rock star looks at his own face? Well, that’s another story.

“It ain’t the same as it was at 30, 40 and 50,” says Bon Jovi, who turned 62 in March and now boasts shaggy gray hair. “Nobody has ever won that battle with time. So you’ve got to make sure you try to keep Humpty Dumpty together. That’s my goal.”

<p>Photo by Emily Shur</p>

Photo by Emily Shur

There’s a reason why Bon Jovi is extra-reflective of late. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the official formation of his namesake band and its self-titled first album. In the decades since, the guys from New Jersey have sold more than 120 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. No doubt 40 years from now, fans will still be singing the chorus of “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the top of their lungs.

To commemorate the milestone, Bon Jovi is releasing the album Forever on June 7. (Though he underwent vocal cord surgery in 2022, the frontman says, “I’m very capable of singing without any incident.”) The band also just unveiled its four-part Hulu docuseries Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story (now streaming), in which past and present members chart their rise to worldwide stardom amid their strenuous 2022 world tour. It’s all there, from the long days in rehearsals to the wild nights on the road.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lead singer often takes the leadership role. “No doubt he’s talented—but what I observed over the last few years working with him is that his real gift is his relentless work ethic and unwillingness to compromise,” says Thank You, Goodnight director Gotham Chopra. “I saw it in the archive across the 40-plus years of his career, but I also saw it in the present day as he relentlessly pursued a comeback from his vocal injury. His mantra [was] ‘I’ll show you’ back then, and from what I can see, it’s as strong today as ever.”

Though he changed his last name from Bongiovi, in many ways he’s still the humble blue-collar guy from Perth Amboy, N.J. He just happened to spend his adulthood in the spotlight. “Every decade has brought me another adventure,” he says. “I didn’t ever think about my 60s when I was in my 20s. I couldn’t even look past the year 2000. Would I be married? Would I have children? To be standing here and still making records and participating in this process was my only wish.”

By the way, he married his high-school sweetheart, Dorothea, in 1989. They have four kids: Stephanie, 30, Jesse, 29, Jake, 21, and Romeo, 20. (Jake is engaged to Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown.) He’s also established himself as a generous philanthropist: The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation provides care for poverty-stricken families, with the nonprofit community restaurant in New Jersey serving free dishes to those in need. Earlier this year, he was named the 2024 MusiCares Person of the Year.

For all of his accomplishments, accolades and enduring success, though, Bon Jovi isn’t above reminiscing about his big-haired, Spandex-wearing past and musing about his uncertain future. A few hours before the L.A. premiere of his docuseries, he shared all for Parade’s cover story.

Mara Reinstein: We’re talking in April. Is a summer tour still a possibility?

Jon Bon Jovi: I’m working toward it every day. It’s about 22 months post-surgery and I should be in the clear now. But I [need to be] at the place where I can do two-and-a-half hours a night for four nights a week. I don’t want the uneasiness of waking up in a hotel room going, “It’s not working.” So there will be no tour until I’m confident the healing has occurred. It’s truly up to the good Lord.

Do you miss it? In Thank You, Goodnight, it seemed like a grind sometimes.

Does the idea of another club sandwich in a hotel room appeal to me? No, to be honest. But if God allows it, I swear I will. If for no other reason than for the sheer joy of sharing this 40th anniversary and the new record with the public. It could be 20 shows and not 200. If I’m able to perform the way I’m very confident that I know how to, it would be a great gift.

When you are on the road, which songs do you still get psyched to perform night after night?

All of them because every time you write a song, you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, even if it doesn’t stand the test of time. So every song is your favorite song. Will “Livin’ on a Prayer” be in my obituary? Of course. But also “It’s My Life,” “Bed of Roses,” “Blaze of Glory,” “Always” . . . you know, I know what these songs did. They made us who we are. They’re a big part of that patchwork of people’s journey with us.

Do power ballads give love a bad name?

Well, some of them are crap. There were a lot of them on the radio at certain periods in time that didn’t help great songwriters’ careers because they went to that well too often. But I can tell you that a song like “Always” has a billion views on YouTube. Or “Bed or Roses” or “I’ll Be There for You.” Look at the streams. They’re still monster songs.

What’s the secret sauce behind “Livin’ on a Prayer”?

We didn’t know what we had on the day that we wrote it, I guarantee you that. And it wasn’t the first single because we thought “You Give Love a Bad Name” was more radio-friendly. But when we recorded it, it came to life. It’s such an honest and truthful lyric—Tommy and Gina were the classic Shakespearean story of boy and girl, and people saw themselves as those characters.

There’s an amazing clip of you doing an acoustic version of the song with Taylor Swift and Prince William from 2013. How did that come to be?

I was at Kensington Palace because the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation was being honored by Prince William in the name of his mother. Taylor was the musical performer who wanted to come and pay homage to me and the foundation. They were sitting in the front row and I started playing acoustically at the end of the night. God bless her, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him on that stage. I’ll be damned if they both didn’t sing really well! And talk about a momentous photograph and video. I’m grateful for her for having done it and grateful to him for not being too shy to get up there.

