They might be one of the most iconic rock bands of the last forty years, but for KISS, those decades on the world stage have been anything but boring. Newcomers to rock might only know them for their make-up and costumes, but hardcore fans know that with fame comes rumors, myths, and scandals.
As KISS embarks on the second part of their final farewell tour, stop here first and find out everything you didn’t know about one of the biggest rock bands of all time, from their R-rated early days to their unmasking.
Gene Simmons Is One Of The World’s Top Fire Breathers
The bassist may have begun using fire and pyrotechnics as an on-stage stunt, but over the years Simmons has gotten pretty good at it. So good, in fact, that he’s listed as one of the world’s most accomplished fire breathers.
Simmons’ personal record is breathing a 15-foot flame. The world record in 26.5 feet, but still, Simmons’ personal best is pretty good. He was inspired to try fire breathing after seeing a famous magician use fire as a trick.
The Band Has Performed As A Trio Twice
With so much turnover between guitarists and drummers, it’s no surprise that KISS had to take the stage not once, but twice, with just three members. The first occurred in 1992 when Frehley was just deciding to leave the band.
The second time happened in 2007 when Stanley was abruptly hospitalized before a show and the band decided to play on. That is the only performance Stanley has ever missed in his KISS career.
Katey Segal Was A Backup Singer For Gene Simmons
Katey Segal, better known later as Peggy Bundy on Married…With Children, would pick up any gig she could get when she was struggling to break into the business. In 1978, that included working as a backup singer for Gene Simmons’ solo album.
Segal even joined a group called “The Band With No Name” and they were signed by Casablanca Records which was the same label that recorded KISS at the time.
Don’t Mention The 1978 TV Movie To The Band
For years after the 1978 made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park was released, anyone in KISS’s inner circle was banned from even mentioning the film. The musical-fantasy comedy was released at the height of KISS’s fame, but still was panned by critics and fans alike.
The members of the band claim the semi-comedic script made them look “buffoonish.” Frehley said he couldn’t stop laughing the entire movie while Simmons said it’s only bearable “if you’re on [substances].”
Simmons’ Signature Song Was Written By Stanley
‘God Of Thunder” from the Destroyer LP had always been Gene Simmons’ signature song. It’s the song that plays at the point of a KISS concert where Simmons plays his bass solo, spits blood, and will do some outrageous pyrotechnics.
While it may be synonymous with Simmons, it was actually written to be Stanley’s signature song. KISS’s producer didn’t think it fit Stanley’s Starchild image so he made him give the song to Simmons.
They (Almost) Started A Wrestling Team
In 1999, KISS managed to successfully partner with World Championship Wrestling to create a group called “The Warriors of Kiss.” The group was supposed to have a wrestler to represent each member of the band and female equivalents. In Simmons’ words, it was going to be “big girls, with big boobs, wearing KISS makeup, wrestling.”
It sounded like a slam dunk for ratings but they couldn’t figure out the logistics thanks to WCW politics.
Their First “Unmasking” Was In 1974
KISS made waves in 1983 when they performed for the first time ever without their makeup and costumes on. Many people don’t know that they were photographed “unmasked” nearly a decade before by a tricky photographer.
Charlie Auringer wanted to get the money shots of the band without makeup so he told KISS that their manager said it was okay. In reality, the manager and the band were completely against it. Thankfully, Auringer agreed not to publish the photos.
KISS Turned Down The Beatles
KISS was offered the chance to be the Future Villain Band in the 1978 film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, based on The Beatles’ album. KISS thought that it would ruin their image and make them look like the bad guys, so they passed.
Aerosmith eventually took on the role and joined a star-studded cast that included Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, and Earth, Wind, & Fire.
On The Flip Side, The Beatles Turned Down KISS
The same year that KISS refused to appear in The Beatles-inspired movie, each member of The Beatles refused to appear on Gene Simmons’ solo album. While legend says all four flat-out denied Simmons, apparently they all couldn’t make it due to “scheduling conflicts.”
Simmons was so committed to featuring a Beatles track on his solo album though that he turned to the next best thing—using the cast members from Beatlemania.
Eddie Van Halen Was Almost In The Band
Both Van Halen brothers had collaborated with KISS long before they found their own fame. Eddie Van Halen had actually written the guitar solo for “Christine Sixteen” and Frehley re-recorded it later on.
