Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses Shares the Secret to His Nearly 25-Year Marriage (Exclusive)

The singer talks candidly about his marriage to Susan Holmes in an interview with PEOPLE, revealing how she influenced his most recent solo album, “Lighthouse.” A mutual acquaintance arranged for Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and model Susan Holmes to go on a blind date in 1996. McKagan,59, remembers to PEOPLE in this week’s edition, which hits newsstands on Friday, “We talked on the phone a few times, and she was a mixture between one of my sisters that made me feel comfortable, but she was also super sexy.” The topics we discussed were quite pleasant. Then she said she will come get me at Burbank Airport. I was thinking, “Holy f—,” when she met me at the gate. She was incredibly beautiful. Sushi supper was next. McKagan, who had been sober for two years, claims, “The place was packed, but as far as I was concerned, there was nobody there.” She asks, ‘Do you mind if I have a sake?’ since she’s frightened. I said, “I don’t give a damn.” Absolutely not.

After a single small sip of sake, she felt euphoric. It seems to me that she doesn’t drink. That’s quite awesome. McKagan and Holmes, 51, are still going strong 27 years after their first date. They were married in 1999 and have two children, Grace, 26, and Mae, 23. “We figured it out pretty early on: no longer than 12 days apart ever,” McKagan explains. “With me and the kids as well, not just her and myself. To try to keep things normal and our family together, I would take a ten-hour flight home. Susan did a fantastic job of maintaining our family’s unity. They would also frequently emerge.” McKagan claims he accepted his new job as a girl dad wholeheartedly from the day he and Holmes welcomed Grace into the world in 1997. “That moment when she came out, we didn’t know whether it was going to be a boy or girl,” he recalls. “I was given this superpower when that girl came out. It dawned on me that I would become a female dad, and that is the greatest duty a man can have on Earth. Everything hit at once.” Three years later, when Mae arrived, McKagan felt validated, saying, “I’m the girl dad.” Let’s get started!” Mae, a Parsons School of Design alumna, and Grace, a musician McKagan characterizes as a cross between “Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry,” used to enjoy traveling with their father. Because there is dessert there, the catering was enjoyable, according to McKagan.

“They have catering available for the crew and everyone when you’re having a large gig. Their main thing was sneaking ice cream. They would be f—ing ecstatic! ‘You weren’t supposed to have dessert,’ we would say.” McKagan claims that he and Holmes had a “normal” existence at home with the girls while he wasn’t on tour. “Their school was walking distance, so we’d walk together to school, hand in hand and stuff like that,” he recalls. “It changed to, ‘No, you can’t hold my hand.'” Why, dad, do you walk me to school with a sleeveless shirt? How about donning some khaki pants? You become the most embarrassed parents ever. After that, they return to you and say, “That’s awesome.” “But we were the normal parents, that’s what all the kids said,” he says. “We still hear comments like, ‘You guys were the most solid.'” And we’ve continued to be in love and married.” The October 20 release of McKagan’s new solo album, Lighthouse, was greatly influenced by his love for Holmes. She served as his inspiration for the song’s title. “‘Lighthouse’ at its core, is a love song to my wife,” adds McKagan. She has served as a ray of hope. We began to hear about 20- and 25-year marriages ending through COVID. ‘What is it even about?’ was our reaction. However, I suppose we spend more time together than the typical married pair.

It was as if we were experiencing yet another historic moment together during COVID. After 27 years of dating, we’ve seen a lot and raised children. My lighthouse is her.” Holmes has been a guiding factor in McKagan’s sober path. Following a hospital stay for acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis, McKagan, who has experienced panic attacks since the age of 16, made the decision to enter recovery after years of battles with addiction. “With a guy like me, you’ve got to go, ‘Sobriety first,'” he continues. “I would f— up everything without that. For me, meeting my wife was a miracle. I’m really happy that I went through the experiences I did because they helped shape who I was when I met Susan. I practiced martial arts twice a day for the first two years after I became clean. I was riding my mountain bike and reading literature. I was attempting to figure out who the f— I was by staring at myself in the mirror. It’s like being on acid during the first six months of sobriety after being f—ed up for so long. It’s all really real.” McKagan knew he would never return to his hard-partying, pre-sobriety lifestyle the moment he met Holmes. “I ain’t going back ever because I don’t want to let this woman down, who I cherish,” he continues. “I’m not going to disappoint her. I promise not to disappoint [my kids].

“Come on, come on,” says the alcohol that is sitting on the shelf just across from me in the other room. ‘Come on.’ Every day. When I take a look at it, I decide, “Not today.” I mean, man, I have too much goodness in my life. I had a romantic, Norman Rockwell-esque picture of s— at the age of 15, and I didn’t think I would ever get there at 27, 28, 29, or 30. However, a few events changed my course in life, and now here I am.”And he still has feelings for Holmes, as he sings in the Lighthouse song “Fallen.” “I smell her perfume before she she walks in the room, I go, ‘Oh, s—,'” he replies. “I talk to her on the phone or something, and I get excited, like, ‘Man.'” McKagan compares Holmes’ walk in a recent runway presentation to “Michael Jordan.” “If you ever get a chance to see Susan walk, it’s epic,” he adds. “Mae was present when I traveled to New York to see her walk in two shows, Kim Shui and Sergio Hudson. I was assigned to the first row.

Before the show, Saweetie and other influencers gathered in this green room. All of them were taking photos. After that, we take our seats, and I can’t resist. I think that’s where you’re meant to be a little reserved. I’m shouting, “Yes!”.” When McKagan’s sixty-year-old birthday is mentioned in February, it’s not unexpected that he quickly shifts his focus to another significant anniversary—his twenty-five-year marriage to Holmes—in August. 60 is fantastic. I feel like I’m twenty, and I made it,” he declares. “Age is a non-factor when one is living a thankful state. I’m excited about 25 years, though. It’s truly epic. I plan to get a tattoo of the XXV on my hand.” However, before Guns N’ Roses’ November 1 and 2 Hollywood Bowl gigs, a beaming McKagan tells PEOPLE that he and his spouse still have a delightful full-circle moment to finish: “I’m going to pick her up at Burbank Airport.”

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