10 Years Ago: Richie Sambora Makes an Ambiguous Exit From Bon Jovi
The news arrived abruptly on a Tuesday night, shortly before Bon Jovi was scheduled to perform at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. "Due to personal issues, Richie Sambora will not be performing on this upcoming leg," the group wrote on its website. "All shows will go on as scheduled."
In the days that followed, less-than-credible sources started rumors that those "personal issues" had to do with Sambora's drinking, for which he'd entered rehab in 2011. But Jon Bon Jovi promptly squashed the rumors about his former songwriting partner.
"I think Richie's doing all right, [but] I haven't spoken to him," he later told The Austin American-Statesman. "We were surprised. It was 3:30 on show day on Tuesday and we got a phone call that he wouldn't be there. It's a personal matter." He implored, for good measure, "don't believe what you read on TMZ because it's the furthest thing from the truth."
Bon Jovi continued touring in support of then-new album What About Now with former Triumph guitarist Phil X filling in for Sambora. (He was promoted to a full-time member in 2016.) In a November 2013 interview with Australia's Today show, Sambora attributed his abrupt exit to wanting to spend more time with his then-15-year-old daughter, Ava, whom he fathered with actress and ex-wife Heather Locklear.
Watch Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards
"I think people don't understand exactly what that means," Sambora said of the rigors of touring on Bon Jovi's scale. "You don't get to come home. There's a huge sacrifice in that. I missed a lot of my daughter's life."
He reiterated these thoughts in a 2014 interview with Lust for Life magazine: "I just wanted to have some calmer waters and do something for myself, but the Bon Jovi machine had to move on. I said I wanted a break. We had just finished another tour, I had just got rid of a bad habit and was just enjoying my time with my daughter. I then envisioned a year full of other priorities. I wanted to make my own music, be at home more and do a few shows with my own band. That was just not accepted. I could choose – participate or quit. That is hard when you share 30 years of joys and sorrows."
By then, Sambora had begun dating Australian guitarist Orianthi, and the two formed the musical duo RSO with plans to release music. Still, he insisted he loved his musical ex-partner and anticipated a return to Bon Jovi. "There is no bad blood with me now," Sambora added. I'm just taking the steps I want to – no, have to take. What happens next? We'll see. I thoroughly enjoy my [RSO] shows and then we will record the album. So I want to tour with it quietly. Not a 14-month tour through more than 50 countries. Just touring, playing and then being home for a while — with Orianthi, because she makes everything extra intense!"
Bon Jovi's namesake frontman also insisted he still loved Sambora, though he sounded notably chillier when broaching the subject. "He quit. He's gone. No hard feelings," Jon told Showbiz 411 in November 2014. "Being in a band isn't a life sentence."
For a while, that seemed to be the end of it. Bon Jovi continued to release albums — 2015's Burning Bridges, 2016's This House Is Not for Sale and 2020's 2020 — and mount enormous world tours. Meanwhile, RSO released their debut EP Rise in 2017, followed by the full-length Radio Free America in 2018.
Then fate and music industry insiders brought the star-crossed Jersey boys back together in 2018 when Bon Jovi was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Sambora and former bassist Alec John Such joined the current lineup for a brisk greatest-hits set.
Watch Bon Jovi Perform 'Livin' on a Prayer' at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock Hall reunion inevitably sparked discussion about Sambora's full-time reinstatement, but he played it cool with the press. "We'll see. You never say never," Sambora told Rolling Stone at the time. "It's not in any immediate future plan, that's for sure. It's just not. I really want to get this RSO thing off the ground. I'm having a ball."
Two years later, Bon Jovi intimated that Sambora still wasn't fit to return to the band. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish that Richie had his life together and was still in the band," he told Rock Antenne. Sambora responded incredulously, insisting he was "the happiest dude on the block," and later joked that part of his deal in Bon Jovi was "to shut the fuck up."
Aside from these passive-aggressive barbs, there seemed to be little movement toward reconciliation — until late 2022, when rumors began swirling that Sambora would rejoin Bon Jovi for the 2023 Glastonbury festival.
"It's a possibility. We're talking a bit," Sambora told Metro in November 2022. A few months later, he told Absolute Radio, "I don't know when Jon's going to get his voice together and [when the Bon Jovi reunion is] going to happen, but we have to get out there and do it for the fans, really. I feel a second obligation."
Meanwhile, Bon Jovi fans were taking the band's lyrics to heart and keeping the faith.
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