Whatever Happened To... Jesse James?

The rise and fall of America's favorite prime-time outlaw

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Fran Kuhn

Remember Jesse James' West Coast Choppers? You know, that bitchin' Long Beach workshop/pit- bull sanctuary that turned out the sickest choppers in the nation before the nation even knew choppers were cool?

Back before he was scowling it up in T-Mobile ads, before The Donald fired his ass off Celebrity Apprentice, and before his tired mug was papered all over the express-lane checkout at Ralphs, Jesse James used to build bikes-damn fine bikes, too. James, who claims to be descended from the legendary Old West outlaw, was a part-time bodyguard who got his start building bikes in his mom's garage. Then the Discovery Channel hitched its cameras to his wagon and the "Motorcycle Mania" documentary made the Vanilla Gorilla the network's first breakout reality star. Before you could say "syndication rights," James had traded his high-school sweetheart for a part-time porn star of Blink 182 album-cover fame and started living out the fantasies of every 14-year-old boy: crushing, exploding and otherwise mutilating all manner of automobiles as the host of Monster Garage. Continuing with the fantasy, he ditched the porn star and married America's sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, in 2005.

Shortly after, James' fortunes began to turn. CARB slapped him with a $270,000 fine for emissions non-compliance, and a disgruntled customer sued him for breach of contract. His most recent television experiment, the desperate-looking Jesse James is a Dead Man. showcased "death-defying" stunts that pressed the limits both of believability and truth.

Maybe it was career boredom, then, that drove him to allegedly sneak around behind Bullock's back with a notorious stripper and tattoo model. Now, instead of gracing the cover of A-list outlets like Esquire and GQ, James is making bank for the bottom-feeders at Star and Us Weekly, and vacationing at a rehab facility in Arizona in an attempt to win Bullock back.

We've got a better idea: Turn off the TV cameras, tune up the TIG welder and get back to your roots by building some sick chops, STAT. Rehab, they say, is for quitters-prove us wrong, Jesse. Show us that you still know how to hand-craft badass bikes!

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