In 1982, Eddie and Alex Van Halen had gone on to be their own rockstars, but Eddie wasn’t happy with the band’s direction. This rift was happening right as Frehley was leaving KISS, and Eddie briefly spoke to Simmons about joining KISS. Simmons appreciated the offer but said Eddie would “cast too much of a shadow” as a KISS member.
Frehley Has To Sing On His Back
All four original members of KISS contributed either lead or backing vocals at one point or another. For guitarist Ace Frehley, that meant laying down on his back. Frehley says that he “can’t hit the notes sometimes” if he’s standing up.
Even though the technique worked, it wasn’t exactly easy. KISS record producers had to create an elaborate microphone set-up for Frehley to sing into on the ground of the studio.
Their Characters Have Names
The makeup and costumes worn by the band aren’t just fun, they’re the embodiment of each member’s character. Each original band member came up with a comic-book type character. Paul Stanley became The Starchild, Gene Simmons became The Demon, Ace Frehley because The Spaceman, and Peter Criss became The Catman.
Simmons said that the band decided to try the stint to get noticed because at the time they were performing in New York, there was a “very big glitter scene” but they wanted to make it more masculine.
There Have Been Ten Band Members
Like most bands that have been around since the ’70s, the lineup has changed a bit over time. Of the original members, only Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have always been in the band. The other two original members, Frehley and Criss, returned to the band briefly for the 1996 reunion but left again after.
Eric Carr and Eric Singer have both replaced Peter Criss on drums. Frehley has had four replacements with Bruce Kulick and Tommy Thayer being the two that last the longest.
They Have To Change Their Logo Overseas
It was guitarist Ace Frehley who came up with the original design for the KISS logo, that including making the “SS” look like lightning bolts. The design seemed harmless until they went to tour in Germany and found out that the SS looks a little too similar to the insignia of the Nazi SS uniforms.
The SS symbol is outlawed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, and Israel. All albums and merchandise released in those countries feature the SS looking like two backward Zs.
They Had Many Other Band Names Before Landing On KISS
Two years before KISS was formed, it was just Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley performing around New York City under the name Wicked Lester. After they added Criss and Frehley to the new lineup, they started spitballing new names.
Frehley liked “Albatross,” Criss suggested “Crimson Harpoon,” and Simmons’ favorite choice was just the F word. Eventually, Criss mentioned his old band was called “Lips” which inspired the new name, KISS.
Paul Stanley Tried To Change His Character
While most of the original lineup has held true to their original characters, Stanley once tried to switch it up. In mid-1973, Stanley tried to switch things up and take on a character called The Bandit. He did his makeup to look like a black mask was framing his eyes, but unfortunately, he looked more like a raccoon.
He tried to tweak the design to look more like a diamond but it didn’t land with fans and he quickly switched back to being The Starchild.
KISS Has A Partnership With Hello Kitty!
Even though the band is fiercely protective of their image, they decided the best way to enter into the Japanese market was to partner with another huge brand. In 2012, they created a co-branded line of merchandise that included t-shirts, mugs, and posters that had the cartoon cat wearing KISS makeup.
One of the more infamous products from the branding was Hello Kitty! KISS toilet paper that even Mike Tyson has reportedly owned.
KISS Had A Strained History With The King Of Pop
For years, KISS and Michael “King Of Pop” Jackson were on top of the music world in their respective genres. They became so close that when Jackson died, KISS was added to the playbill for the Michael Forever tribute concert.
Within a day though, KISS was dropped from the setlist. Allegedly, it was MJ fans who were outraged by comments that Simmons had made about some major accusations against Jackson.
The Album Covers Were Almost Always A Lie
If an unknowing fan wanted to know who performed on a KISS album, the last place they should look is the album art. From the late ’70s to the ’90s, the album art was more of a vague “guide” to who actually made the music.
For example, in 1979’s Dynasty, the original four are featured on the album cover but Peter Criss only played drums on one track. Meanwhile, Frehley appears on the cover of both Killers and Creatures of the Night but didn’t record a single track for either.
They Have Their Own Comic Book
A band that took on comic-like characters were practically begging to be featured in their own comic book, and that’s exactly what happened. In 1977, Marvel Comics decided to publish a special edition KISS comic book that included comics and band photos.
Of course, KISS couldn’t let it just be a normal book. The cover of the comic alleged that the red ink was printed using real blood from the band members.
