Sable Starr Gained Infamy As A Teenage Groupie – But One Legendary Rock Star Did The Unthinkable

At 12 years of age, most girls still play with toys and have crushes on their classmates. But by that point in her life, Sable Starr had started going to concerts with friends who’d given up on school. And after the young woman had started frequenting the Whisky a Go Go and other nightclubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, she would ultimately embark on a tumultuous relationship with a rock musician several years her senior.

By that time, Starr had earned a degree of notoriety among some of the most famous names in 1970s rock. She had ascended to rule over the so-called baby groupies – a cadre of teenagers who dressed daringly and hung out with the likes of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and David Bowie.

Yes, behind closed doors, Starr met a handful of rockers who made the 1970s such a monumental decade for music. But one of the men with whom she was acquainted didn’t have a string-free romp in mind. Instead, he did the unthinkable to the young groupie – and the sad story is immortalized in a famous song, too.

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Sable Hay Shields came into the world in 1957, although the rock and roll community wouldn’t know her by her given name. By the time she had made her way onto the Hollywood scene, she was going under the moniker of Starr instead. But even before Starr began going to nightclubs, she was going to gigs with her friends – many of whom had stopped going to school.

And even though Starr grew up in a wealthy family outside of Los Angeles, she nevertheless rebelled by making underage visits to some of the city’s most infamous hotspots. The former groupie recalled her first foray onto the scene in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, a book by André Malraux, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.

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Starr explained, “I didn’t really live in Hollywood; I was about 45 minutes away. But my friend called me up one day and said, ‘Do you want to go to the Whiskey a Go Go?’ This was when I was 14. And I was nuts to begin with [and] I always liked getting in trouble, so I said, ‘Sure.’”

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What’s more, Starr had grandiose visions of what Hollywood would be like, believing that she’d “see movie stars or something.” But while the teenager didn’t actually catch glimpses of famous actors and actresses, she still found herself captivated by the women whom she saw at the nightclub.

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“I’ll never forget the girls there,” Starr recalled. “I was so intrigued. I was still ugly then, [and] I had to work on it for about a year when I was hanging out in Hollywood.” To that end, the 15-year-old Starr had a nose job to boost her self-image, as she hadn’t considered herself attractive before the procedure.

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But those who knew Starr described her in a completely different way. Her friend and fellow groupie Lori Mattix described her to Thrillist in 2015 by saying, “[Starr] was so glamorous, totally one-of-a-kind, wearing scarves for shirts and going topless without hesitation. I felt completely in awe of her.”

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Of course, Starr was also a teenager when she started frequenting Hollywood clubs. And to appease her parents, she continued going to Palos Verdes High School, although she didn’t do so with pleasure. In Please Kill Me, Starr is reported as having said, “[My parents] let me stay out until six o’clock in the morning – just as long as I went to school. Oh, I hated school when I was 15.”

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But Starr would find ways around her parents’ rules. And by 1973 she had become such a well-known personality that she even landed an interview in Star – a publication aimed at her fellow young women. At that time, in fact, she deemed herself the top groupie in the city.

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To be more specific, Starr was deemed a “baby groupie” owing to her age and her style of dress. She and her fellow teenage friends would slip into risqué outfits then hang out at Hollywood venues such as the Rainbow Bar and Grill, the Whiskey a Go Go and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco.

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And frequenting such locales gave Starr and her friends access to some of the era’s most famous names. She told Star that she had rubbed elbows with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper, for example. But of them all, she anointed Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant as her favorite.

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In fact, Starr’s friendships and late-night antics meant that her face featured prominently in magazines about the 1970s rock music scene. Not everyone took kindly to the girl pictured, mind you. And Starr not only dealt with rival groupies, but also with the jealous girlfriends and wives of the rockers with whom she partied.

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Yet vocalist and model Bebe Buell could only sing Starr’s praises in Please Kill Me. “I always liked Sable Starr and Laurie Mattix – the two big groupies in LA,” she said. “They weren’t competitive. They didn’t have to be. Every rock star that came to LA wanted to meet them; it wasn’t the other way around.”

