Life and career
Simmons was born as Chaim Witz on August 25, 1949 at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel to Jewish emigrants from Hungary. His mother, Florence Klein (originally Flóra Kovács), was born in Jánd, Hungary, and survived internment in Nazi concentration camps. She and her brother, Larry Klein, were the only members of the family to survive the Holocaust. His father, Ferenc "Feri" Yehiel Witz, was a carpenter. Simmons spent his early childhood in Tirat Carmel, and was raised in a Jewish household. He practiced playing his guitar for hours on end. He has said that his family was "dirt poor," scraping by on rationed bread and milk. At age seven, he began to pick wild fruit and sell it on roadsides together with a friend.
At age eight, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and settled in New York City. His father remained in Israel, where he had one other son and three daughters. In the United States, Simmons changed his name to Eugene Klein, adopting his mother's maiden name. At age nine, he briefly attended a Jewish religious school, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, before transferring to a public school. He later attended Richmond College and , both in New York, and chose a stage name in tribute to the rockabilly singer Jumpin' Gene Simmons. Before his musical career began, Klein/Simmons worked a variety of jobs in the city. An "excellent typist", he served as an assistant to an editor of the fashion magazine Vogue, and also spent several months as a sixth grade instructor on the Upper West Side.
The Beatles had a significant influence on Simmons. "There is no way I'd be doing what I do now if it wasn't for the Beatles. I was watching The Ed Sullivan Show and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music."
Gene Simmons as "The Demon", 2010
Simmons became involved with his first band, Lynx, then renamed the Missing Links, when he was a teenager. Eventually, he disbanded the band to form the Long Island Sounds, the name being a pun on Long Island Sound. While he played in these bands, he worked at odd jobs on the side to make more money, including trading used comic books. Simmons attended in Loch Sheldrake, New York. He joined a new band, Bullfrog Bheer, and the band recorded a demo, "Leeta"; this was later included on the Kiss box set.
Simmons formed the rock band Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Stanley 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 George Peter John Criscuola (known as Peter Criss) who was playing clubs in Brooklyn at the time; they joined and started out as a trio.
During this time, Criss and Simmons also appeared on an unreleased album by Captain Sanity together with members from Criss' previous band Chelsea. Paul Frehley (better known as Ace Frehley) responded to an ad they put in The Village Voice for a lead guitar player, and soon joined them. Kiss released their self-titled debut album in February 1974. Stanley took on the role of lead performer on stage, while Simmons became the driving force behind what became an extensive Kiss merchandising franchise. The eye section of his "Demon" makeup with Kiss came from the wing design of comic book character Black Bolt.
Simmons' 'The Demon' make-up
In 1983, when the fame of Kiss was waning, the members took off their trademark make-up and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that continued into the 1990s. At this time, Peter Criss, the original drummer, was voted out of the band, and a replacement was sought to fill his vacancy. The new drummer was Paul Charles Caravello, who went by the stage name of Eric Carr, and played for Kiss from 1980 until his death in 1991. The band hosted its own fan conventions in 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. 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 1991 through 1996) replacing Peter Criss on drums.