Don Henley is asked at "Hotel California" lyrics trial about time a naked teen overdosed at his home in 1980

Handwritten “Hotel California” lyrics at center of lawsuit


Handwritten “Hotel California” lyrics at center of lawsuit

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Don Henley was asked in a New York courtroom Monday about a seamy episode from his past: his 1980 arrest after authorities said they found drugs and a naked 16-year-old girl suffering from an overdose at the Eagles co-founder’s Los Angeles home.

Henley was testifying at an unrelated criminal trial, where three collectibles dealers are charged with conspiring to own and attempt to sell handwritten draft lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits without the right to do so. The men have pleaded not guilty.

A prosecutor asked about the singer and drummer’s November 1980 arrest early on, apparently to get ahead of defense lawyers. They previously indicated that they planned to question the 76-year-old about his memory of the era and his lifestyle at the time.

The arrest was briefly reported on at the time, and it gained only a passing mention during the recent #MeToo movement, when many such incidents involving public figures were reexamined.

On Monday, Henley told the court that he called for a sex worker that night because he “wanted to escape the depression I was in” over the breakup of the superstar band.

“I wanted to forget about everything that was happening with the band, and I made a poor decision which I regret to this day. I’ve had to live with it for 44 years. I’m still living with it today, in this courtroom. Poor decision,” Henley testified in a raspy drawl.

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Don Henley of the band Eagles leaves for lunch break at Manhattan Criminal Court on February 26, 2024, in New York. 

YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images


As he did in a 1991 interview with GQ magazine, Henley testified that he didn’t know the girl’s age until after his arrest and that he went to bed with the girl, but never had sex with her.

“I don’t remember the anatomical details, but I know there was no sex,” said Henley, who said they’d done cocaine together and talked for many hours about his band’s breakup and her estrangement from her family.

He said he called firefighters, who checked the girl’s health, found her to be OK and left, with him promising to take care of her. The paramedics, who found her in the nude, called police, authorities said at the time.

Henley said Monday that she recovered and was preparing to leave with a friend she’d had him call, when police arrived hours later.

At the time, authorities said they found cocaine, quaaludes and marijuana at his Los Angeles home.

Henley pleaded no contest in 1981 to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to probation and a $2,500 fine, and he requested a drug education program to get some possession charges dismissed.

Henley says he never gave away “Hotel California” lyrics  

Henley was asked about the incident on Monday before he gave the court his version of how handwritten pages from the development of the band’s blockbuster 1976 album made their way from his Southern California barn to New York auctions decades later.

Henley testified he never gave away handwritten pages of draft lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits, calling them “very personal” in testimony that also delved into an unrelated piece of his past: his 1980 arrest.

Henley, the Grammy-winning co-founder of one of the most successful bands in rock history, is prosecutors’ star witness in an unusual criminal trial surrounding about 100 legal-pad pages from the birth of a blockbuster 1976 album.

Henley says the documents were stolen from his barn in Malibu, California. He testified Monday that he was appalled when the material began turning up at auctions in 2012.

“It just wasn’t something that was for public viewing. It was our process. It was something very personal, very private,” he said. “I still wouldn’t show that to anybody.”

At issue are about 100 sheets of paper inscribed with lyrics-in-the-making for multiple songs on the “Hotel California” album, including “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” and the title track that turned into one of the most durable hits in rock. Famed for its lengthy guitar solo and puzzlingly poetic lyrics, the song still gets streamed hundreds of millions of times a year. The album is the third-biggest seller in U.S. history.

On trial are rare-book dealer Glenn Horowitz and rock memorabilia specialists Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski. They bought the pages through writer Ed Sanders, who worked with the Eagles on a never-published band biography and isn’t charged in the case.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property. The men’s lawyers maintain that Henley willingly gave the pages to the scribe and that nothing criminal happened at any point.

“Hotel California” lyrics

Frey and Henley wrote the lyrics to  1976’s “Hotel California” in a Beverly Hills house rented for the purpose, since the tidy Henley’s tendency to pick up after Frey “would drive them crazy” if they worked in their own homes, Azoff testified.

Henley did most of the writing, he added, with Frey leaning in to make suggestions such as the phrase “Life in the Fast Lane,” which became the title of a hit single.

In 2016, “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King asked Henley about the meaning of “Hotel California.”

“Well, I always say, it’s a journey from innocence to experience. It’s not really about California; it’s about America,” Henley said. “It’s about the dark underbelly of the American dream. It’s about excess, it’s about narcissism. It’s about the music business. It’s about a lot of different…. It can have a million interpretations.”

The Grammy-winning song is still a touchstone on classic rock radio and many personal playlists. The entertainment data company Luminate counted more than 220 million streams and 136,000 radio plays of “Hotel California” in the U.S. last year.

In 2016, Henley told Gayle King that in the 1970s, the band was indeed living “life in the fast lane.”

“Yeah… Everybody was doing it. It was the ’70s,” Henley said. “It was what everybody was doing, which doesn’t make it right necessarily. And you know, looking back on it, there’s some regrets about that. We probably could have been more productive … although we were pretty productive, considering.”


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