KISS is known for their explosive live shows, dirty songs, and makeup. Say the band's name, though, and most people have one image that comes to mind: The Demon. Gene Simmons' black and white batlike facepaint is the most iconic image of a band that put itself on the map with iconic imagery. Simmons has also made a name for himself as a businessman, television star, and for being bluntly honest on many controversial topics.
A lot of non-KISS fans may not be aware that Simmons is an immigrant to the United States. He was born in Haifa, Israel in 1949 and came to the United States at the age of eight. Raised by his mother, Simmons spent many years in a number of bands before meeting up with Paul Stanley and forming a band called Wicked Lester. Soon enough, Wicked Lester would become KISS once drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley came onboard.
Throughout the mid and late 1970's, KISS would find a lot of success. The band released seven albums within a six year period during this time, as well as the now legendary Alive live album in 1975.
It is at the very end of the 70's and the beginning of the 1980's that Gene Simmons' story would take a turn. The band was beginning to lose steam with hardcore fans and with general audiences as well. Their sound changed quite a bit (especially with 1979's Dynasty) and many people began to grow tired of the multiple KISS themed paraphernalia that was avaliable. KISS was literally everywhere. The group was plastered on t-shirts, lunchboxes, dolls, pinball machines, and plenty of other products.
This was also a time which found Peter Criss battling drug abuse problems and Ace Frehley struggling with alcoholism. This dreary period for the band saw both Criss and Frehley leave the group, and many fans blamed not them, but Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons for their departure.
Simmons was seen as a man bent on making money by many of the group's fans and willing to sell out to the highest bidder no matter how silly or degrading the end result might be so long as he made a profit. Stanley was looked on as the man trying desperately to keep KISS together but also being lured by success like Simmons. This resulted in a large backlash against the group and it wasn't until the band took off their makeup and released 1983's Lick It Up that they once again started to gain popularity.
It should also be noted that during this period, Simmons claims to have become "detached" from KISS without their makeup. He has personally acknowledged Stanley as the force that kept KISS alive during the 80's and early 90's.
When KISS reunited with Criss and Frehley in 1995, fans rejoiced. Gone were the murmerings of Simmons and Stanley being money grubbers and control freaks. Not long after the reunion, though, KISS released 1998's Psycho Circus and it was quickly found out that although Frehley and Criss were on the cover, their actually amount of recorded material on the album was slim. Once again, many fans lashed out against the group (specifically Simmons). Criss and Frehley talked about unfair profit splits between the four members and both would eventually leave the band again.
Despite their departure from the band, KISS has trudged on with new members donning the makeup of Frehley and Criss (Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively).
Why Gene Simmons took the brunt of the blame for Criss and Frehley's departure is unknown to me. Granted, Simmons has never attempted to keep his thoughts on making money or on Criss and Frehley a secret, but both of them (as well as Paul Stanley) should get a bit of the blame as well in my book.
Love him or hate, Simmons is honest. Being honest can be brutal, but considering the fact that KISS is still selling out shows, recently released a new album (2008's Sonic Boom), and Simmons has his own successful reality show, it's hard to say that being honest has been a bad thing for Simmons.
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