“By the mid-'80s, I was on the rock n' roll train to hell,” the Metal God tells PEOPLE “Thank God the brakes were put on at the right time"

By Tomás Mier
September 29, 2020 09:00 AM
Products in this story are independently selected and featured editorially. If you make a purchase using these links we may earn commission.
Advertisement
Rob Halford
Scott Dudelson/Getty

Rob Halford has been on “the rollercoaster of life.”

Ahead of the release of his memoir Confess, the Metal God, 69, talked to PEOPLE about fronting iconic metal band Judas Priest as a closeted gay man, the trauma he faced as a teenager and his love for Lady Gaga.

″Here I was in this super macho, alpha male experience,″ he tells PEOPLE exclusively. ″It was very difficult for me in front of thousands of people in the work that I do. It didn't really affect my work, per se, until the addiction started to really take hold. That's when I started to suffer.″

Halford admits that his struggles with his sexuality were tied to his battle with addiction. (″You stop pretending, you stop creating innuendo. When you're in the closet, you're leading a double life," he says.)

Rob Halford
Larry Rostant

″By the mid-'80s, I was on the rock n' roll train to hell,″ he says of his years of addiction. ″Thank God the brakes were put on at the right time.″

The brakes? A near-overdose experience that almost cost him his life.

″That was definitely a cry for help,″ he says. ″The fact that I was laying on my bed, taking a pill and a slug of Jack Daniels and mumbling, 'Nobody loves me, nobody loves me…' and then suddenly, clarity. 'You idiot!' If I hadn't done that, we wouldn't be speaking today. Something clicked inside of me.″

Soon after that experience, Halford checked into rehab — a decision he writes in his book ″wasn't a choice. It was a necessity.″ Up to this turning point, Halford had never hit the stage without drugs or alcohol in his body. But since then (Jan. 6, 1986 to be exact), Halford has been clean and sober.

″There's a beautiful second chance that you have when you become clean and sober,″ he says. ″You stop lying, you stop making excuses. You stop doing all the damaging things.″

″This is why part of this book has the confessions,″ he adds. ″I don't want to hold anything back."

And he really doesn't.

Rob Halford (center) with Judas Priest
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Halford reveals in his book that he knew he was gay since age 10 during a time when gay men were ″full-on persecuted″ in the UK. (At 13, he came out to his parents, who were generally supportive.)

″God made me this way,″ he says. ″This was placed inside of me. This is who I am.″

What followed, during his teenage years, were several experiences with sexual abuse that left Halford ″traumatized.″

First, as a kid, he writes in Confess about an old instructor that would touch him and his friends while they learned. Then, as a teen, a friend of his dad's sexually assaulted him, an experience that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

″I never told my dad what his friend had done to me. It would have destroyed him,″ he writes in the book. ″Nor would I have put it in this memoir, were my dad still alive.″

Later, as an adult, he'd face a third sexual abuse encounter that would bring ″horrible flashbacks″ to his experience with his father's friend.

″I think once you've been through any kind of abuse, it stays with you forever,″ he says. ″That on top of everything else was just a lot to carry as a person. I've been on the rollercoaster of life, that's for sure."

RELATED: Ozzy Osbourne Reveals He Has Parkinson's Disease, Says 'I Need' My Fans to 'Hang on'

And he sure has.

From handcuffing himself to Andy Warhol (″An example of how life can throw you into spontaneous [and] surreal episodes out of the blue," he says) to spotting Freddie Mercury on a boat with buff men to accidentally trying to shake the Queen's hand, Halford makes it clear that he has no regrets.

But does he regret not coming out during the height of Judas Priest? No.

″I really hate that word,″ he says. ″I like reflection. I think reflection is a great thing to do. You look back at incidents and choices that you've made and if the choices that you've made led you to a difficult, negative place, then that's a great moment of reflection to ponder and to lead you forward, so you do your best not to let that ever happen again."

Book cover for Rob Halford's Confess
Courtesy Hachette Books

And he has a couple of songs to help him ″reflect″ about his time in the closet during Priest — some that provide more than small hints about his sexuality. (Play ″Raw Deal,″ ″Eat Me Alive,″ ″Turbo Lover″ and ″Jawbreaker″ and see what he means.)

″This whole thing about hindsight is that it has its value, but for the most part, I think it's really important to keep enjoying the moment and to have your dreams and aspirations and the goals to aim for, because that just gives you more strength and power as a person,″ he adds.

Today, at 69, Halford is more than happy.

He lives in Phoenix with his partner of 25 years, Thomas Pence, whom he describes as ″one of the best things that have ever happened to me.″

″We all need to be loved, we all want to be loved and if you can find somebody who gives it back to you the same way as you do to them, just 50/50, it's the most wonderful thing to experience,″ he says. ″Actually, I'll be with Thomas for about 500 years now.″

From his experience meeting and seemingly ″dating″ men (many of whom were straight, he writes in his book), Halford has concise advice.

″You can't go searching for love. It doesn't work that way. It comes to you,″ he says. ″You can't wake up one day and go, 'Oh, I'm going to find The One,' because it's not going to happen. There are no rules. To a great extent, it just happens. [And] I'm glad it happened to me.″

Halford confesses his love for something else: pop queens. He's a big fan of some of pop's biggest names, including Madonna — whom he writes about meeting in the book — and, of course, Lady Gaga.

″[I] instantly knew she was going to be gigantic as an artist,″ he says. ″I became a big fan of everything that she's done and that's because I love all kinds of music. She's the best at what she does.″

He describes his giddiness when he saw a photo of Gaga wearing a Judas Priest shirt while leaving a hotel. He later found out she's a ″metal maniac.″

He recalls the time she met the Chromatica star. With mutual friend Lady Starlight, Halford showed up to the singer's 2014 ArtRave tour in San Diego as a surprise.

″When Gaga started her performance, me and Starlight snuck out into the audience,″ he recalls. ″I was clapping and hooting and hollering like fans, and Gaga's making her way out to them and then she sees us, and she literally falls to her knees and crumbles onto the floor."

Lady Starlight, Rob Halford and Lady Gaga in 2014
Courtesy Hachette Books

″And Starlight's digging me in the ribs going, 'See, I knew she'd be happy that you were here,'″ he adds. ″She's so pure, she's so in touch with herself as a person, and the great, great, great, great things that she's done for the LGBTQ community.″

And if the two would ever hit the stage together, Halford knows which songs he'd want to perform with the ″Rain on Me″ singer.

″I would definitely do 'Born This Way' because that's our anthem,″ he says, referring to the LGBTQ community. ″As far as Priest songs go, I think I'd like to do 'Breaking the Law' with her because it talks about the frustration that we go through, particularly as young people. You don't know what it's like, you haven't got a clue. You'd do the same thing too, breaking the law."

Confess is out Tuesday.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text ″STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.