Richie Sambora Opens Up About Controversial Decision to Leave Bon Jovi: 'My Daughter Needed Me Around'

"Family had to come first — and that's what happened," says the former Bon Jovi guitarist

Richie Sambora is opening up about his controversial decision to leave the iconic rock band, Bon Jovi, in 2013 — and he says he has "no regrets" about ultimately putting his relationship with his daughter Ava, now 23, ahead of everything else.

"It wasn't a popular decision by any means, obviously, but there was really almost no choice about it. I had a lot of conscious work to do around [my personal life]," the rocker, 61, says now via Zoom from his home in Calabasas, California.

"We've been through a lot of things together. That was a time of psychological maintenance for the family," he says in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now. "You know, I ain't no angel. But I realized, Ava needed me to be around at that point in time. Family had to come first, and that's what happened."

Richie Sambora
Richie and Ava Sambora. Shayan Asgharnia

Sambora, who overcame an addiction to painkillers and an over-reliance on alcohol after stints in rehab in 2007 and 2011, says the rock and roll lifestyle eventually took its toll.

"My lord, when I look back and start to list the tours ... 18-and-a-half months of being on the road, 52 countries," he says. "It's like, Wow. It was really time for a break. We did that 14 times over a 31-year period."

While touring with Bon Jovi, Sambora would routinely fly home for quick visits rather than stay on location. "I love being a dad more than anything," Sambora says of his bond with Ava, whose mother is the legendary TV actress Heather Locklear, 59. "Luckily I was making enough money to be able to have a private plane, get my ass home and see my kid even if it was only for one day. If it was Halloween, it was boom, home."

Looking back, Ava says those gestures meant everything to her. "He showed up to every dance recital I performed in and all of my school functions no matter how far he had to travel," she tells PEOPLE. "He even flew all the way from Australia to surprise me at my father-daughter dance."

Richie sambora
Richie Sambora. Shayan Asgharnia

Once he was able to settle into a normal life in California, Sambora says, his bond with Ava deepened.

"I'm lucky enough to have an amazing relationship with my daughter," says Sambora, who enjoyed overseeing get-togethers in the backyard so he could "keep an eye" on who her friends were. Driving his daughter to and from high school every morning was when they really bonded.

"That's where the conversation went down. She was captive in my car for those 30 minutes. She couldn't get out," he says with a laugh as he recalls chats with his "smart and fun" girl. "You can find out what you needed to find out and see how she's feeling and all that kind of stuff. We've always had a very open, conversational relationship. I just said, 'Hey, you can tell me anything. I'm going to be on your side.'"

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Richie and Ava Sambora. Shayan Asgharnia

"I brought a child into this world," he says, "and I do not take it lightly."

These days, they've been mostly staying close to home. After graduating from Loyola Marymount in May, Ava is preparing for graduate school.

"I'm very, very proud of her and the way she turned out," says Sambora. "She's an amazing young woman with a bright future. She's just dedicated to being a good person. And she is."

For more from Richie and Ava Sambora, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Wednesday.

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