The origins of the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be traced back to one afternoon in 1978, according to The Guardian. Anthony Kiedis and his Fairfax High School classmate and friend Michael Balzary hitchhiked out to a waterpark in a distant suburb of Los Angeles. After swimming and smoking, they tried to figure out a way home until spotting a classmate – he was in their geometry class — driving down the street in a Datsun B210. Anthony and Michael learned that the driver played guitar in a band, and the man behind the wheel suggested Balzary take up the bass.
“That was Hillel [Slovak],” Michael, aka Flea, told The Guardian. “That one chance occurrence changed our entire lives.” The band would form in 1983, and over the next four decades, RHCP would climb to the heights of rock stardom while the members of the group faced the lowest of personal lows. The band would also see a shifting lineup, with more than a dozen members by the group’s fortieth anniversary. Here’s a look at all the past and present members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Anthony Kiedis is one of two original RHCP members still with the band. First operating as a master of ceremonies for the trio of Flea, Slovak, and original drummer, Jack Irons, Kiedis soon shifted to the vocalist. “We were drawn to each other by the forces of mischief, love, and The Grateful Dead,” he said in 2021, per Far Out magazine. “We became virtually inseparable. We were both social outcasts. We found each other, and it turned out to be the longest-lasting friendship of my life.”
During Kiedis’ tenure with the band, he would famously struggle with drug addiction, a battle that would be the basis for “Under The Bridge,” one of the band’s biggest songs. “I felt an unspoken bond between me and my city. I’d spent so much time wandering through the streets of L.A. and hiking through the Hollywood Hills that I sensed there was a nonhuman entity, maybe the spirit of the hills and the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me,” Anthony said about the song, per Ultimate Guitar.
Decades after the band formed, Anthony still sees the group growing strong and retaining its original spirit. “Because of who we are, the way we live and what we do, we could be having dinner with the queen of England and still maintain our punk-rock relevance,” Anthony told Rolling Stone in 2002. “We could drive in limos and private jets all day long, and we’d still be more punk rock than bands that call themselves punk rock today. All of our motivation is true and real, and that’s more the essence of punk rock than people trying to sound like something that happened twenty years ago.”
Anthony is also known for his dabbling in acting, famously appearing in 1991’s Point Break and 1994’s The Chase.
Flea (b. Oct. 16, 1962) – nicknamed such due to his inability to stay still as a child – is considered one of the greatest bass players of all time. After learning how to play with help from Slovak, he developed a style that blended funk, punk, jazz, and all sorts of avant-garde influences. “We were at the dark end of the L.A. punk scene,” Flea told The Guardian of the band’s formation, “and that scene was full-on and violent and aggressive and wild and intense. We worked very hard to make it a cohesive thing that could blow your f-cking face off. Most people don’t get it, they like easy listening. They don’t want to hear Captain Beefheart. Well, I do! I want to hear Captain f-cking Beefheart!”
Flea is the other original RHCP, besides Anthony, still in the group, but his interests have taken him beyond the stage and in front of the camera. His filmography is extensive, with roles in such cult classic films as Suburbia, Dudes, The Chase, and The Blue Iguana. He’s also had some roles in more mainstream movies like Back to the Future Part II and Part III, The Big Lebowski, and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. He also voiced Donnie Thornberry on The Wild Thornberrys cartoon series in the late 1990s and had a role as a bounty hunter in 2022’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
Chad Smith (b. Oct. 25, 1961) is the longest-tenured drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though he wasn’t part of the original lineup, he has been with the band since 1988. He joined the group after D.H. Peligro was fired and helped the band refocus in time to finish recording Mother’s Milk, an album that helped the band gain more mainstream success (thanks to “Taste The Pain,” “Knock Me Down,” and their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”)
Since joining the group, Chad has won six Grammy Awards, had seven albums reach the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, had a drum battle with his doppelganger Will Ferrell, and he’s been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. However, in 2022, the band got a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame, which Chad said really meant that he’s made it. “My mother was so overwhelmed with excitement, and she was so proud to hear that the band was getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” he said during Loudwire Nights. “That’s something that she can relate to. My mother is 95 years old, okay? And she’s like, ‘Oh my god, you’re getting a star! Carol Burnett has a star and Bob Hope!’”
John Frusciante (b. Mar. 5, 1970) is the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Pepppers. Like Chad, his first recorded appearance was on 1989’s Mother’s Milk, as he replaced Hillel Slovak. Following the band’s incredible success with 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an overwhelmed John quit the group in 1992, per Louder.
From there, he fell into drugs. “I tried to quit [heroin] by taking speed and other stuff, then smoking crack and just taking heroin occasionally. I tried it by shooting coke. I knew I was going to die,” he told The Guardian in 2003. “This was January, and I was positive I would be dead by March if I kept on taking drugs. So I tried it without doing any drugs at all. I thought, ‘Let’s see what happens in a year. If it still feels like the world is against you and people don’t want you, you can go back on drugs, and you can die.’”
John did O.D. in 1996 but survived the brush with death. In 1998, he went into rehab. That same year, he reunited with the band and remained part of the lineup until 2008. “To put it simply, my musical interests have led me in a different direction,” he wrote in a MySpace blog post, per Rolling Stone. “I really love the band and what we did. Over the last 12 years, I have changed, as a person and artist, to such a degree that to do further work along the lines I did with the band would be to go against my own nature. There was no choice involved in this decision. I simply have to be what I am, and have to do what I must do.” He said there was “no drama” to this departure, as the band itself was taking a break after an exhaustive second act following 1999’s Californication.
