When Kristen Stewart was cast to play her in the biopic The Runaways, Joan Jett dusted off old cassette tapes she had made of herself talking about her life as a teen. “I wanted to give Kristen a sense of who I was,” says the singer, “not just [a girl with] a black shag and a leather jacket.” So who was she? “I had this determination,” says Jett, who cofounded the band at age 16. “I wanted to show everyone girls could be a Mick Jagger, a Jimmy Page, a Robert Plant.” But after creating a frenzy with songs like “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise,” the band broke up in 1979, and Jett says she turned to alcohol to cope because “everything I’d dreamed about was over-and I was 20.”
In fact, she was just kicking off her second act. More than 20 albums (including a new greatest-hits CD) and a smattering of acting roles later, Jett, 51, is still touring, and she doesn’t smoke, drink or eat meat. When she’s not on the road, the single rocker shares her Long Island beach house with cats Greta, Stephanie and Dion and unwinds with cop shows like CSI, Burn Notice and “all the Law & Orders.” And she has no intention of retiring. “I’d get bored after a few weeks,” she says. “I’ll be working until I die.”
After the Runaways, Lita Ford found solo success with ’80s pop-metal hits like “Kiss Me Deadly.” But she dropped out after marrying Nitro singer Jim Gillette, 42, and having kids. “It’s very rewarding to think, ‘I taught them how to read and write,'” says the guitarist, 51, who homeschools sons James, 12, and Rocco, 8. Eager to leave the U.S. after 9/11, she and Gillette built a 10,000-sq.-ft. home in the British West Indies. “There’s literally nothing on our island,” she says.
Ford ended her exile with a new album last year and started taking her boys on the road to expose them to new cultures-and some hands-on musical education. Though she regrets the band’s infighting (she says she “adores Joan,” but they haven’t talked in 30 years; she’s close with bassist-turned-TV producer Victory Tischler-Blue, who replaced Jackie Fox, now a lawyer), she won’t discourage her kids from rock and roll. “James plays guitar better than I do, and Rocco’s such a frontman,” she says. “I’ll back them whatever they want to do.”
In Japan in 1977, Cherie Currie recalls, rabid fans tore out chunks of the Runaways’ hair-and behind the scenes, the bandmates tore into each other. “My heart was just broken,” says Currie, 50, who is played by Dakota Fanning in the movie based on her book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. After leaving the band in ’77 and focusing on acting (she costarred with Jodie Foster in 1980’s Foxes), “I hit bottom when I started smoking cocaine and lost my agent, manager and a movie all in the same day,” says Currie, who has been sober since 1984. A onetime drug counselor and personal trainer, she’s now a chainsaw artist. “The legacy of this band is that girls rock,” says Currie, who has a 19-year-old son, Jake, with her ex-husband, actor Robert Hays. “We always could and we always will.”