No, The Band Name Doesn’t Stand For Anything
Over the years there has been one longstanding rumor that says the name KISS is really an acronym for “Knights/Kids In Satan’s Service.” This claim was allegedly created by anti-rock preachers in the 1970s who were trying to convince parents to censor their children’s music.
This single rumor has spiraled into multiple theories of the band name being subliminal messaging, but Simmons has always denied it and stuck to the story.
Gene Simmons Originally Wanted To Be A Rabbi
Before he was The Demon, Simmons was actually Chaim Witz, the only son of a Holocaust survivor. Simmons was raised in Israel and immigrated to the United States when he was eight. When he was nine, he attended a Jewish religious school and intended to become a Rabbi.
After transferring to a New York public school, Simmons dropped his religious aspirations and fell in love with music after hearing The Beatles.
Bryan Adams Wrote For KISS
Before he released his own hits like “Summer of ’69” and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” Bryan Adams was just another songwriter working for a music label. Adams and his musical partner Jim Vallance ended up being sought out by KISS’s producer to work on tracks for the Creatures of the Night record.
Adams and Vallance wrote “War Machine” and Rock and Roll Hell.” A couple months after landing the songwriting gig, Adams released his own LP.
Eric Carr Died On The Same Day As Freddie Mercury
While the original four members of KISS get the most love from the fanbase, replacement drummer Eric Carr gets a lot of credit too. Carr replaced drummer Criss from 1980-1991. Even his character The Fox was more popular than Catman for some time.
Sadly, Carr’s time with KISS was cut short when he died from heart cancer on November 24, 1991. His death was largely overshadowed though because Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died the same day.
One KISS Member Wrote A Song For Happy Days
Vinnie Vincent had a short tenure as the guitarist for KISS but he made his mark. Before Vincent joined the band, he paid the bills as a songwriter on television. His most popular songs were written for Joanie Loves Chachi and Happy Days.
While Vincent was definitely talented, he didn’t mesh well with the band. He was a part of KISS’s famous “unmasking” in 1983, but left the band not long after for being too demanding.
They’ve Released Some Outrageous Merchandise
Gene Simmons is known for being the mastermind behind the brand’s intense marketing, but some people thought he lost his mind in the early 2000s with some products. It was in 2001 that the world got the KISS cookie jar, the KISS Mr. Potato Head, and even KISS-approved air guitar strings.
None of these were as ridiculous as the KISS Kasket. Simmons marketed it with the saying “I love livin’, but this makes the alternative look pretty damn good.”
Peter Criss Had Some Beef With The Original Members
It seemed that all was well in the rock world after the original KISS foursome reunited in the 1990s. That is, until 2004 came and the band didn’t renew drummer Criss’s contract. According to Criss, none of the band members called him or his attorney to discuss continued touring.
Criss wasn’t happy about this and said “as a founding member” he found it to be “disrespectful.” He even speculated that Simmons and Stanley thought he was too old for the job.
One Of Their Original Stage Pieces Is From Frankenstein
KISS quickly became just as known for their stage performances as they were for their music, so the band was always making sure to create more elaborate and impressive stage sets. For the early Destroyer tour dates, that meant using the original lightning machine from the laboratory in the 1931 horror film Frankenstein.
It was essentially just a giant Tesla coil that KISS renamed “The God Of Thunder Machine.” Unfortunately, because it was so old, it was unreliable and abandoned halfway through the tour.
They Pride Themselves On Being Kid-Friendly
By the late 1970s, KISS realized they could make much more money if they stayed just PG enough to attract younger listeners. Since then, they have tried to keep swear words out of major songs and release kid-friendly merchandise. They even appeared on an episode of What’s New Scooby Doo?
That doesn’t mean they were always rated PG. In the band’s early days, they were known for their hard-partying lifestyles that included women, drugs, and of course, rock’n’roll.
KISS Helped A Football Team Win A Championship
In 1975, at the height of their early career, one college football team was struck with KISS fever. The coach, Jim Neff, began playing KISS albums for the team while they were on the bus or in the locker room. It must have worked because the football team won seven games in a row, including their conference championship.
Coach Neff wrote to KISS to tell them this and KISS was so blown away they offered to play a free show on the campus.