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And according to Starr, she came to have a fling with Bowie after he had asked for her specifically. Of this encounter, she later recalled, “It wasn’t a thing where I had to go running after him.” Instead, the groupie went to meet the music icon at the Hilton. Starr went on, “Those days were crazy. Every day I was on the go, from one hotel to another.”

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Starr had seemingly left any reservations behind, too. She said, “I sat on David’s lap and said, ‘It is true; you’ve got different-colored eyes.’ Just the whole trip, and I was very good at that. Most girls are really shy; they just sit down and wait. But I’d jump right on their laps.”

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And in no uncertain terms, Starr said, she had asked Bowie if the two could spend the night together. “I’d like to,” the musician supposedly responded before inviting Starr and Mattix to the Rainbow that night. There, the club’s exclusive upstairs area allowed the world to see her with Bowie. “To have all your friends look up and see you – that was cool,” Starr later remarked.

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Starr’s night with Bowie didn’t go off without a hitch, though. At one point, a strange man approached their table and threatened the rock star. “I’m going to kill you,” Starr recalled the unknown “hippie” saying as he swung at Bowie. The pair ultimately left the Rainbow, then, to go to Bowie’s hotel.

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And Starr remembered other women trying to take her position as she and Bowie headed out. She revealed, “All these girls came up to him, saying, ‘David, do you want to take me home?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m with her tonight.’” Later, with a wine glass and cigarette in hand, Bowie kissed Starr in his hotel room bathroom.

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Of this liaison, Starr would go on to say, “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, because there’d been Roxy Music and J. Geils – but David Bowie was the first heavy.” And Starr’s rendezvous with such a big name pushed her into an even brighter spotlight. In Please Kill Me, the former groupie is quoted as saying, “I became very famous and popular after that because it was established that I was cool. I had been accepted by a real rock star.”

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At around the same time that Starr had her fling with Bowie, she also supposedly dated the singer Iggy Pop – as did her younger sister, Corel Shields. And according to guitarist Ron Asheton, Starr and Pop had a tumultuous relationship. The Stooges member claimed, “Iggy would say about Sable, ‘I love her’ then ‘I hate her’ then ‘I love her,’ but he wound up falling for Corel.”

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But that wasn’t the only tempestuous relationship Starr had with a rocker. And when she first encountered New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, sparks flew instantly. Of that initial meeting, Starr later said, “The Dolls pull up in this limousine, and Johnny Thunders was the first to get out of the car.”

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Starr went on, “[Thunders] had this red leather suit on – the one on the back of the [New York Dolls’] first album cover. And I just knew something would happen with Johnny, and it did. He asked me to stay the night, and the next day he started laying all this heavy stuff on me, [saying,] ‘I really like you. I mean, I really care about you. I mean, really like – I love you.’”

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What’s more, those who witnessed Starr and Thunders’ first meeting noted the intensity between the pair. New York Dolls roadie Peter Jordan told the authors of Please Kill Me, “Johnny and Sable’s eyes met, their loins locked, and they spent quite a bit of time together. I think Sable was surprised that Johnny was so intensely and passionately interested in her.”

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Indeed, the fling-based life of a baby groupie didn’t always come with such professions of love. That wasn’t the end of it, either, as Thunders also asked Starr to move away with him just before school registration. Not wanting to continue her education, Starr therefore ran away to New York. And while her mother ultimately called the police, her efforts were in vain. Instead of bringing Starr home, law enforcement ended up apprehending Cyrinda Foxe – a completely different groupie.

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That left Starr and Thunders in New York City to embark on their relationship – one that was tumultuous, to say the least. Things apparently fell apart quickly, however, as according to Jordan, Thunders became addicted to speed. And with the guitarist’s drug use came heavy paranoia, which Starr had a hard time tolerating.

