Bret Michaels: What He Won't Do on TV

After tragedy, rocker focuses on family while staying in the public eye.

March 9, 2011, 2:32 PM

June 6, 2011 — -- As lead singer for one of the biggest 1980s heavy metal bands, Poison, Bret Michaels was once the poster boy for rock and roll excess.

"Owned a Ferrari, wrecked a Ferrari," Michaels told "20/20." "I just had too much of a good time."

Michaels partied hard, got into a fistfight backstage with his guitarist at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, and made a sex tape with buxom blonde Pamela Anderson donning a vampire cape.

Then his life really got crazy: He became a reality TV star.

Watch the "20/20" special, "Reality Rule$: When TV Gets Real," online here.

"There were a lot of adult beverages involved in 'Rock of Love,'" Michaels said. "If you want great reality TV, just shove a bottle of tequila out there and things go unbelievably great."

On the VH1 series "Rock of Love with Bret Michaels," the rocker played host to 25 uninhibited "hotties" all vying to be his girlfriend. With all the sexy shenanigans and wild parties, the show became an instant hit.

That was 2007 and it was not the end but the beginning of his reality TV career. Michaels went on to do three seasons of the wildly popular show before deciding it was time to move on ... to another reality show. In 2010, Michaels was a contestant on the third season of the fast-paced "Celebrity Apprentice."

"When you do sign up for reality TV, you better be prepared," Michaels said. "You need to have nerves of steel."

He played for a charity that hits close to home for him, the American Diabetes Association. Michaels was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 8 years old. In high school, he was teased for having to inject insulin. Early in his career, he passed out onstage during a concert in New York City and some thought he was a drug addict. It was from insulin shock.

"Part of my battle was to overcome stuff," said Michaels. "Being a diabetic, I was not going to allow people to think, in my life, that being a diabetic had stopped me from being here."

Michaels developed a new flavor of Snapple Iced Tea and won the third season of "Celebrity Apprentice," hearing that famous Donald Trump catchphrase: "You're hired."

"And when he called out my name it took me a minute to realize it," Michaels said.

That exhilarating moment almost didn't happen. Just one month away from the live finale of "Celebrity Apprentice," Michaels was recovering from an appendectomy when something went terribly wrong.

"My brain blew up inside my head. It felt like a shotgun went off in the back of my brain," said Michaels. "Something was wrong. I said to Kristi, 'I don't know what the F is going on with me right now but I'm dying.'"

It was a brain hemorrhage that kills four out of five patients within the first two hours. Michaels was in severe critical condition, and doctors instructed him to have his daughters brought to the hospital immediately so he could say goodbye to them. Even today, he tears up just thinking about it.

"You know, people say, 'Oh, your life flashes in front of you.' My life didn't flash in front of me," said an emotional Michaels. "What happened to me is I got sad. I was like, 'Hmm.' I was like, my kids, you know -- that's what I thought about most."

Michaels would spend the next three days in a coma and a small stroke dealt him a second blow. He struggled with short term memory and his motor skills. Yet through it all, Michaels vowed to get to Donald Trump's desk for the season finale.

"There was no doubt going to the finale of 'Celebrity Apprentice' was not the smartest thing I've ever done," Michaels said.

His doctors advised against him traveling, but Michaels saw it as a test.

"The way I heal is getting right back up on the horse and riding again," Michaels said.

It's that determination and work ethic, as well as his rock and roll identity, that 47-year-old Michaels believes have helped make him a success in life and in the realm of reality TV.

"I didn't go into this as a canvas that was blank. You know, a lot of these people go into it, and you can turn them into whatever you want them to be," Michaels said. "I went in here with millions of fans knowing who and what I was. That's why I stuck to my guns."

Michaels is currently on tour with Poison. The band begins a joint tour with Motley Crue this week.

But Michaels' most recent reality show, "Life as I Know It," stayed away from the road and instead took cameras into his Arizona home. The show explored his family life with his longtime girlfriend, Kristi Lynn Gibson, and their two daughters, Raine and Jorja. The first season ended with Michaels proposing to Gibson, but don't hold your breath waiting for that part of his reality to appear on TV.

"Doing a reality show based in your house will more than likely, probably ruin most relationships," said Michaels. "If we're going to get married and it's going to work, that part I would not do on TV."

Reality TV has turbocharged Michaels' outlook on life. His personal and professional history has been full of risks and rewards. Michaels said that's what fuels him and he wouldn't have it any other way.

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