Gene Marketed His Face In A Very Unique Way
Gene Simmons is easily the most recognizable of the group, and used his recognizable face to make a few extra bucks. A marketing campaign was set up for his reality show, Family Jewels, where Gene’s face was plastered on… urinal cakes.
The urinal cakes were also apparently voice-activated and would talk to his fans as they relieved themselves. Not so surprisingly, a number of fans ended up stealing the cakes out of the urinals as a souvenir.
They Took Over The Fan-Made KISS Army
KISS has a very passionate fanbase that have followed them since the 70’s. Bill Starkey was one of the most prominent fans, and after attending his first KISS concert, decided to start the KISS army. The goal was to celebrate the band’s music, and not just their crazy antics on stage, and get them played on the radio.
Eventually, he grew the army to the point where he was even able to meet the band, but in 1976, just a few years after starting the army, KISS’s management team would take over the group and Starkey received no compensation for his efforts.
Simmons Doesn’t Even Drink!
Considering the fire-breathing and tongue-wagging Simmons does during a show, you would think he’d get a little parched and would have a drink or two. Well, it turns out that despite his wild lifestyle, Simmons doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs. He says he stays away from those vices for his mother, who survived life in a WWII concentration camp.
Gene doesn’t hold back about those who drink, and called out his bandmates Criss and Frehley for their drinking, calling them ‘losers.’
You Have To Be Dressed Right To Interview Simmons
Gene isn’t expecting you to dress in your Sunday best when speaking to him, but there are some pretty obvious things you should NOT be wearing. When Simmons was set to speak with a journalist in South America, Gene requested he take off his shirt.
The journalist was actually wearing an Iron Maiden shirt, so it’s pretty understandable that he wasn’t as willing to do the interview while the journalist was wearing it.
Alice Cooper Inspired Their Look
Face paint isn’t easy to pull off in any profession, but who knows what KISS would be if they didn’t decide to paint their faces. The band loved the New York Dolls, but Peter Criss thought that they ‘looked like four old drag queens’ when they tried to pull off their signature look.
Luckily, Alice Cooper came to town and inspired the group to take on a look that no one else was trying in the 70s.
Simmons Has A Unique Relationship With Jiminy Cricket
We all have our heroes when we’re growing up, but Gene revealed that he idolized Jiminy Cricket as a 12-year-old. When Gene heard Jiminy Cricket say ‘Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you,’ he completely bought in.
This was a turning point in Simmons life. It instilled a belief in himself that he could be great, and he paid homage to Jiminy when he covered “When You Wish Upon A Star” on his debut solo album.
How Long Is Gene’s Tongue Anyway?
If it’s not the face paint of the crazy explosions on stage that you know KISS for, it’s Gene’s tongue. There are rumors all over the internet, like how his tongue is actually just a cow’s tongue grafted onto his own.
That seems like a bit of a stretch, but there are also rumors that his tongue is 7 inches long, but the record is just under 4 inches long, so that doesn’t hold up either.
You Should Probably Bring Some Earplugs To Their Concerts
While it’s no surprise that a KISS concert can get loud, you might want to bring a pair of earplugs the next time you see them in person. During a performance in 2009, the band played at 136 dB’s, which was 46 dB’s or 32 times louder than the festival limit of 90 dB.
For comparison’s sake, a thunder clap or a chainsaw is about 120 dBs, while an aircraft carrier deck is about 140 dBs. At 150 dB’s your eardrum will rupture.
Paul Stanley Loves Smashing Guitars
If you’re going to rock as hard as KISS, you had better put on a show. Pyrotechnics are nice, and fire breathing is cool, but sometimes a simple guitar smash will do the trick.Well, apparently Paul Stanley got a little carried away during the USA/Europe tour, and managed to smash over 200 guitars over the 57 shows.
During that same tour, KISS played in front of 42,000 fans in Anaheim, which was their largest crowd ever at that point.
Gene Has Been With A Lot Of Women
It’s not uncommon to hear about rock stars sleeping with any number of partners, including multiple in one night. Before marrying his now-wife Shannon, who was a Playboy model, Gene had been rumored to have slept with over 4,800 women.
Before Shannon agreed to marry Gene, she demanded that he burn his collection of polaroids that proved just how wild his days in KISS were.Apparently, the bonfire at their house went on for days.
There Was A Reason That Ace Frehley Seemed To Have Trouble Standing Up
The inside cover of KISS’ landmark album, Alive, contains a letter from each band member to their fans. Frehley writes as his spaceman persona, explaining that “the gravity on Earth isn’t quite the same as it is on my planet, but I’m slowly getting used to it.”
