‘I did a 90-minute workout at 2am!’: Lenny Kravitz on sex, spliffs and staying gorgeous at 60 | Pop and rock

Nobody does rock star like Lenny Kravitz. He pads into the recording studio like a tranquillised tiger. It’s dark in here, but he is wearing shades. He’s got on a leather jacket, skinny black jeans, a T-shirt made from metallic shards. His dreadlocks reach way down his back and are as black as his designer stubble. Kravitz, who has spent much of his adult life topless, has a 28in waist and an eight-pack that could double as a xylophone. Last Sunday, he celebrated his 60th birthday and he’s every bit as gorgeous as he was when he made his name in the late 80s; possibly more so. The consensus seems to be that he’s the hottest 60-year-old man on the planet.

I can’t believe you’re 60, I say. “I can barely believe it myself. But it’s beautiful,” he says. Is it in the genes? “It’s a combination of genes, self-care, hard work and discipline.”

Kravitz is instantly recognisable, his songs less so. Take away the few big hits (American Woman, It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over, Are You Gonna Go My Way, Fly Away) and many of us would struggle to name a song of his. It’s 26 years since he last had a Top 10 hit in the UK and 24 years in the US. And he’s hardly prolific. Blue Electric Light, released this month, is only his 12th studio album in 35 years. Yet Kravitz remains huge, worth an estimated $90m (£70m). He writes and produces for other musicians (notably Madonna’s Justify My Love, although this takes us back 34 years), acts (The Hunger Games, Precious, The Butler) and works as a successful interior designer.

Blue Electric Light is a classic Kravitz mix of funk, soul, pop and heavy rock. His voice is honeyed, he is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and he has a fine ear for writing songs that sound as if they’ve already been written by someone else. The album is sunny and sexy, at various points echoing Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Prince, Elvis Costello and Miguel.

Then there is the outrageous song TK421. Named after the Star Wars character, it also seems to be a euphemism for Kravitz’s you-know-what. (“Come on, baby, get on the one / Can you feel it, oh, my TK421!”) The accompanying video is every bit as raunchy as the lyrics. It’s his first nude scene and he pulls it off with aplomb.

Kravitz with his mother, Roxie Roker, at the 1993 MTV video music awards. Photograph: Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

Kravitz, who lives in France, the Bahamas and Brazil, grew up in New York. His mother was the actor Roxie Roker, who starred in the sitcom The Jeffersons; his father, Sy Kravitz, was an NBC television news producer. Roxie was black with Bahamian ancestry, while Sy was white and Jewish.

By the time he was in his teens, his mother was a household name – and wealthy with it. But she was adamant she wouldn’t spoil Kravitz, who showed promise in music – choral, classical and pop. Despite that, he ended up at the brattish Beverly Hills High in Los Angeles, which inspired the TV series Beverly Hills 90210. “On their 16th birthday, you’d see the kids driving in their BMWs. The teachers’ parking lot was full of Chevys and Fords and the student parking lots were Porsches and Ferraris. It was pretty funny,” he says.

Did you have a car? “Hell no!” So how did you get to school? “Bus or a carpool with friends.” But your parents could have afforded to buy you one? “Of course. My mother was on a No 1 TV show for 11 fucking years. But that would not be raising her boy to become a man. We had no maid – on Saturday morning, she’s scrubbing toilets. She was the most amazing human being.”

His relationship with his father was fraught. When Kravitz was 15, he was desperate to go to a jazz concert, to see the drummer Buddy Rich. Although his father had introduced him to jazz, he told his son he’d been out enough that week and couldn’t go. Kravitz said he was going – and that he was also leaving home.

Today, he says he must have put his mother through so much pain. There was no internet, no mobile phones. If he didn’t have change or there was no working phone box, he couldn’t get in touch with her. And often he didn’t. He was homeless; sometimes living in a car, sometimes depending on the kindness of strangers. “It’s a miracle I survived, that I wasn’t abused,” he says.

