Gene Simmons from Kiss: 'I live to make more money'

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Gene SimmonsImage source, Getty Images

Rock star Gene Simmons says that when it comes to making money he is like a great white shark.

And that despite being worth more than $300m (£200m), he will never stop wanting to make more.

The bassist and co-vocalist of stadium-filling, costume-wearing and face-painted US band Kiss, says: "Life is business, and I approach life the way sharks approach life - they must keep moving or else they will drown.

"I'll never stop hunting more money, I'll never have enough."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Simmons says he has never drunk alcohol or taken drugs

With Kiss now in South America on the latest stage of a two-year sell-out world tour, Simmons, 65, took time out to speak to the BBC about his long career in the music industry, and his host of other business interests.

Although famous for sticking out his very long tongue, and past womanising - he claims to have slept with 4,800 women - what is much less well known is that Simmons has always been the financial brains of the band. He is its de facto chief executive.

Ever since the four-piece band formed in New York in 1973, it has been Simmons who has kept his eyes on the finances. And it was his incredibly lucrative idea for the band to sell as much merchandise as possible.

For while Kiss have sold 100 million records around the world, the band has actually made more money from selling licensed products.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The band is currently on the South American leg of a two-year world tour

Over the group's 42-year history, it has authorised more than 5,000 different items of merchandise, everything from rock band staples such as T-shirts and hats, to comic books, pinball machines, credit cards, and even condoms and coffins.

Not forgetting jewellery, ashtrays, lunchboxes, Halloween costumes, baseballs and beach towels. And a golf course and coffee shop.

It is a business empire which under Simmons' stewardship just keeps on growing.

This has led to the band's critics - and there have been many over the years - accusing the group of being too commercially-focused, of cheapening itself at the expense of its music.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kiss have authorised more than 5,000 different merchandise items

The calm and quietly spoken Simmons says he has no respect for such people.

He says (after a liberal amount of swear words have been edited out): "All our lives Kiss has been hounded by people who haven't achieved anything. And we buried them long ago.

"I call selling merchandise 'the Kiss business', and every band sells T-shirts, every band sells merchandise. They just don't do as good a job of it as us."

Lifetime teetotaller

The son of a mother who survived the Holocaust, Simmons was born in the Israeli city of Haifa in 1949. His birth name was Chaim Witz.

Describing his family as "dirt poor", he first showed his entrepreneurial spirit as a seven year old, when he and a friend started to pick wild fruit which they then sold on roadsides.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kiss have sold 100 million records despite never having been a hit with music critics

He says it was his first lesson in the importance of working hard and making money.

The family then emigrated to the US a year later, and growing up in New York, Simmons was inspired to start a band after watching the Beatles on television.

In 1973 Kiss was formed, with Simmons on bass, Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley on guitars, and Peter Criss on drums.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kiss recently moved into the coffee business

With Simmons and Stanley sharing the vocals, each band member painted his face with a different design, and took on a stage name.

Simmons' name was "The Demon", and on a white background he drew black flames around his eyes. Not forgetting putting on platform boots and body armour.

Fuelled by catchy hard rock songs, and the outlandish make-up and outfits giving the band a major promotional push, within a few years Kiss was enjoying soaring sales and sell-out tours.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kiss even sell birth control products, with four different types of condoms

The music critics were often hostile, with many accusing the group of being all image over substance, but Kiss built up a massive fan base around the world.

Yet despite living a multi-million dollar lifestyle for four decades, Simmons says he has never drunk alcohol, taken drugs, or even smoked a cigarette.

"As a young man at parties, I'd look around and see all the other men completely drunk, behaving like idiots, and unable to talk to the beautiful girls," he says.

"What a complete waste of humanity... booze or drugs have never done anything for me, but I fully uphold people's right to have a completely loser life."


Although original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are no longer in the group, Kiss continues to tour the world with Stanley as the musical leader and Simmons as the businessman.

He describes his stewardship of the current world tour as like "driving a truck".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Simmons lives in Los Angeles with former Playboy model Shannon Tweed

"I'm driving and I keep an eye on everything," says Simmons. "But open the hood and I don't have a clue what is going on with the engine.

"Thankfully I hire people who can do all that for me. Paul and I always have a great team with us... and every night we put on one hell of a show. We are deadly serious when up on stage."

In addition to looking after Kiss, Simmons' other business interests now include everything from a restaurant chain, to an American football team, reality TV shows, a new horror movie production company, book and magazine publishing, public speaking, and language translation services.

He says he is able to find the time for everything because he loves working, and is never hungover.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Simmons says that whether on or off stage he is always working

"Think about how much time most people waste doing nothing - weekends, nothing, holidays, nothing, Christmas, nothing. That all adds up.

"Me I'm always working. When I'm on tour, I'm constantly on my computer working."

When at home, Simmons lives in Los Angeles with his long-term partner Shannon Tweed, an actress and former Playboy playmate, with whom he has two children.

He says: "I'm like [billionaire investor] Warren Buffett - he gets up every day and goes to work even though he doesn't need the money.

"I live to make more money. People who say that money is the root of all evil are morons, a lack of money is the root of all evil."

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