Watching him perform you can see that it seems as if he is constantly struggling to stand up, fighting the gravitational pull of our planet. Not just a cool rockstar affectation, it’s science!
Some People Thought They Were From Japan
Due in no small part to their Kabuki-inspired make-up, some fans thought the band were Japanese as Gene Simmons told the L.A. Times: “A lot of the look behind KISS comes from Marvel Comics and Japanese culture. When we first came out over 40 years ago, people thought we were from Japan.”
Not surprisingly, the band did very well in Japan with countless sold-out tours to the island country throughout their decades-long career.
Curious Fans Used To Paint The Album Covers
In the early days, the band was very secretive about their true identities, but that didn’t stop fans from coming up with creative ways to get a glimpse behind the make-up.
With the release of the four “solo” albums that features a detailed close-up of each member on their respective covers, some fans painted “skin” over the top to try and see what their mysterious rock gods really looked like.
The “Unmasking” Of The Band Was Anti-Climactic
After years of living behind their onstage personas, KISS were ready to finally reveal their true identities to the public with the debut of the video for their pop-metal rocker, “Lick It Up.” While the stunt paid off with renewed interest in the band and increased record sales, many fans were underwhelmed with the new, somewhat awkward, image.
Gene Simmons recalled to Yahoo, “Everybody hated it. People didn’t want the paint to come off, but you know what? Tough. It had to happen.”
Paul Stanley Credits A Birth Defect For Driving Him To Be Famous
Lead singer Paul Stanley, whose real name is Stanley Harvey Eisen, was born with microtia, a condition that caused him to be deaf in his left ear. As a result, he felt isolated and different from other children and was ridiculed for his shyness.
As he explained to Dan Rather, this inspired the drive to become famous as “a way to push it in people’s faces and say, ‘You see, you should have been nice to me!'”
Their Biggest Hit Was Written By The Drummer
KISS’ biggest billboard hit was contributed by original drummer (the one that keeps getting fired), Peter Criss, for their 1976 album, Destroyer. The inspiration for the lyrics are hazy. Criss claims it is about his first wife and the strain that life on the road can put on a relationship.
Other sources claim the song was originally mocking a former bandmate’s clingy girlfriend. Either way, the song reached number 7 and is still the group’s biggest hit despite the fact that none of the other members appear on the recording.
Two Members Of KISS Never Wore The Iconic Kabuki Make-Up
Mark St. John, who appeared on the album Animalize, and his replacement Bruce Kulick, who played lead guitar for the next twelve years, never had character make-up developed as the band was going through their “unmasked” era.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley eventually felt like getting the original line-up back together for a lucrative “reunion” tour, and Kulick was sidelined (not fired) along with drummer Eric Singer while Ace Frehley and Peter Criss made their triumphant returns.
Ace Frehley Was Temporarily Blinded After One Crazy Night
Back in the band’s early days, being seen without their iconic make-up was frowned upon. As a result, they tended to wear it everywhere. As Frehley later recounted to Loudwire, “I was in Paris, and I bumped into a model — a fashion model that I knew from New York . . . We ended up [drinking] about four bottles of champagne, and I ended up passing out in the bed with my makeup on after the show.
“When I woke up, I had an allergic reaction from not taking the silver off — because it’s ground up metal. My eyes were swollen shut. I was blind.”
KISS Set A World Record For Blowing Stuff Up
For their KISS 2020 Goodbye concert from Dubai, the band decided that they wanted to start the new year in flames, literally. During the live-streamed show, they set a Guinness World Record for the highest flame during a music performance (115 feet!) as well as the most flames at one time (73!).
A third record was also set that night for the “highest-grossing pay-per-view event for a rock concert.” The fireworks alone reportedly cost over $1 million. Gene Simmons told Rolling Stone: “We play big. There’s not a lot of subtlety in what we do.”
It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over
Despite marketing their current tour as their final, the band has actually been claiming that whatever tour they were currently on would be their last for decades. To many fans, the true final performance may have been during the 2000-01 Farewell Tour that saw the original line-up reunited (although Peter Criss was fired on the road in October 2020).
There have even been rumors of the band continuing without any original members as Stanley and Simmons have promised never to don the make-up again after 2021.