Do you like looking back at your old photos and videos?

You hear stories about how you get to see your life flash before your eyes before you die, and I get to see it now, so hurray for me. But in the big picture, even the baby pictures, which are sort of my penance for all the successes I’ve had, I’m not embarrassed. But I am willing to take the lashings for the leopard-skin pants and the short-shorts. But that’s OK. That’s what growing up is all about.

In the series, you mention that you take long drives in New Jersey with your good friend, Bruce Springsteen. What do you talk about?

Things that guys like us get to talk about—and to guys like us, we are few and far between. He is one of the greatest songwriters and musicians and band leaders of all time who was both a big brother and mentor to me growing up. It’s beyond my wildest dreams to have him as a friend and as we’ve gotten older, we’ve only gotten closer. In truth, the first five or six times we did the drives, I was like a teenager and was like I hope the cops pull us over! But yeah, either I pick him up or he picks me up and we don’t listen to the radio unless we’re playing each other a new song. It’s more like, “How are you doing? How was it when you were going through this?”

Related: Livin' on a Prayer (and Millions of Dollars): All About Jon Bon Jovi's Net Worth in 2024

Maybe it’s the New Jersey in you, but do you still feel that you’re still a bit of an underdog?

If that means challenging myself on a daily basis, I’ll take on that mantle. But if it’s looking for a pat on the back from outside sources, then I’m well past that. I don’t need the approval of anyone other than me at this point.

Was there a specific moment when you got past it?

The decades lead you to different chapters in your life that nobody could have told you about. If you think about how many times your parents tried to give you advice and you shunned it and thought to yourself, I’m smarter than they are. Now I give that advice to my own children and they say, “I’m smarter than he is.” But in retrospect, you do wish your parents could have said to you, “Believe me when I say you’re going to someday be in my shoes and you’re going to have this wisdom.” As it pertains to my career, 20 is different than 40, which is much different than 60. So I’m looking at my life with a hell of a lot of experience.

What happened with your acting career? You appeared in cool movies and even played a Carrie Bradshaw love interest in Sex and the City.

This was the second chapter of my life. From 1990 until I stopped making movies in the early 2000s, I loved it with all my heart. I studied the craft very hard and went to lessons privately for two years before I even went on an audition. If you think back to those days, whether it was David Bowie or Sting or Madonna or Phil Collins, you weren’t really given the opportunities. I got a lot of great notices in the films I was in, but then [producers] would say, “You leave town and go on the road for a year. We don’t think you take this seriously.”

That’s why you stopped?

It wasn’t really a choice, because I was writing these hit songs and we were selling out stadiums. Unless you’re putting me next to Tom Cruise, how am I going to give that up? So the caliber of the roles I was offered started dwindling. I would do it someday again, but only if I committed seriously to studying the craft and getting ready for the role and showing up for the role.

You also married Dorothea in 1989. In the series, you say that people discouraged it because it would damage your career. Is that really true?

Definitely. The powers that be—the managers and the business managers—all said that it was going to hurt my career. What a rotten thing to say to two kids in love. Everyone around us was trying to ruin the moment. Fortunately, we persevered. And it will be 35 years in a couple of days!

Related: They Give Love a Good Name: All About Bon Jovi's Wife, Dorothea

Does she like having you home so much now?

I don’t know if she’s always liked my being home. Somebody should write a book on the wives of lead singers. It’s not easy! The only thing we love more than our wives are our mirrors. But fortunately for me, I got it right the first time and it gets better every single day.

Do you two ever go out and see a show? Are you familiar with younger artists?

Well, I know Olivia Rodrigo is on the road right now, and it would be great to see her. Billie Eilish is a great artist and I’d be wide open to seeing her. I don’t mind going out to a show; I just don’t get to go all that often.

Are you the kind of artist who thinks that the music was better in your day?

I don’t. Just the examples of Billie Eilish, Olivia, Zach Bryan or Inhaler, which is a rock band with pop choruses—that’s just off the top of my head. There is a wide array of young talent out there that I think highly of.

So, at this point in your life, what motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

My self-gratification in my hope and desire that every day I can just participate in the process. It’s just one step at a time, one day at a time, and I try to have a positive outlook about anything I’m doing. I stink at my game of tennis, but I’m trying to get better. I try to get better being in front of the microphone. I want to be a better friend and father. It’s the one thing left for me because I’ve achieved all the chart success and accolades. At 60-something, it’s just about the quality of the moment. That’s part of the journey. Everyone’s battle is the same.

Well, your battle is slightly different!

It’s really not, with the exception that you know my name. Trust me, every day we’re one click away from being six feet under. We all have to deal with problems. This just happened to be my career path. But I’ve had my ups and downs, just like any other career path. I enjoy my work, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if somebody goes to work in a job they don’t like, I feel bad for them because I was lucky enough to make the choice of the job I wanted to do. It’s not always a win, but that’s OK.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Next, All About Bon Jovi's 4 Kids With Longtime Wife, Dorothea