Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz (pronounced Haium) on August 25, 1949) is an Israeli-born American hard rock bass guitarist, vocalist, and actor. He is best known as "The Demon," his blood-spitting, fire-breathing, and tongue-wagging persona in the hard rock band Kiss, an act he co-founded in the early 1970s. Simmons also contends that he has "never been high, drunk, or smoked in [his] life.
Simmons was born in Haifa
, and emigrated to New York City
at the age of eight, with his mother Florence Klein—a Jewish Hungarian
immigrant and the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust
. His father, Feri Witz, did not accompany them to the U.S.. When Simmons was young, his mother's long absences while working two jobs in order to make ends meet left emotional scars that gave him a strong desire for wealth.
After arriving in the U.S., he took the name Eugene Klein (later Gene Klein), Klein being his mother's maiden name
. In the late 1960s, he changed his name to Gene Simmons.
Simmons became involved with his first band, Lynx, then renamed The Missing Links, when he was a teenager. Eventually, he disbanded The Missing Links to form The Long Island Sounds. While he played in these bands, he kept up odd jobs on the side to make more money, including making fanzines and trading used comic books. Simmons attended Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York. He then joined a new band, Bullfrog Bheer, and the band recorded a demo, "Leeta"; later included on the Kiss box set.
Simmons formed the rock band Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Stanley Harvey Eisen (now known as Paul Stanley) and recorded one album, which was never released. Dissatisfied with Wicked Lester's sound and look, Simmons and Stanley attempted to fire their band members; they were met with resistance, and they quit Wicked Lester, walking away from their record deal with Epic Records. They decided to form the ultimate rock band, and started looking for a drummer. Simmons and Stanley found an ad placed by Peter Criss, who was playing clubs in Brooklyn at the time; they joined and started out as a trio. Paul Frehley responded to an ad they put in the Village Voice for a lead guitar player, and soon joined them. Kiss released its self-titled debut album in February 1974. Stanley quickly took on the role of lead performer on stage, while Simmons became the driving force behind what became an extensive Kiss merchandising franchise.
In 1983, while Kiss's fame was waning, the members took off their trademark make-up and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that continued into the 1990s. The band hosted their own fan conventions throughout 1995, and fan feedback about the original Kiss members reunion influenced the highly successful 1996-1997 Alive Worldwide reunion tour. In 1998, the band released Psycho Circus, its first album in almost 20 years by the original line-up. Since then, the original line-up has once again dissolved, with Tommy Thayer replacing Ace Frehley on lead guitar and Eric Singer (who performed with Kiss from 1992 up trough 1996) replacing Peter Criss on drums.
Simmons, who has never been married, currently lives in Beverly Hills
with longtime partner and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed
. They have two children: a son, Nicholas
(born 22 January 1989
), and a daughter, Sophie
(born 7 July 1992
), . He has formerly lived in relationships with Cher
and Diana Ross
. He has also dated actress Liv Ullman
Simmons speaks four languages – English, Hungarian, Hebrew and German – and is currently learning Japanese and Mandarin.
A self-described liberal
on social policy
issues, Simmons has described himself as a supporter of the foreign policy
of the George W. Bush
administration. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq
, writing on his website: "I'm ashamed to be surrounded by people calling themselves liberal who are, in my opinion, spitting on the graves of brave American soldiers who gave their life to fight a war that wasn't theirs...in a country they've never been to... simply to liberate the people therein". In a follow-up, Simmons explained his position and wrote about his love and support for the United States: "I wasn't born here. But I have a love for this country and its people that knows no bounds. I will forever be grateful to America for going into World War II
, when it had nothing to gain, in a country that was far away... and rescued my mother from the Nazi German Concentration Camps
. She is alive and I am alive because of America. And, if you have a problem with America, you have a problem with me".
During the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, Simmons sent a televised message of support (in both English and Hebrew) to an Israeli soldier seriously wounded in fighting in Lebanon, calling him his "hero".
- In a February 4, 2002 interview on the NPR radio show Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Simmons said to Gross regarding his claim to have bedded more than a thousand women: "If you want to welcome me with open arms, I'm afraid you're also going to have to welcome me with open legs" (paraphrasing The Who's hit song "You Better You Bet"). To this Gross replied, "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." Simmons refused to grant permission to NPR to make the interview available online on the station's website. However, the interview appears in print in Gross's book All I Did Was Ask (ISBN 1401300103), and some unauthorized transcripts are also available. A part of the interview was re-broadcast on Fresh Air on Aug 31, 2007.
- In a later Fresh Air interview, satirist Al Franken related to Terry Gross his own encounter with Gene Simmons. According to Franken, he was awaiting a racquetball partner at a club when Simmons, whom Franken had not recognized, challenged him to a match, stating "I'll kick your ass," only to suffer an embarrassing loss to Franken. Simmons responded by calling for another match, and when Franken indicated that since his racquetball partner had arrived, he couldn't play Simmons again, Simmons responded by making loud "boc, boc, boc" chicken sounds. Franken then offered to play Simmons with $500 at stake, at which Simmons walked away.Franken told Gross not to blame herself for her experience with Simmons, and that Simmons' behavior at the racquetball club made him "the most awful person I've ever met."
- Simmons' tongue has always been an issue of both admiration and questioning. His unusually large tongue, however, is a natural trait (as he states in his autobiography), and not the effect of plastic surgery or any kind of transplant, as alluded to in several web sites.