Hold on, I say – I thought you said in your memoir that you were abused by a woman in her 20s when you were 13? Ah, he says, that was different. “Yes, she did do that, but that wasn’t …” He comes to a stop. “In today’s world, yes, that was abuse and assault. It was this chick who saw this young teenager and thought I was cute and I’m going to give him some. Any young boy would have taken that opportunity and enjoyed the hell out of it.”

Did you have sex with her? “No. She began and I stopped her.” Why? “I had a girlfriend.” What did she think when you stopped her? “She thought it was comical – ‘You have a girlfriend?!’” Were you a virgin? He nods. I ask if he’s talked about it to his daughter, the actor Zoë Kravitz, and whether she regards it as abuse. He doesn’t answer directly. “I mean, she stopped, and I can’t speak for everyone, but that would have been a fantasy for so many kids. But, for me, it’s not what I wanted.”

Kravitz initially struggled to secure a record deal. He was told he was too black to play rock’n’roll, despite the fact that Little Richard and Chuck Berry had helped invent it 40 years earlier. He straightened his hair, wore blue contact lenses and became Romeo Blue. Where did that come from? “I had a lot of girlfriends, so they nicknamed me Romeo.” Blue was a tribute to the guitarist Adrian Belew.

Kravitz and Lisa Bonet. Photograph: Adam Scull/Photolink/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

He was Romeo Blue in 1985 when he met the Cosby Show actor Lisa Bonet, four years his junior. When she turned 20, they eloped. A year later, they had Zoë and the dynasty was extended (Zoë is a star in her own right). Bonet and Kravitz split up when Zoë was four and are often cited as role models for bringing up a child harmoniously post-divorce.

In his memoir, he writes of the time he overheard his father on the phone talking to a woman and realised he was having an affair – one of many. Kravitz was devastated and told him so. His father replied that he’d end up doing the same thing – as though it was some kind of curse.

Was his father right? “He became right,” he says. “After the marriage, I became more like him. I was becoming a player.” How did you feel about it? “I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be that guy. So I had to tackle that and it took years.” How did you tackle it? “By taking responsibility. Discipline. Not letting my own desires take over.”

Kravitz tells me he’s not been in a serious relationship for nine years. Were you serious when you said a while ago that you wanted to be celibate until you found the right woman? “Yes. It’s a spiritual thing.” He says he’d love to be in a relationship now, but he thinks he might struggle. “I have become very set in my ways, in the way I live.”

By 1989, Kravitz had embraced his real name and released his first album. What was wrong with it in the first place? He looks embarrassed. “I thought ‘Lenny Kravitz’ sounded ridiculous. I’ve got nothing against my Jewish heritage, but it sounded like a Jewish lawyer or a doctor. I didn’t think it was very rock’n’roll. How wrong I was.”

It didn’t take long for him to come to his senses. “I cut the processed hair, grew dreadlocks and became myself. It was a wonderful exercise in finding my way home.”

Performing live in 1986. Photograph: Ilpo Musto/Shutterstock

Did you not realise you were gorgeous back then? “Not. At. All. I never thought that and still don’t think that.” Really? “I’m telling you the truth. I have grown to accept myself and be comfortable with myself, but I have never been one to look in a mirror and go: ‘Ooh yeah, look at that! You’re so beautiful.’ And especially not back then, as a teen. Absolutely not.”

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The video for TK421, which features plenty of mirrors, would suggest otherwise. “I can’t take credit for that,” he says. “I hired this young Ukrainian woman director, Tanu. She had this idea: we’re going to come to your house, you’re going to wake up and open the curtains, get ready for your day … I thought that sounds like the most boring thing ever. Then, when she gets there, she says: ‘So you sleep in the nude, yeah?”

Kravitz says it could have backfired, but tells me why it worked. “We’re having fun, I’m singing into a toothbrush, dancing around the bathroom. It wasn’t the energy of: ‘Ooh, let’s be sexy.’”

I hate to disappoint you, I say, but it is a sexy video. Someone has written a comment below it: “OMG, 60 is the new 30, Lenny just proved it.” He nods. “OK. Well, that’s OK. I’m not going to say there were no sexy elements.”