John would ultimately rejoin the group in 2019. “John coming back clearly has a profound impact on our band,” Flea told Forbes in 2022. “We’re a band that creates communally. We’re a band that improvises together. We’re a band that is always together, the four of us in a room, looking at one another, listening to one another, and playing together and affecting one another in all kinds of different ways. If you love someone, if you’re irritated by someone, if you’re uncomfortable with someone, comfortable with someone in a beautiful mood, altogether at odds over a creative idea or something in life, whatever it may be, everything is always influencing all the sound.”
Hillel Slovak (b. Apr. 13, 1962) was the founding guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He played with the band until his fatal heroin overdose on June 25, 1988.
Slovak didn’t play on the band’s first album, rejoining the group in time for the sophomore release, Freaky Styley. “I wish Hillel hadn’t missed out on that first recording in the first year,” Anthony told NME in 2022. “We did some T.V. shows in 1984, and I look at them now and think: ‘Damn, I wish Hillel would have been there for that. He was a creator of the band. That was his baby’ Anyway, it was meant to be the way it was meant to be and it all fleshed out the way life goes… But Hillel’s still there in our hearts, whether it’s 30, 40, 50, 60 or even 100 [years].”
As the original drummer for the band, Jack Irons (b. July 18, 1963) played with the group until Slovak died in 1988. Jack reportedly didn’t want to be part of a band struggling with drug addiction. After leaving the peppers, he worked with Joe Strummer, formed the band Eleven, and joined Pearl Jam in late 1994. He would play with the band until 1998, and his drumming can be heard on the band’s albums Vitalogy, Merkin Ball, No Code, and Yield.
Cliff Martinez (b. Feb. 5, 1954) joined RHCP after Irons and Slovak took a break from the group to focus on their other project, What Is This? Martinez spent three years in the group before focusing on his work scoring films. He was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame with the Peppers for his work on the band’s first two albums, their 1984 self-titled debut, and Freaky Styley.
When asked about his time with the group, Martinez told BMI that his favorite memory was “working with George Clinton and members of Funkadelic at United Sound in Detroit. It was the studio where a lot of Motown hits came from, and Aretha Franklin was working in another studio down the hall. George was our producer, and all of us loved working with him; we learned a lot about making records and ‘the Funk.’”
Jack Sherman (b. Jan. 18, 956) was a guitarist who filled in for Slovak while he and Irons focused on What Is This? He would co-write songs on Freaky Styley before the band fired him. Sadly, he wasn’t inducted into the Rock Hall with the band in 2012, and in 2020, he passed away from a heart attack.
“He taught me about diet, to eat clean and be conscious of my body,” Flea wrote in a lengthy tribute, one that addressed their often contentious relationship. “But more than anything, he was my friend. We came from very different backgrounds, had different world views, and it was hard for us to relate to one another often. But the excitement we shared over music, and the joy that bubbled up between us will last forever. Rest In Peace, Sherm I love you.
Funk icon DeWayne McKnight (b. Apr. 17, 1954) – who played with Parliament-Funkadelic from 1978 to 2008 – was briefly involved with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He took over as guitarist for a hot minute following Slovak’s death before the band replaced him with John Frusciante.
D.H. Peligro (b. July 9, 1959) is a punk icon, handling the drums for The Dead Kennedys. He was also briefly a member of the Chili Peppers. “There was actually a Bay Area guy named D. H. Peligro, who played with the Dead Kennedys, he in our band for a short while [in 1988] – a great drummer,” Flea said during a 2019 Q&A. Peligro helped co-write a few songs on Mother’s Milk, but like McKnight, his tenure in the band was brief.
Arik Marshall (b. Feb. 13, 1967) replaced John Frusciante in 1992. He toured with the band for a year, with his last concert being in Feb. 1993. The band let him go, thinking it was just not a good fit. Since then, he’s worked with Macy Gray, Weapon of Choice, and his own solo music.
Jesse Tobias (b. Apr. 1, 1972) might have the record for the shortest time as a Red Hot Chili Pepper. Following Arik Marshall’s exit, he joined the band, but was ousted from the round one month later. Jesse would work with Alanis Morissette, the band Splendid, and since 2004, he’s been the lead guitar player for Morrissey.
When Dave Navarro (b. June 7, 1967) joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Sept. 1993, he was already a well-known guitarist, having earned fame with the band Jane’s Addiction. He joined the band in the early 1990s, played on their One Hot Minute album (released in 1995), and lasted with the band until 1998. He was fired over “creative differences,” and with Jane’s Addiction returning, it was for the best for both. Since then, Dave has had a successful music career as part of Jane’s Addiction, Deconstruction, and The Panic Channel; and as the host of Ink Master, until leaving the series in 2020.
Josh Klinghoffer (b. Oct. 3, 1979) began playing with the group in 2007 in the final leg of their Stadium Arcadium tour. An established guitarist – with stints in The Bicycle Thief, playing with John Frusciante in his side-project Ataxia, and a session musician for Gnarls Barkley – Josh took over the role when the band returned from hiatus in 2009 (since John had quite the year prior).
Josh announced he was “parting ways” with the band in 2019. “There was nothing that he did to merit being fired,” Anthony Kiedis told Clash magazine in 2022. “He was great, a very wonderful human being to co-exist with, and we wouldn’t be together today if it were not for Josh.” He said that a “psychic presence in the air” led to Josh’s dismissal, allowing Frusciante to rejoin the band again.
“We both felt a powerful yearning to play with one another and had a very emotional connection on that subject one evening like a year before he came back that felt beautiful, and it felt like that was a great possibility,” Flea told Clash. “The universe energy is always moving, and I just always feel it’s like you live life by trying to be the kind of person that’s present and aware and conscious enough to follow your heart and follow the light as it guides you as life moves, as opposed to like a preconceived idea or something.”
Since 2020, Josh has been involved with Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder‘s backing band, The Earthlings.