Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Chaim Witz on August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel, to Ferenc "Feri" Yehiel Witz and Florence Klein. His father was a carpenter while his mother was a Holocaust survivor.
His parents separated when he was still young and he accompanied his mother to Tel Aviv where he stayed with baby sitters while his mother went to work in a coffee shop. The family spent days in poverty.
In 1957, the mother son duo immigrated to the US where he changed his name to Eugene Klein. By watching television and reading comic books, he swiftly picked up English language. They settled in New York.
He joined Jewish religious school, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and went there for about a year before shifting to Jackson Heights Public School. He began developing an interest in music. The Beatles had a huge influence on him.
Later, while attending Joseph Pulitzer Middle School, he co-created a band ‘The Missing Links’ that went on to win a talent show contest. It was subsequently disbanded and he became part of other bands like ‘Long Island Sounds’, ‘Rising Sun’ and ‘Bullfrog Bheer’.
He attended Sullivan County Community College for his associate degree and afterwards came back to New York and joined Richmond College for his bachelor’s degree.
He chose Gene Simmons as his professional name as a mark of respect to rockabilly singer Jumpin' Gene Simmons.
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While his musical career was still in its nascent stage, Gene Simmons picked up other jobs to sustain himself. These included working as the sixth-grade teacher in Spanish Harlem, assistant at the Puerto Rican Interagency Council, temporary cashier at Kelly Agency and assistant at Glamour and Vogue Magazine.
In the early 1970s, post his graduation, he joined hands with guitarist Stanley Eisen (later known as Paul Stanley) to form another band ‘Wicked Lester’ and even recorded one album with Epic Records. However, the work was not released.
Simmons and Stanley eventually left the band and formed another band ‘KISS’. The new members of the band included drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Paul "Ace" Frehley.
Taking inspiration from comic book superheroes, he convinced his band members to wear all black clothing and wild makeup. He himself took up the persona of ‘Demon’ inspired by Marvel comic character ‘Black Bolt’. He also learnt the technique of breathing fire for his performances.
In 1973, the band performed in its first concert at the Popcorn Club in Queens with an audience comprising of mere three people.
In 1974, the band released their eponymous album. This was followed by the release of number of other studio albums and concert tours like ‘Dressed to Kill’, ‘Destroyer’, ‘Alive’, ‘Rock and Roll Over’ and ‘Dynasty’. The band also released four solo albums, one each by its four members.
In the 1980s, the band faced a decline in popularity. Moreover, tension began simmering between group members with Criss and Frehley eventually quitting the band and new members replacing them.
In 1983, the band abandoned their trademark make-up and focussed more on substance. Thereafter, it saw a resurgence in fame and the band released successful albums like ‘Lick It Up’, ‘Animalize’, ‘Asylum’ and ‘Crazy Nights’. During this time, Gene Simmons reduced his involvement with the band.
In 1992, the band released another album ‘Revenge’ and went on a Kiss Convention tour in 1995.
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In late 1990s, the band went on a Kiss Alive/Worldwide Reunion Tour and released a studio album -‘Psycho Circus’. The original band dissolved again and the reformed band continued to function. In 2018, it was announced that the band will begin its final tour in 2019.
When Simmons started becoming less active in the group, he began pursuing other interests, especially in films and television in which he achieved some degree of success. Some of the films that he has worked as an actor during his career include Runaway (1984), Trick or Treat (1986), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987), Red Surf (1989), Detroit Metal City (2008) and Extract (2009).
He also worked for a number of TV series, playing other characters as well as himself. Among them are ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’ (1978), ‘Family Guy’ (2001-2005), Ugly Betty (2008), Castle (2011) and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2014).
He was the executive producer/producer for the TV series ‘My Dad the Rock Star’ (2003) and ‘Gene Simmons Family Jewels’ (2006-2012).
He has published a number of books like ‘Kiss and Make-Up’(2001), ‘Ladies of the Night: A Historical and Personal Perspective on the Oldest Profession in the World’ (2008) and ‘Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business’ (2014). In 2002, he also launched a men’s lifestyle magazine ‘Gene Simmons' Tongue’. The magazine lasted five issues before being discontinued.
Gene Simmons is an extremely successful businessman who has tried his hand at various business ventures including launching his own record company ‘Simmons Records’, developing his own clothing line ‘Gene Simmons' Dragonfly’, co-founding a restaurant chain ‘Rock & Brews’, heading a Canadian medical cannabis company, becoming the face of a new line of soft drinks, launching Erebus Pictures, starting a financial firm ‘Cool Springs’ and manufacturing & selling his own line of AXE ™ and PUNISHER ™ basses and guitars.
Additionally, he is also a famous keynote speaker for private and corporate events and holds masterclass events where students can join in to learn to play musical instruments and write songs.
He has also converted ‘Kiss’ into a mega brand with over thousands of licensed/merchandise items.