by Kat Castagnoli, USVM Editor
With his signature black leather jacket, still-tousled hair and mega-watt smile, Jon Bon Jovi is every inch the rock superstar you’d expect him to be.
The band that bears his name has released 14 studio albums, five compilations and three live albums. This translates to 130 million records sold worldwide, with more than 2,700 performances in over 50 countries for more than 30 million adoring fans.
Yet the level of Bon Jovi’s fame is unequaled by the size of his heart. Few may know this son of two former Marines is true philanthropist, and he’s made helping military veterans and their families his personal mission.
During a recent interview on CNN’s ‘The Lead with Jake Tapper,’ Bon Jovi announced that his JBJ Soul Foundation has donated half a million dollars to help build 77 new homes for homeless veterans in Washington, D.C. The project has taken ten years to complete alongside Help USA, a non-profit whose goal is tackling the issue of homelessness in the United States.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 50 percent of veterans who were homeless (since 2010) have been housed. But Bon Jovi says there are still more out there who need a helping hand. “Oftentimes, they’re [veterans] left to deal with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and the issue of coming back to the workplace after leaving the battlefield,” he said in a blog on mypositiveoutlooks.com. “Life as you knew it is going to be different, and sometimes, people need that extra help.”
Born to Rock
Bon Jovi, or John Francis Bongiovi Jr., was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. His mother, Carol Sharkey, was a former model and one of the first Playboy Bunnies. She met Bon Jovi’s father, John Francis Bongiovi Sr., after she enlisted in the U.S. Marines. John Sr. was already serving when they met.
It’s been said that Bon Jovi is a blood relative to the late Frank Sinatra, who was Bon Jovi’s great uncle on his father’s side, according to a May 1988 issue of Spin Magazine. This would certainly account for the rock star’s love of music from such a young age.
“Every kid who ever played in their garage dreams of being in a “Big Rock Band,” and I was no different,” said Bon Jovi during his induction speech into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
He explained, “I was first introduced to music at seven years old when my mother brought home a guitar she bartered for, along with the Kenny Rogers “Learn to Play Guitar” record. As a kid, my parents took me to lessons where this guy in a little cubicle smoking a pipe, opened up a book of scales and tortured kids with his smoke and lack of interest.
“After a couple weeks, I quit, throwing that guitar down the basement stairs. That guitar laid there in the dark, until I was around 15 and a man named Al
Parinello moved into our neighborhood. I didn’t learn quickly, and I was by no means any good, but Al showed me the magic of a song.”
Bon Jovi attended St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, but took little interest in his studies. He spent most of his adolescence dreaming about becoming a rock star; playing in his buddy’s basement, the local talent show, block dances and at clubs.
After high school, Bon Jovi worked as a janitor for a time. While sweeping floors at The Power Station in NYC, he got the opportunity to record demos. One of the demos, ‘Runaway,’ he sent to every label and manager he could think of before playing it for a D.J. at a new radio station. A few months later, ‘Runaway’ was playing on the radio, not only in New York, but in Tampa, Chicago, Detroit and Denver.
Shortly after, Bon Jovi was signed by Mercury/Polygram in 1983—the label he is still with to this day—and he gathered together David Bryan on the keyboard, Alec John Such as bassist and Tico Torres as the drummer to form the band, Bon Jovi. Their first album, Bon Jovi, was released in 1984.
Livin’ On a Prayer
By 1986, Bon Jovi had achieved widespread success and global recognition with their third album, Slippery When Wet, which sold 28 million copies worldwide. Slippery When Wet included three top 10 singles, two of which reached No. 1: “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
His next album, New Jersey, not only shared the same success as Slippery When Wet—the album had five top-10 hits on Billboard’s Hot-100. No other album or artist ever produced as many top-10 hits, according to IMDb.com. And two of these top-10 hits, “Bad Medicine” and “I’ll Be There For You” topped the charts at number one, according to Bon Jovi’s biography on Billboard.com.
But despite his success, Bon Jovi felt something was missing. “I had the No. 1 album, the No. 1 single and I opened up the window of the hotel and there was us on the billboard out my window: Literally, right there, celebrating the No. 1 this and that,” he said in an ultimateclassicrock.com interview. “And I thought: ‘Wow, this is a high. What do I do to get higher?’”
During a break on tour, he and his high school sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley, flew out to Las Vegas to elope on April 29, 1989. Fast-forward 30 years later: the couple remains happily married with four children: a daughter, Stephanie Rose, and three sons, Jesse James Louis, Jacob Hurley and Romeo Jon.
“She’s the glue,” Bon Jovi said of his wife in a Huffpost.com interview. “I’m the crazy visionary with all kinds of things flying, and the seams are all splitting. She’s the one following me with the glue and the thread and needle, keeping it all together.”
To Be of Service
When Bon Jovi was asked to appear at Rockefeller Center in NYC for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony this past December, he seized the opportunity to share with military men and women his new song, “Unbroken,” which shines a light on veterans struggling with PTSD.
In an interview with Variety, Bon Jovi says the song is written from the perspective of a soldier living with the ghosts of combat—a “daunting task” for the songwriter because he himself had not served and the subject matter was foreign to him.
“When you write a song that has to do with soldiers, my only background in this was protest songs that were of the era, whether it was John Fogerty about Vietnam and “Fortunate Son,” or ultimately Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,’” Bon Jovi said.
But when Academy Award-nominated director Josh Aronson reached out about a documentary he was doing on a soldier’s journey, entitled, “To Be of Service,” the singer was instantly inspired.
“He [Aronson] told me just a couple of things that the soldiers had said that were going to be in the film. And when I asked him the name of the movie and he said, “To Be of Service“, I got it. “It came to me immediately,” he said. “I just grabbed my guitar and pretended to be that soldier and the narrator of the film.”
After Bon Jovi finished the song, he decided on a whim to send it to Prince Harry, creator of the Invictus Games—an annual international, multi-sport event for wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women. The games were named after the short poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, an amputee himself.
Bon Jovi thought the Games’ choir of real soldiers singing “Unbroken” would bring attention to the issue of PTSD. “And so I just wrote him [Prince Harry] a letter and I said, ‘I’ve got this song, I’ve sung with your brother, I’ve met your father, your grandmother, your grandfather.’ And so I said listen to it and let me know. And so he said absolutely,” Bon Jovi explained in a Town & Country.com interview.
The duo met in February at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in northwest London to record a special single of “Unbroken” with the Invictus Games choir—the event one of the last public engagements Prince Harry made as an official royal.
While Coronavirus concerns have caused this year’s Invictus Games to be delayed until 2021, the special single of “Unbroken” debuted in March. The song will also be included in the forthcoming Bon Jovi album, “Bon Jovi 2020.”
Over the next year, Bon Jovi and Island Records will also donate 100 percent of the net proceeds from the download of the song to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, according to a Variety.com article.
And while “To Be of Service,” currently streaming on Netflix, takes viewers from boot camp and battle to night sweats and heartache, Bon Jovi found a way to not only honor veterans but end his song on a hopeful note, concluding, “well, the blessing and the curse is/ Yeah, I’d do it all again.”