Gene Simmons: Here are five weird facts about the KISS bassist as he celebrates his 70th birthday
The legendary long-tongued and ghoulish-looking bass player of the rock band has successfully courted publicity and controversy in equal measure
His real name, Gene Klein aka Chaim Witz, might not ring any bells, but the man who is best known as Gene Simmons certainly rocked half the world during his musical prime in the 1970s. Best known as the legendary long-tongued and ghoulish-looking bass player of the multi-platinum-selling rock band KISS, Simmons has successfully courted publicity and controversy in equal measure over the past few decades. His continued popularity is a testament to his PR skills, considering KISS's output started waning during the 1980s. But Simmons himself is a master of reinvention and seems to have plunged his fingers in various different pies. He's an entrepreneur, musician, songwriter, record producer, author, TV and a movie star, there seems to be nothing that he has not tried.
Born in Israel in 1949, Simmons migrated to the United States with his mother as an eight-year-old. His poor childhood had made him extremely resourceful, and Simmons actually worked many jobs (schoolteacher, assistant to a Vogue editor, used comics trader) before he broke into the music scene. Simmons co-founded the hugely successful band KISS with Paul Stanley in 1974, and off the strength of the band's enduring popularity, created the KISSiverse, complete with merch that included comic books, video games, credit card, condoms, action figures and lunch boxes. The iconic makeup and image of KISS contributed a lot to their popularity, but Simmons knew that to be successful they needed to get attention on stage. Sure, the glam rock theatrics of David Bowie and New York Dolls were around, but Simmons and his crew took it to another level. Let's take a look at five weird aspects that make Simmons such a highly-profile figure, on the occasion of his 71st birthday on August 25.
The demonic look
Simmons was a big fan of comics and science fiction, or in other words, genres that stretch the imagination. He felt his first band, Wicked Lester, lacked something in their look and sound and refused to make the same mistakes with KISS. So, he thought up a scary mask inspired by Black Bolt from Marvel Comics, added elements of gore (he trained himself in fire spitting and vomiting fake blood), and crafted a unique stage persona for himself as the resident Demon of KISS.
A grafted cow tongue?
Whenever we think of KISS, we can literally see Simmons’s tongue spewing out his mouth (also seen on the most popular KISS T-shirt of the retro age). His tongue was so long, that his adolescent fans couldn’t help but wonder if this seemingly malevolent oral appendage was a benevolent act of nature or merely a surgical prosthetic. Childlike imagination thus spawned the tale of the grafted cow’s tongue, making it hilarious yet immensely captivating.
A rockstar who never did booze or drugs?
Spewing flames, puking blood and sneering with an extra-long tongue. Would anyone believe that the most wicked onstage persona ever, The Demon from KISS didn’t have his own personal brew of blood, gunpowder and exotic potions? Curse the imagination game, Simmons had us all taken in with his canny marketing. A teetotaller for life, Simmons attributes his devotion to his mother (a Hungarian survivor of the Holocaust) as the reason why he kept away from the booze and drugs.
The pro-Israeli Demon?
Fifty years after leaving Israel, Simmons revisited the country in 2011 for his reality show, 'Gene Simmons Family Jewels'. Calling it his "homecoming" at a hotel across the old city, Simmons proclaimed: "I'm Israeli. I'm a stranger in America. I'm an outsider, I was born here and I'm proud of it." He also criticized anti-Israeli boycotts by various performers and sanctions by foreign nations as mere political posturing and has been quite disrespectful of the Muslims in the past.
Gene Simmons, a Republican supporter?
Is The KISS Demon a Republican? Though he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, he later commented that he was ashamed of himself and had made a mistake (responding to Obama’s comments on redrawing Israeli borders). During the 2004 elections, Simmons appreciated Kerry’s ideals about women's religion and the state but said that the much-maligned George W Bush was the man for a post 9/11 America. Commenting on an era of politics he terms as the “Age of Kardashians,” Simmons described President Trump as “the truest political animal I’ve ever seen onstage”. Considering that rolled off the long tongue of Simmons, this was indeed a huge compliment. Though not the most vocal pro-Trump supporter, Simmons said he appreciated Trump for speaking his mind since he didn't care about saying the right things just for the sake of being politically correct. Guess it takes one outspoken entrepreneur to recognize another!