- In 2004, during an interview in Melbourne, Australia, Simmons described Islam as a "vile culture" wherein women had fewer rights than dogs. He described Islam as a threat, claiming that they wanted to leave the Middle East and supplant non-Muslims in other parts of the world by force. The Muslim community took offense, with Australian Muslim of the Year Susan Carland asserting that Simmons' stereotyping of Muslims was inaccurate and that she never walked behind her husband as Simmons stated all Muslim women were required to do. He later said on his website that he was talking specifically about extremist Muslims.
- In 2005, Simmons was sued by a former lover, Georgeann Walsh Ward, who alleged that she had been "defamed" in the VH1 documentary When Kiss Ruled the World, which she claimed portrayed her as an "unchaste woman" and implied that she had been merely a band groupie rather than a committed girlfriend of Simmons. Ward insisted that she had been involved in an "exclusive monogamous relationship" with Simmons since before Kiss was formed. The suit was settled as of June 29, 2006.
- In June 2008, in an interview with AOL News, Simmons blamed the music fans for the hard times that the music industry is experiencing. "The record industry is dead. It's six feet underground and unfortunately the fans have done this. The previous generation was allowed to download music for free. You can't be surprised that there are no chickens and eggs when you let the fox in the henhouse." Simmons was quoted as saying. This is not the first time that Simmons has blamed fans for the falling fortunes of the music industry. In a November 2007 interview, he is quoted as saying that "Every little college kid, every freshly-scrubbed little kid's face should have been sued off the face of the earth.
- In 2008, a video on the Internet surfaced which purported to be Simmons engaging in sexual activity with an unnamed woman. Simmons later stated that the tape was recorded without his consent or knowledge and that his legal team is pursuing all legal options.
Film and television work
Simmons has been the creative force behind such television projects such as:
- My Dad the Rock Star, a cartoon by the Canadian animation company Nelvana, about the mild mannered son of a Gene Simmons-like rock star.
- Mr. Romance, a show created and hosted by Simmons on the Oxygen cable television channel.
- Rock School, a reality show in which Gene tries to make a rock band out of a group of children trained in classical music in the first season, and in the second, a group of kids from a 'tough' comprehensive school. Rock School was aired on Channel 4 in the UK, Channel Ten in Australia, TVNZ's TV2 in New Zealand, VH-1 in the United States and Latin America, Nelonen in Finland, TV4 in Sweden, RTL7 in the Netherlands and Much Music in Canada.
- Gene Simmons Family Jewels, another reality show for A&E which debuted on August 7, 2006. The premise is basically the same as The Osbournes, with cameras following Simmons and his family around to document their home life. It has been released on DVD in two editions.
Television guest appearances
- Simmons and KISS made their first national talk-show appearance on the Mike Douglas Show on June 11, 1974, and Simmons was interviewed solo by Douglas. Simmons came out in full makeup and sat down next to comedienne Totie Fields, who rolled her eyes at Gene's appearance. "Your audience looks appetizing," Simmons cracked, referring to himself as "evil incarnate". "Wouldn't it be funny," Fields said, "if underneath all this (makeup) he was just a nice Jewish boy?" Simmons, who is indeed Jewish, replied, "You should only know." "I do," said Fields, "you can't hide the hook!", referring to Simmons' nose. In a taped segment, Kiss played the song "Firehouse".
- Simmons and the rest of Kiss appeared in an episode of Action League Now as toy versions of themselves performing the song "Rock and Roll All Nite".
- Simmons has appeared on three episodes of Family Guy as himself. In one episode, Peter Griffin takes his wife Lois to a Kiss concert gala, and it is revealed that Simmons had a previous sexual relationship with Lois (known then as "Loose Lois") when he was still known as Chaim Witz (to which Peter proudly proclaims "My wife did Kiss!"). In another episode, Simmons is shown starring with the other members of Kiss in a Christmas special called Kiss Saves Santa. In yet another episode, Simmons performs oral sex (off-camera) on Lois while standing just inside the Griffin's garage, an exaggeration of his trademark tongue length (several feet long in the episode) and his highly sexual persona.
- Simmons voiced the Sea Monster in the episode "20,000 Patties Under the Sea" of the Nickelodeon animated series SpongeBob SquarePants.
- Simmons voiced the character of Jessie in a 2003 episode of King of the Hill, entitled "Reborn to Be Wild."
- Simmons appeared on Ugly Betty in 2008 as himself (and Amanda's potential father).
- Simmons has made guest appearances on TV shows such as Miami Vice, Mind of Mencia, Third Watch, American Idol, and others.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of the UK's More4 show Shrink Rap. He was interviewed by the host 'Dr. Pamela Stephenson' about his personal life.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of Rachael Ray on March 11, 2008.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of The view on August 1, 2006.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of Entertainment Tonight on January 2, 2008.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Sept. 6, 2002.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of Who wants to be a millionaire on May 27, 2001.
- Simmons appeared on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live on January 18, 2008.
- Simmons appeared on Detroit Metal City, a Japanese Metal / Comedy that aired at the end of August 2008
- Simmons appeared on the American sit-com That 70's Show, as himself. His fellow band mates also participated, thus forming KISS.
In 2007, he appeared alongside other celebrities, as well as regular people, in the music video for "Rockstar
" by Nickelback
- Gene Simmons (1978)
- Sex Money Kiss (audiobook CD), 2003)
- Asshole (2004)
- Speaking in Tongues (spoken word CD, 2004)
In 2002, Simmons launched Gene Simmons' Tongue
, a men's lifestyle magazine. The magazine lasted five issues before being discontinued.
- Kiss and Make-Up, Gene Simmons (ISBN 0-609-81002-2)
- Sex Money Kiss, Gene Simmons (ISBN 1-893224-86-4)
- Kiss: The Early Years, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (ISBN 0-609-81028-6)