Rose, who was raised as Bill Bailey, describes his childhood in mostly angry terms. He speaks of physical and sexual abuse, of a mother who was never there for him, of a stepfather who whacked him for singing along with Barry Manilow's "Mandy." He talks about singing songs of Elvis in front of the smaller children at recess when he was in third grade. He tells stories of witnessing astonishing things springing from a fervent Pentecostal upbringing, and winning prizes for learning Bible verses, yet being unable to believe anything of what he was taught.
By the age of 16, young Bill had developed into a "full-fledged juvenile delinquent," and was banned from his parents' home. He was jailed many times, though says he was not guilty except for some arrests for underage drinking. At 17 he learned that the man who had raised him, Stephen Bailey, was not his natural father, and adopted his natural father's surname of Rose. "Axl" was the name of one of his early bands. Pundits have noted that "Axl Rose" is an anagram of "oral sex," which may have appealed to the rebellious young man.
At 18 Axl hitchhiked to Los Angeles to seek his fortune. There he met up with school friend Izzy Stradlin, and over the next several years the two struggled their way toward success, sometimes living on the streets, playing wherever and whenever they could. The band Guns N' Roses, formed in 1985, had enough success to start playing as a lead act for established groups, and eventually made a name for themselves.
Between 1987 and 1991, Axl was arrested several times for assault. At some point he was diagnosed as bipolar and put on lithium; one source says he also underwent anger management therapy. Axl himself has been quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, "I'm very sensitive and emotional and things upset me and make me feel like not functioning or dealing with people... I went to a clinic, thinking it would help my moods. The only thing I did was to take one 500 question test - ya know, filling in the little black dots. All of a sudden I'm diagnosed manic-depressive. 'Let's put Axl on medication.' Well, the medication doesn't help me deal with the stress. The only thing it does is help keep people off my back because they figure I'm on medication."
It's impossible to say categorically whether Axl Rose is bipolar. Some of his behaviors - explosive anger, alcohol use in youth, substance abuse - could point to this, but could also be signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or other affective disorders. Accounts of his life give information about his childhood that is conflicting at times. Yet certainly he has had a turbulent life, and by all accounts, not a happy one.