Music News

Gene Simmons, Sharp-Tongued Kiss Frontman, We Wish You a Happy Birthday

See also: 

You can't miss Kiss. There are Kiss comics, Kiss coffins, Kiss movies, Kiss condoms, Kiss trading cards, Kiss radios, Kiss record players... Well, just about anything you can put the word Kiss on has the word Kiss on it. The responsibility for this marketing strategy mostly lies with Gene Simmons, the band's singer, bassist, entrepreneur, reality TV star, shameless self-promoter, and co-commander of the mighty Kiss army. Born in Haifa, Israel, on August 25, 1949, Simmons has spent his entire adult life eagerly expanding the band's imprint and making a mint in the process.

Indeed, from the time the band was formed in 1974 (following the first band he and musical partner Paul Stanley played in, Wicked Lester), the Kiss shtick has played as important a part as their music. Stanley's role as the fire-breathing, platform-booted Demon has given him a successful alter-ego, he's also quite a character in real life. This fact became all the more obvious when the band temporarily shed their makeup in the early '80s. Of course, abandoning their trademark personas sort of undermined the whole Kiss concept to begin with, because really, what's Kiss without the kitsch?

As a result, Simmons turned himself into rock's version of P.T. Barnum, unabashedly hawking himself as much as he does the Kiss grab-bag. That's made him a very public persona, especially due to the series of reality shows that boast his name. The most successful of those, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, took its cue from The Osbornes, showing that when they're home, a heavy metal rocker is pretty much just like the rest of us -- harried, humble and wealthy beyond belief. Okay, maybe that last part creates a divide. Still, the ability to see Simmons putting his private life on display for seven seasons proved irresistible to more than a million viewers a week and helped make him a regular presence on cable TV.

Numerous other television appearances and the occasional film role have helped unmask Simmons' inner persona, giving viewers more Simmons than they can swallow (and no, that's not a snide innuendo). But just cause all his personal business is on the boob tube doesn't mean we know everything about this sharp-toothed man. Here are some intriguing insights that should prove especially revealing.

• Simmons was born Chaim Weitz, but after arriving in the U.S. from Israel, he changed his name to Eugene (later, Gene) Klein, borrowing his mother's maiden name. Ironically, the name "Klein" is sometimes tossed off as "Kis" in her native Hungary, although it had nothing to do with the handle Simmons later chose for his band. He eventually adopted the surname "Simmons," tagging himself after an early rockabilly hero named Jumpin' Gene Simmons.

• Politically, Simmons leans to the right. Although he supported Barack Obama in 2008, he's lately come to criticize the president for his healthcare reforms and policy toward Israel, which Simmons says is "gravely misguided." He's also accused the United Nations of being "the most pathetic body on the face of the earth." FYI, for those who relish celebrity endorsements, be advised that Simmons has officially endorsed Mitt Romney, because, "America should be in business and it should be run by a businessman." Thankfully, Donald Trump isn't on the ballot.

• Simmons says he has never used drugs or drank alcohol. Apparently, he leaves those indulgences to his fans.

• He digs the divas. In addition to the thousands of women Simmons claims to have bedded, he also squired Cher and Diana Ross.

• Simmons speaks four languages: English, German, Hungarian, and Hebrew.

• Simmons is a sci-fi fan and has published a number of science fiction magazines, among them Sirruish, Id, Cosmos, Tinderbox, Sci-Fi Showcase, Mantis, and Adventure. Nope, we've never heard of any of these either. For a brief time, he helmed his own men's magazine, Gene Simmons' Tongue (natch), but that venture proved a bust after only five issues.

• In addition to those endeavors, Simmons has authored several books, most of them narratives about Kiss, the hype and the hoopla. On the other hand, he's also written a historical tome, Ladies of the Night: A Historical and Personal Perspective on the Oldest Profession in the World. "Personal" seems to be the operative word. No doubt he was doing a bit of research with those 4,600 bed buddies.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lee Zimmerman