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Billy Bob Thornton in front of the Sunset Marquis Hotel

The Sunset Marquis Hotel and the 1990s – Billy Bob Thornton Moves In

In 1993, the Sunset Marquis turned thirty alongside the new morning ritual of Villa 41. A gaggle of bikini-clad models shoved themselves beneath the villa’s window every morning. At 8:00am sharp, the window burst forth, and a skull-and-crossbones cape unfurled to the ogling eyes below. Keith Richards, cigarette precariously perched on his lip, stepped into the window frame. The smell of steak searing on his stove wafted down to the sirens below as the women took their tops off and beamed back at him. By 10:00am, he was at the studio with the rest of The Rolling Stones, recording their newest album.  Then, Billy Bob Thornton moved in.

The Keith Richards Gym

The ’90s saw the installation of The Keith Richards Gym. Gruendyke installed the gym upon Mr. Richards’s request, and Richards frequented it with his customary workout companions: a beer and a joint. The gym would be the first of three new additions to the hotel, amidst one removal: the AstroTurf around the pool sang into swan song in the ’90s. Chris Robinson, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Catherine Deneuve, and Juliette Binoche all frequented the Cafe Patio that was now situated on a new white pool deck.

Barry Avrich, who used the hotel as the backdrop for many of his extraordinary documentaries, said, “Where else do you see beautiful women at the pool, Anthony Hopkins at one table, Malcolm McDowell at another table, James Earl Jones and Jack Palance at the other?”

The hotel experienced a breath of romanticism – both the happy and the melancholic varieties – in the ’90s. Harry Connick, Jr. and Jill Goodacre locked eyes as she swam in the Sunset Marquis pool; they would later be married. An inconsolable Courtney Love wrote poems in lipstick on her villa’s door the night Kurt Cobain died. She also wrote the song “Sunset Marquis” about various future romantic encounters at the hotel. Dave Grohl and his wife, Jordyn Blum, were introduced at The Whiskey.

The Summer of ’94

The world famous BAR 1200 lounge
Bar 1200 at Sunset Marquis Hotel, West Hollywood

In the Summer of 1994, Rande Gerber and Rod Gruendyke championed an update to the bar, which had until then been a few stools slung up against a wall in a slivered space to the left of the hotel’s entrance. They extended the space, adding some hanging art and a few tables. On the opening night, Tony Curtis showed up to a sparsely occupied room, and Gerber urgently called his wife – Cindy Crawford – and some of her supermodel friends to pad the space.

On the second night, security turned away three hundred people. “With an economy exploding during the ‘Dotcom Boom,’ a robust music, film, and fashion industry, and no such thing as cameras on cellphones, The Whiskey was the physical manifestation of Prince’s ‘1999,’” said Billy Bob Thorton. The Sunset Marquis was officially injected with new ’90s glamour and clamor.

The Whiskey – A Legend Arrives

This five hundred-square-foot bar off the Sunset Strip preserved the past thirty years of scandal, highs, and rock and roll. Tables Three and Four were the most desirable and became known as “The Hot Corner,” often servicing Sean Penn, George Clooney, Rod Stewart, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Hugh Hefner, Naomi Campbell, Leonardo DiCaprio, and other beloved long-time residents.

“Just imagine all your best friends in the world in the same room together. Every night. With all the girls and actresses you’ve ever fancied. Ever. And just, I mean, I can’t say more than having the time of one’s life in every way, shape or form. We tried with as much respect as possible to maintain…goodness. But…,” said Julian Lennon of The Whiskey. And when the 1994 earthquake threw guests from their beds and flooded rooms with hot tub water, Keith Richards was discovered pouring shots for everyone who had landed in The Whiskey.

A Community of Artists

Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton

No one says it better than the Sunset Marquis’s self-proclaimed “mayor,” Billy Bob Thorton: “This place embodies the days of The Sunset Strip and Hollywood and Rock and Roll all rolled into one, where you have a community of artists. The times we had in the Whiskey Bar felt historic. It was everything you’d ever dreamed of, like they built this place specifically so if you wanted to live the life you read about in books, this is where you come and do it” (119).

Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz, Mark Wahlberg, Vince Vaughn, and ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons all frequented The Whiskey. Thornton continued, “There was a reverence. There was a respect for each other. Any pictures you have here that might be sketchy are ones you did yourself.”

In 1995, Billy Bob Thornton moved into Suite 134 and made the Sunset Marquis his “very protected” home. He first lived with Laura Dern and later with Angelina Jolie at the hotel. Of this time period, Thornton said, “My heyday of living a Rock and Roll lifestyle was about ’95 through 2002, 2003, because that’s when I did ‘Bad Santa.’ That was my ‘lost weekend,’ but it was way longer than a weekend.”

The Walls of Villa 2

While Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston lived in Villa 2, Chris Robinson, Kate Hudson, Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt, and Richard Harris checked in and out. The Collins and Osbourne families now had adolescents living at the hotel, and Lemmy, Mötley Crüe, Slash, and Verne Troyer of Austin Powers would rail in The Whiskey at night before migrating the extravagance to a private villa.

Green Day was kicked out of the hotel three times (thrice more than the Beastie Boys!) in the ’90s. First, furniture was thrown out the window. Second, hair dye was spilled, turning the carpet green and inspiring the band to move a host of potted plants indoors to make an interior jungle in one of the rooms. Finally, a box of bubble bath was unleashed in the hot tub, suffocating the surrounding gardens in soapy orbs.

NightBird Recording Studio

NightBird Recording Studio at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Photo by Mike Olson
NightBird Recording Studio at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Photo by Mike Olson

The final addition of the ’90s was the NightBird Recording Studio. Musician and film composer Jed Leiber had the habit of writing and playing with Jeff Beck in a tiny space next to the laundry room in the garage. The noise was waking and disturbing guests, so Leiber created a solution: a subterranean studio to be offered as a new amenity for the Sunset Marquis’s musical clientele, which would also serve, most importantly, as his personal studio.

Throughout the ’90s – and before iTunes and iPods encroached on the music industry – legends continued to sing and strum at the Sunset Marquis, a happy summer camp for musicians new, old, and married. A final ’90s moment to visualize: songwriter Diane Warren playing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for the first time on the grand piano in Villa 2 for Steven Tyler.

That wraps up the 1990s and the Sunset Marquis‘s role as the perpetual host of international music icons. Check it out.  This isn’t just history. It’s happening now!

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Dear Friends,

For every single one of us, these are challenging times, both personally and professionally. The economic burden we all are bearing is difficult, and our hearts go out to all those who suffer adverse health issues from Covid-19. While we wait to hear news and updates from around the world, it is uplifting to learn about the positive things people are doing in our communities to help those unable to help themselves. It is humbling to see a warm spirit of humankind shining through during times of struggle.

At the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas, we appreciate your support and patience as we endeavor to provide the service and support for our staff and guests. For now, the hotel is open with limited services. We have closed our restaurant and bar in keeping with directives of government officials, but room service remains available, and we hope to offer take-out food service shortly. Our current operations follow the explicit guidelines set forth by the CDC to ensure the safety and welfare of our employees, our guests and their families.

While the road ahead will be difficult, one thing is certain; this, too, shall pass. We are optimistic and hopeful for a speedy end to this global crisis and confident that we will persevere by working together, coming together as a global community, and being patient and kind to one another. Thank you for your patronage, and we look forward to welcoming you back to a vibrant and lively Sunset Marquis very soon.

Very Truly Yours,

THE SUNSET MARQUIS HOTEL & VILLAS

Mark “Marquis” Rosenthal
President/CEO
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