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Bret Michaels is 'Custom Built'

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Bret Michaels back on track
  • Bret Michaels' third solo album recently debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Top 200 chart
  • He's bounced back from a brain hemorrhage and is currently on tour through October
  • Michaels says he's "lived a tough life, and found a way to make it work"

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- These days, Bret Michaels gets standing ovations wherever he goes, even from those who wouldn't have been caught dead flicking their Bics at a Poison concert in the 80s.

The grit the 47-year-old rocker has displayed during the past four months -- undergoing an appendectomy, then pulling through a brain hemorrhage, a ministroke and the diagnosis of a hole in his heart -- has earned him some long-awaited respect.

In May, he even received Donald Trump's stamp of approval, when the real estate tycoon named him winner of this year's "Celebrity Apprentice," where Michaels raised $250,000 for another health issue he's dealt with in his life -- diabetes. Four times a day, he injects himself with insulin.

Through it all, he's kept two things intact -- his trademark bandana and his self-deprecating sense of humor. "I'm a really active dad," he says. (His daughters with his girlfriend, Kristi Lynn Gibson, are 10 and 5.) "We get the motorcycles out, we play ball, we swim, and I'm like, 'Listen kids, hurry up, man. I may lose another organ.'"

On July 6, Michaels delivered his third solo album, "Custom Built," which debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. He's currently on the road, with tour dates lined up through the end of October. "I honestly didn't want my legacy to be that I had a brain hemorrhage," he says. "In the end, I lived, and it's a feel-good story. There's not a lot of really feel-good stuff out there right now."

CNN recently caught up with the singer at Henson Studios in Los Angeles, where he recorded "Custom Built."

CNN: When did you have time to record an album? Rumor has it you've been a little busy.

Bret Michaels: The new album, "Custom Built," we started working on long before I got sick. The album was originally supposed to come out in March or April, and then I got sick. Not only does it have a bunch of brand-new, original material -- it also has my song, "Every Rose Has its Thorn." I did a real rootsy, kind of cool version of that on here, and then I redid a Sublime song called "What I Got." Its lyrics are relevant in my life: "Love is what I got, so remember that."

CNN: Is that what went through your head as you were in the hospital?

Michaels: No, what went through my head, honestly, is the pain.

I'm pretty sure that the ICU unit is also a sleep-deprivation experiment. Everyone who's been in the ICU knows every two seconds they're like, "Can I just..." They give you Dilaudid [a morphine derivative], which is like, really good. I understand why people get addicted to stuff. I'm just being brutally honest here. Then they give you Soma [a muscle relaxer] and Oxycodone [an opiate-based analgesic] and all this stuff to get better, and then my brain started thinking, "Man, I'm going to end of up having an addiction problem when this is all done!"

There's no way to describe the pain. It feels like you have the most intense migraine headache all the time. It starts to get very depressing. You learn to walk like five feet, and you sit back down, and your speech is slurred. So you're learning, all these things are coming back.

CNN: You seem like you're doing well.

Michaels: I get through my life with a lot of humor. I laugh. I'm very self-deprecating. I fight through a lot of my things by accepting them, and then laughing about them, you know what I mean?

I mean, I get knocked out at the Tonys. Who gets knocked out at the Tonys? Seriously. A wall came down -- it was like a two-ton wall -- and hit me in the head. It didn't just hit me once. When I actually watch it in slow-mo, you need one of those sounds that go, "Nooooooooo!" It was a bad, old movie. What movie am I thinking of? With Harrison Ford. That's the brain hemorrhage.

CNN: "Raiders?"

Michaels: Thank you. "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

CNN: Do you think being hit by the scenery at the Tonys contributed [to the brain hemorrhage]?

Michaels: Two different doctors at Vanderbilt looked at it, and they said, "Well, without a doubt, you broke your nose." There were a couple things that happened that were superficial, and who cares, you know what I'm saying? But the other side of it is -- let's tell the truth. Insurance companies immediately want to clear it under the table because most head injuries don't really present themselves or show for what could be two years, a year -- you don't really know.

But can I say specifically that I know that that's what caused it? No. I could never say that's what did it. But did it contribute to it? Probably.

CNN: So are you thinking about possibly getting married now?

Michaels: There's rumors of that out there. Uh, it's a work in progress. Can I leave it at that?

CNN: But isn't it always a work in progress? I mean, I watched "Rock of Love."

Michaels: Listen, we've already got the babies out of the way, do you know what I mean? Kristi and I already have kids.

CNN: What is it about marriage that you're afraid or, or don't want?

Michaels: Let me say this. Marriage is the finest thing any two people can do if they're good at it, right? I love my kids. I love Kristi. I respect her. We love each other.

We've been together for a very long time, on and off. And the truth of the matter is you don't have a brain hemorrhage and want to be married. That's not how it works. I don't want her to think that that's the reason I would do it. You do it out of love. I have never found in my life that you needed a piece of paper to be in love. I would love to be married. I just don't know when that day's going to be.

CNN: Do you think your life, your career, have been difficult? Or do you think you've lived kind of a charmed life?

Michaels: If I look back at it from a distance, I've lived a tough life, and found a way to make it work. I've been thrown a lot of punches. I've been thrown a lot of stuff, [but] I feel blessed. All the well wishes, all the prayers, everything that came back from people when I got sick is the same thing that I've given to people when they were sick. In other words, sometimes that karma comes back around.

CNN: Do you believe nice guys do finish first?

Michaels: I think that if you're a cool dude, and you treat people with respect and you're nice to people, I think you can do all right.