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The Night Richie Sambora Left Bon Jovi: ‘He Just Didn’t Come to Work’

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After three wild decades of fame, Jon Bon Jovi opens up about life on the road – and how he and wife Dorothea keep their love strong. Subscribe now for his untold story, only in PEOPLE!

Since before they could remember, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora had been two peas in a pod.

The two, along with fellow longtime Bon Jovi member David Bryan, were born in the same hospital in central New Jersey and grew up as friends, before coming together as a rock band in the ’80s and acquiring millions of fans.

Throughout three wild decades of fame, the bond between the front man and the lead guitarist was often tested, but never broken — but that all changed one night in 2013.

“We were in Calgary and it was the first leg, show #21,” Bon Jovi, 54, says of the night Sambora left the group during 2013’s Because We Can tour. “Every ticket had sold out and we had a 100-show commitment.”

Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

“Richie was coming from a Hawaii trip. He said, ‘I’d like to come up on the day of the show to get my daughter home and unpack,’” recalls Bon Jovi. “I said ’Yeah, sure.’”

For more on Jon Bon Jovi’s split with Richie Sambora, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. Watch the full episode featuring Jon Bon Jovi at home, available now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.

Jim Wright
Jim Wright

But in the wee hours of the night before they were to take the stage, “I got a phone call in our room from Paul Korzilius, our manager. He never calls my room. I go ‘Oh no,’ and he says ‘Yep.’” Sambora would not make that night’s show — or any others since.

After pulling double duty on vocals and guitar that night, Bon Jovi called upon guitarist Phil X to help the band finish out the tour. “He’d covered for him last time when he was in rehab,” Bon Jovi says of the guitarist pitching in during Sambora’s struggle with sobriety back in 2011.

“That’s the story,” says Bon Jovi. “There was no fight or money issues, like the reports say. Nobody expected Richie to quit in the middle of the night for no reason. He wasn’t fired; he just didn’t come to work.”

Sambora did not return requests for comments, though he has said he left the group to spend more time with his family.

As for where their relationship stands now? “The same place it stood three and a half years ago. Nobody has spoken to him.” Still, says Bon Jovi, “I’m never going to bad mouth the guy. He’s a wonderful friend, wonderful collaborator.”

Now, Bon Jovi is set to debut This House Is Not For Sale, their first complete album sans Sambora, out Nov. 4. It’s taken some time, but the star says he’s gotten to a good place.

“When the last tour was over, I didn’t care if I sang again. I was exhausted physically and mentally.” But during the band’s three year hiatus, he was able to mine those feelings for musical inspiration. “It was cathartic,” he says of the true-to-life songs on the new album.

This time around, the band, including new full time lead guitarist Phil X, is on a mission. “We have something to say and not a thing to prove.”