Jon Bon Jovi: A Four-Part Hulu Documentary

For more than 120 million albums sold and a decades-long career that has taken them around the world more than 2,600 times, Bon Jovi should have earned the respect of rock fans. But as this four-part Hulu documentary shows, that might not have been the plan. The band was built on an aggressive strategy that seemed to work: Write well-crafted rock songs with a deliberate pop sheen, play your heart out every time you take the stage, exceed the expectations of fans and look good doing it.

That’s a lot easier to say than do, but the band figured it out and largely stuck with the plan, even as its members changed in age and tastes. Jon Bon Jovi, whose toothy grin and massive hair made him a ’80s icon, is still going strong at 62. But his frankness and willingness to address problems that have plagued other veterans of the music business, including addiction, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and death, makes him an engaging interview subject.

Throughout the series, the singer talks candidly about his battles and how he has dealt with them in ways that will surprise anyone who hasn’t followed his career from its inauspicious beginnings as a gofer for a Manhattan recording studio to worldwide acclaim. Footage of him croaking through vocal exercises, getting laser treatments, undergoing acupuncture and, ultimately, surgery for throat cancer is interwoven with scenes from the band’s past, as its members struggled to overcome their own demons while delivering pyrotechnic sets to stadium crowds.

The band’s first big hit came in 1986 with ‘Slippery When Wet,’ which set the tone for their relentless touring schedule. Bon Jovi was never a band of critics’ darlings, but they did find a core audience among working-class fans in the Northeast. The ’90s brought new hits with Keep the Faith, Crossroads and These Days, while the band’s image shifted from wild excess to a more mature, adult contemporary sound with Crush and Lost Highway.

Jon Bon Jovi’s approach to philanthropy is also impressive. The singer is adamant that he won’t be a rock star who squanders his wealth on flashy cars and luxury condos. Instead, he has poured his money into building a medical clinic for the poor in Philadelphia and funding housing for low-income families. He and wife Dorothea Hurley have also established four Soul Kitchen outlets in New Jersey to give homeless people meals and a place to connect with others.

He might not be immune to rock star cliches — his teeth are blinding white and he’s fond of distributing aphorisms that resemble insight — but the man can tell a mean joke as well as any self-aggrandizing legend. He also knows when to step back and be humble. That’s perhaps the best lesson of all in this compelling portrait of a band that remains at the top of its game.