In November of 1973, shortly after her 16th birthday, Julia Holcomb met Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler – one of Aerosmith’s famous Toxic Twins – backstage at a concert in Portland, Oregon, kicking off an infamous 3-year relationship – one that may be about to bit him after al these years.
Julia Holcomb did not come from a happy background. Her father essentially abandoned her mother when she was at an early age – he was a gambling addict who came and went in the family’s lives, leaving a trail of debt and infidelity. Eventually, her mother lost patience and filed for divorce, only to then remarry an alcoholic. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
A devastating trauma was lying in wait – when she was 13, Holcomb’s family was involved in a deadly car accident whilst returning from a camping trip. Her younger brother and grandfather were both killed, her grandmother lost a leg, and Julia Holcombe herself was injured. The family anguish led directly to a second divorce for Holcombe’s mother, after her second husband was committed to a mental hospital and she had a nervous breakdown.
A second stepfather arrived on the scene, causing more tension, and the family was unable to regain any structure in their lives. Julia and her sister rebelled, with Julia starting to experience drink and drugs in her friend crowd. One of these friends had access to backstage parties at local rock concerts – she took Julia along when Aerosmith were next in town, and the die was cast.
She met Steven Tyler backstage, shared some of her sad family history, he was captivated, and they started a sexual relationship. ‘Captivated’ barely does it justice – maybe infatuation would be a better description. Tyler start to fantasize about taking Holcombe away on tour with him, as part of a permanent relationship, but at her age it was impossible. But refusing to admit defeat, he began to hatch a plan to take over legal custody of Julia himself – as her legal guardian, he’d have the right to take her where he wanted.
Holcombe felt that her mother would not sign over guardianship to Tyler, and was surprised to find that she had. Tyler had sealed the deal by claiming that with guardianship, he would enrol Julia in school, though that never happened. Holcombe duly embarked on her new life with Tyler, but the arrangements left her in a strange and ultimately powerless place, where Tyler was her senior by 11 years, her legal guardian and also her sexual partner – though not of course her husband. Still, after her childhood traumas, Holcomb felt that Tyler offered her only viable future at that point. She felt abandoned by her family back home – given away like an unwanted Christmas present.
Tyler’s infatuation showed no sign of relenting. After a few months together, according to Holcomb, he even started to talk about his desire to have a child with her. Convinced that this proved Tyler’s love for her, Holcomb agreed, and stopped using birth control. Sure enough, she was pregnant within a year.
Both were initially thrilled by the news. Tyler proposed marriage, and introduced Holcomb to his family in New Hampshire. Despite reservations about Holcomb’s age, they were supportive, although Tyler’s grandmother balked at the idea of donating her family wedding ring for the proposed union.
The wheels quickly fell off. Whether it was triggered by the ring incident and the deeper family reservations is uncertain, but Tyler got cold feet about the idea of marriage almost immediately. Holcomb was angry – she thought he loved her and now everything seemed to have fallen apart in no time. She wondered if she should have agreed so easily to the idea of a baby.
Still, they stayed together. Tyler deposited Holcomb at his apartment in Boston while he went on a new tour with Aerosmith, but with no money, no arranged medical care, and not much food. He did check in by phone though, and promised to send someone over to take her to a grocery store for some food.
Disaster struck again – this time almost lethally. Holcomb woke in the apartment to a cloud of dense, black smoke – the building was on fire, and she could barely see far enough to plan an escape.
She got down on the floor and crawled to the front door. Tyler had insisted on good security – 3 locks now stood between Julia and safety. This was ostensibly for normal security purposes, but was likely also to keep out any intruders after his drugs stash. Anyway, without all the keys to hand, Julia remained trapped. Defeated, she staggered to the rear fire escape stairs, only to find the railings were scorching hot from the flames. Death now seemed inevitable. Returning to the apartment, she prayed to God, remembered some of Jesus’s words from a childhood bible class, and waited for unconsciousness to arrive.
She woke in a hospital bed, surrounded by medical staff, and by Tyler himself. He was shaken, having been told by doctors that she might not make it due to the level of smoke inhalation. He gave her a soft toy as a gift. On some level, the child-like infatuation was still present.