And another comment: “Great! Now I’m pregnant!”

“Oh God! It was fun and it was cool and it was sexy,” he concedes.

A big spliff features prominently in the video, too. I’d heard that he used to be a heavy smoker. Is it true that he hired somebody to roll his joints? “Erm, yes. A junior high school friend. He had other jobs, too, but one of them was to roll joints.” What other jobs? “Just assisting me. I wanted my buddy with me.” Were you rubbish at rolling or too busy? “No, I was actually very good at it. But if I’m in the studio, playing all the instruments, running around …” Were you a mega spliffhead? “Oh yeah!” I ask if he could compete with George Michael, who told me he smoked about 25 spliffs a day. “Erm, I’d say even more. I was Bob Marley level.” Did it worry you? “No. I’d been smoking weed since I was 11. I stopped years ago. Maybe I’ll have a hit every now and then – as you saw in the video – but I’m talking about every now and again.”

He swapped grass for the gym and took his new hobby every bit as seriously. Could all 60-year-olds look like you? What about somebody like me, who’s got a zero-pack? He looks me up and down. “Right …” he says in a way that doesn’t inspire confidence. “Well, there’s a lot of hard work and discipline in being healthy for me. That means when I want to eat junk, I don’t do it.”

How do you resist? “Take last night. I worked all day, interviews, rehearsing into the night, get home at 11pm. I need to eat something. Now it’s 1am. I didn’t get my workout. So I went to the gym and I did a 90-minute workout at 2am. I don’t want to be in the gym at 2am, but I know that I must.” Why? “Because it’s part of my discipline – it’s about body, mind and spirit. I want all of those three elements aligned. If my body’s in shape and my spirit and mind are not, then it’s just something nice to look at or to boast about. Who cares? For me, all of it has to be aligned. And I have to do the work it takes to have all of those in alignment so my being can be at its maximum.”

The thing is, I explain to Kravitz, I love eating KitKats, about four of them, followed by a bag of crisps with salted peanuts poured into it. He laughs, sympathetically. “I love a KitKat, especially when it’s been kept in the refrigerator.”

I’m a year older than Kravitz. Does he think there’s hope for me? He gives me another once-over. Now I’m convinced all he can see is a human KitKat. “Absolutely. Ab-so-lute-ly. But it takes discipline. You have to change your thinking and do the work. I do it completely naturally. I’m on no hormones, no testosterone. I do this 100% by food and action.”

Have you ever been a slob? “A slob?” he repeats, as if it’s a foreign language. You know, a little bit lazy? “There are a couple of times I stayed in Paris for six months in between tours and I got a little poochy. I drank wine, I ate croissants. I just enjoyed myself and then I was like: oh shit! But that’s only happened once or twice.”

‘I’ll come as I am’ … Kravitz working out in leather trousers. Photograph: @lennykravitz/Instagram

Today, Kravitz is almost as famous for an incident that happened nine years ago as he is for his music. He was rocking so hard on stage that his leather trousers split open at the crotch. He wasn’t wearing underpants. Do you think that boosted your career? “Nooooooah. Absolutely not.” Were you embarrassed? “You just have to go with it. What can you do?” Did you consider wearing underpants after that? “No, I just made sure the pants I had were working.”

Photos recently emerged of Kravitz working out in the gym in leather trousers. Was that for real? “Yep. If I’m coming from somewhere and my trainer says we can get it in now, then I’ll come as I am. A lot of the time I’m in street clothes, which people think is funny.” Kravitz doesn’t. It’s just what you do when you’re dedicated to getting body, spirit and mind in alignment.

My time is up. Kravitz stands up and his mobile rings. It’s on speakerphone. “Hey, what’s up, Rock Star?” says a voice at the other end.

Kravitz is chatting enthusiastically in a side room as I leave. I put my head in the door to say goodbye. He waves. I ask who calls him Rock Star. He grins. “It’s my cousin. He’s being facetious.”

Blue Electric Light is out now on BMG

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