Keith Urban inherited plenty from his father, Robert, including his love of music and America — and his love of alcohol. Urban’s father passed away in late 2015, and six years later, the country music superstar is still untangling the impact, good and bad, his father had on his life.
“It took me a long time to get sober,” Urban tells Rolling Stone. “Took me a long time to recognize my alcoholism. A long time because I didn’t drink like my dad, so I compared everything to him. So it just took a long time for me. But I was able to finally make the right choice in my life that I wish my dad would have made.”
Urban was raised in a strict household, with some of the memories still haunting him after all these years.
“[I would ask myself] is my dad sort of being a good disciplinarian or is this a bit excessive? Or I don’t know. What’s normal?” the 54-year-old reflects, adding, “It’s sort of like you don’t know where you fit in the scheme of it all.”
Urban shares his memories with his brother, Shane, although not with his mother, Marienne, who remembers her children’s upbringing much differently.
“My brother and I are very much in sync with our memories of everything. But it’s not necessarily shared by my mother,” Urban concedes. “Slightly different memory, different way of framing everything; selective memory. But maybe even at some point where that sort of deniability becomes a real thing and it’s real. You know, whatever it takes to survive and get through things can actually become quite factual in memory. [Mum would say], ‘Oh your dad would never have done that’. And just like, oh my God, really? Are you really saying that? Okay, okay. Let’s just move on, let’s move off that.”
Urban tried without success two times to get sober, after moving to America from his native Australia. But it wasn’t until he was newly married to his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, in 2006, that Urban checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic, finally embracing the sobriety that had escaped him every other time.
“It’s not an uncommon story,” Urban acknowledges. “You know, the career’s on fire and the personal life is also on fire, completely in the wrong way. That was the case for me. I was a real binge drinker.”
Urban, who says he has a “really great sponsor I’ve had for years and years,” still keeps alcohol in his home for his guests, and wants people to feel free to imbibe however they wish when around him, whether in an intimate setting or in the crowd during one of his shows.
“The reason I don’t really talk much about sobriety is it’s a very personal thing and I don’t want anyone thinking that I have a negative opinion of drugs or alcohol,” Urban maintains. “I don’t have any at all, none. I want people to come to my concert and do whatever the hell they want to do.”
“I don’t want people at my concert looking at the stage and thinking about sobriety,” he continues. “That would be the death of a gig for me. It’s not what I want. I’m not there for that. I’m not an AA meeting. I’m on stage and I’m playing and I’m singing, and we’re going to have a great time. We’re going to let go of everything and be in the moment.”