But only on some level. After the doctors had left the room, Tyler told Holcomb that she should terminate the pregnancy – that she was too weak to carry a child due to her smoke injuries. Holcomb was devastated, and refused point blank. She was 5 months pregnant at this stage, and having been told the baby was ok, was determined to give birth and become a mother. Tyler would not back down. He pressured her for well over an hour, but she stood firm.
Finally, he relented, but said he’d take her back to her own mother and stepfather’s place to have the baby. Psychologically, this was another way for Tyler to exert pressure and control. He knew her family background, that she’d felt abandoned and that her family would probably not welcome her with open arms carrying a baby. Exhausted by the prospect, and with no real hope of providing for the child (Tyler was still providing no money or medical support) she agreed to the abortion.
Tyler was delighted, even snorting cocaine as he sat beside her bed in the abortion clinic. But, traumatized by the whole chain of events – the almost deadly fire followed swiftly be a late term abortion – Julia Holcombe knew nothing could be the same between them after that. She grieved for her loss, feeling cheated and betrayed by everyone around her. Tyler meanwhile carried on with his life – the band, other women.
Holcomb hung around for a few months – he was still her guardian with legal responsibilities, which complicated things. Eventually she gave up on that life. She left Tyler and returned to live her family. Tyler called a few times, then gave up himself. She never heard from him again.
In 2023, Julia Holcomb (now Holcomb-Misley) sued Steven Tyler in California, taking advantage of a state law which temporarily extended the statute of limitations for adults who want to take legal action for sexual abused they suffered as children.
Holcomb Misley’s lawsuit alleges sexual battery, sexual assault, and intentional infliction of distress during their time together.
Tyler’s defence may not be helped by the publicity surrounding the relationship over the years – it was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s worst kept secrets even at the time. Later on, Tyler even talked about it at some length in his own autobiography, ‘Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?’ in which the rock star describes a sexual relationship with an unnamed 16-year-old girl he picked up after a show in 1973, including convincing her parents to give him legal custody of her, “so I wouldn’t get arrested if I took her out of state”. He devotes several pages to his upbeat and sexually graphic recollections of a three-year relationship with this anonymous teenage “groupie” he compares to Kate Hudson’s character in the film Almost Famous, writing that he was “so in love I almost took a teen bride”.
“With my bad self being twenty-six and she barely old enough to drive and sexy as hell, I just fell madly in love with her,” he wrote. A “Julia Halcomb” is also named in his book’s acknowledgments. So much for anonymity.
In a profile of Tyler by Rolling Stone magazine, Holcomb was named as a girlfriend who was a constant companion. The two had been photographed together, and Holcomb-Misley was interviewed about her interactions with Tyler in a 2021 documentary, Look Away, which focused on the abuse of young women in the music industry during the 70s and 80s.
So, yes, really the worst kept secret ever. Tyler has made little effort to hide the realities of what happened, and indeed, seemingly failed to ever consider the potential emotional effect on Holcomb-Misley of having the whole thing raked over again in subsequent years, especially through the book. Misley’s lawsuit accuses the rock star of inflicting additional emotional distress on her through the “involuntary infamy” of being described in graphic terms in his memoirs, which created additional trauma, and deep feelings of shame, humiliation, and fear in her. For example, when Misley “was in line at a grocery store and saw a picture of herself on a tabloid that referred to her as DEFENDANT DOE 1’s teen lover. The caption under Plaintiff’s photo read, ‘She was 15 when they fell in love. He’s described her as having “more legs than a bucket of chicken,”’” the lawsuit alleges. The same tabloid story included explicit details of her coerced abortion.
At the age of 65, Julia Holcomb-Misley seems to have concluded that enough is enough
At the time of this writing, neither Tyler nor his representatives have commented publicly on the lawsuit, and the process will now play out. If Holcomb-Misley gets her day in court, all of the above will be raked over yet again, with plenty more details besides.
However, given the known background of what we would today reefer to a classic case of grooming, she deserves to have her story heard and be treated like a human being in the process.
Everyone knows the stories of raucous behaviour on the Classic Heavy Metal scene, but even rock gods need to make some minimal effort to ensure their behaviours stays within the bounds of both human decency and the law.
According to Classic Metal Hawk, Tyler falls miles short on the former. The process now playing out will determine the case for the latter.
Is it right that Tyler faces the music after all these years? Does this shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the type of behaviour we’re sometimes willing to accept from the stars?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.