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Jordan said, “Johnny became a raving, classic paranoid speed freak. Like, ‘Let’s pull down the blinds because someone’s over there watching us.’ That type of paranoid routine.” The roadie also claimed that Thunders regularly accused Starr of cheating on him; rather than acquiescing to her boyfriend, though, she would respond to him sarcastically.

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Thunders’ violent jealousy even overflowed into his and Starr’s relationships with other people on the music scene. Asheton recalled, “I ran into Johnny Thunders one night at Max’s Kansas City. I was real happy to see him, but Johnny snubbed me and then started yelling at Sable. She came up to me and said, ‘Johnny’s mad because I was with you. That’s why he hates Iggy, too.’”

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For Asheton, such possessiveness seemed rather hypocritical for Thunders’ part. The Stooges guitarist said, “I thought, ‘God, Johnny, for a guy that’s such a sleazebag, you’re mad at that?’” And, horrifyingly, Thunders’ jealousy would ultimately manifest itself in physical violence against Starr for such minor transgressions as speaking to other men.

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Foxe – the girl mistaken for Starr after her move to New York – revealed, “Johnny Thunders was genuinely into Sable, but he hit the girls he was involved with. The first time I actually met Sable was after one of her fights with Johnny. The whole area under her lip was cut. She was beaten up. She was dirty… I said to her, ‘What are you doing? Just go home!’”

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Starr eventually heeded that advice, but Thunders gave her no alternative. “Johnny was crazy. Crazy and vicious. Sick. Disturbed,” Starr herself recalled. “If I was ever caught talking to a guy… So, after Johnny tried to kill me four or five times, I thought I’d take a trip back home.”

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Still, Starr and Thunders had plans. The former groupie later related, “Johnny and I were going to get married. We were going to have a baby, too.” But when Starr actually became pregnant, she decided not to have a child with her boyfriend. Instead, she terminated the pregnancy and left him in New York City.

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And Starr would go on to claim that her relationship with Thunders had almost changed who she was. She admitted, “Johnny tried to destroy my personality. He wanted me to sit there and be quiet and tell him I loved him 24 hours a day. I liked to run around and have a good time, but I did change for him. I mean, I was becoming the type of person he wanted me to be – just stay home every day.”

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For Starr, then, leaving Thunders meant rebuilding herself. “After I was with [Thunders], I wasn’t Sable Starr anymore. He really destroyed the Sable Starr thing. He made me throw all my diaries and all my phone numbers down the incinerator, and he ripped up my scrapbook,” she said. “After that, I was just kind of destroyed.”

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But Starr did break away from Thunders, eventually returning to LA. And after some time, she began to get over her past relationship – thanks in part to an encounter with Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. Looking back on that time, Starr recalled, “It took me a long time to get it together. I met Keith Richards, and it was really weird. It took a great person like him to show me what a great person I was.”

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Ultimately, though, the 1970s came to an end – as did Starr’s reign as the queen of the baby groupies. Nevertheless, she continued to visit New York, where punk music had begun to take off. She also went on to date singer Richard Hell and even befriended Nancy Spungen – known today for her ill-fated relationship with Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious.

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But as the 1980s progressed, Starr left the music scene behind her for good. After that, she moved to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where she took a job as a card dealer. And in time, she went on to have two children: a daughter named Allie Shields and a son called Christian Sharpsteen.

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Looking back at her life for New York Dolls biography Too Much Too Soon, Starr told author Nina Antonia, “My life has been so normal for the last 20 years… it was fun. Although when I left the scene, I left for good.” Then, in 2009 – more than three decades since her first trip to the Sunset Strip – Starr passed away at her Nevada home. She had struggled with brain cancer and had died as she slept.

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Yet Starr remains alive in song. You see, after her relationship with Iggy Pop, he wrote a song about her and her stormy relationship with Thunders. In “Look Away,” Pop sings, “I slept with Sable when she was 13 / Her parents were too rich to do anything / She rocked her way around LA / ’Til a New York Doll carried her away.”

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