The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The hottest new showbiz blood feud: Axl Rose vs. Irving Azoff

May 18, 2010 |  5:06 pm

Axl_rose OK, I admit it. As much as I love show business, when it comes to guilty pleasures, there's really nothing so marvelous as a showbiz feud. (And by show business, I also mean the media biz, since after all, the media biz has become even more showbizzy than show business itself). Even though politics has produced some colorful feuds over the years, show business is in a class by itself when it comes to nasty invective, bitterness and vitriol.

Just think about it. Whether it's David Letterman vs. Jay Leno, Scott Rudin vs. Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Katzenberg vs. Michael Eisner, Keith Olbermann vs. Bill O'Reilly or Nikki Finke vs. Jeff Zucker, Hollywood can almost always deliver a real doozy of a blood feud. And don't think journalists can't huff and puff and piss on each other with the best of 'em, as is evidenced by the great little donnybrook happening right now between Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff and Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter, who've been at each others throats after Wolff puckishly dubbed Alter "the most pompous man in American journalism."

But now we can add a wonderful new duo to our cask of great feuding antagonists: Axl Rose and Irving Azoff. As the Hollywood Reporter legal blogger Eriq Gardner reports in this delightful post, the Guns N' Roses singer has filed an eye-popping countersuit against Azoff, his former manager, claiming that Azoff, among other things, "tried to implement a scheme to force [Rose] to reunite with the original Guns N' Roses band members and, as part of the plot, failed to properly promote the 'Chinese Democracy' album, lied about a prospective Van Halen super tour and mishandled the band's tour dates."

Rose wants $5 million in damages from Azoff, who is now arguably the most powerful man in the music business. With the merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster, Azoff now controls roughly 70% of the concert ticket market (via Ticketmaster), a huge swath of the live concert business (through Live Nation) and handles the careers of roughly 200 top artists (from the Eagles, Van Halen and Christina Aguilera to Willie Nelson and the Kings of Leon) thanks to Azoff's Front Line Management.

So Rose isn't taking on just anybody. In fact, in his suit, he says that Azoff is violating the government's consent decree (which allowed the merger to happen in the first place) by coercing and bullying artists to do what he wants. In Rose's case, he claims Azoff wanted a Guns N' Roses reunion. So Rose claims that Azoff proceeded to sabotage Rose and his new band so Rose would have no option but to reunite the old band. As the filing puts it: "Upon realizing that he couldn't bully Rose and accomplish his scheme, Azoff resigned and abandoned Guns N' Roses on the eve of a major tour, filing suit for commissions he didn't earn and had no right to receive."

There's oh-so-much more. But surely one of the highlights is Azoff's response to the countersuit. When the Reporter's Gardner contacted longtime Azoff lawyer Howard King, volunteering some of the highlights of the claim, King quipped: "[Rose] didn't accuse Irving of being on the grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22, 1963?" Over the years, Azoff has been in the midst of a number of outlandish feuds, going at it with the likes of David Geffen and former CBS Records chief Walter Yetnikoff, so I suspect there will be more fireworks yet to come. 

Like so many years ago, when Azoff didn't like a story I'd written about the Eagles' Don Henley, he sent me a giant bouquet of black roses. When Azoff had a falling-out with the wife of a high-powered rock manager, he sent him a gift-wrapped boa constrictor as a birthday present, with a note saying, "Now you have two of them!" If I were Axl Rose, I'd be having someone opening my mail for a while. Who knows what kind of blood-curdling surprise Azoff may have in store for him?

Photo: Axl Rose performing in concert at Centenario Stadium in Uruguay in March. Credit: Patricia Torres / European Pressphoto Agency