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Birth name Chaim Witz ()Nationality IsraelBirth 25 august 1949
Chaim Witz (Hebrew: חיים ויץ; born August 25, 1949), better known by his stage name Gene Simmons, is an Israeli-American rock bass guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, actor, and television personality. Known by his stage persona The Demon, he is the bass guitarist and co-lead singer of Kiss, the rock band he co-founded in the early 1970s.
Chaim Witz was born at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, on August 25, 1949. With his mother, he emigrated to New York City, at eight years of age, settling in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. Simmons was raised in a Jewish home where he practiced on his guitar hours without end. His mother Flóra "Florence" Klein (formerly Kovács) was born in Jánd, Hungary. The name Klein, which means "small" in German, has the Hungarian equivalent Kis (a common Hungarian surname); this, however, did not give the band its name. Simmons' mother Florence survived internment in Nazi concentration camps. She and her brother, Larry Klein, were the only members of the family to survive the Holocaust.
Simmons' father, Feri Witz, also Hungarian-born, remained in Israel, where he had one other son and three daughters, and worked as a carpenter. Simmons says the family was "dirt poor," scraping by on bread and milk. In the United States, Simmons changed his name to Eugene Klein (later Gene Klein), adopting his mother's maiden name.
Before his musical career began, 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.
A significant influence on Simmons was the Beatles. "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."
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 kept up odd jobs on the side to make more money, including trading used comic books. Simmons attended Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York. He then 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 Bert 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 Peter Criscuola, known as Peter Criss, who was playing clubs in Brooklyn at the time; they joined and started out as a trio. 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.
In 1983, while Kiss' fame 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, had decided to leave the band, and a replacement was sought to fill the drummer's 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.
Stage makeup and persona
During an interview in 1999, Simmons was asked about the source and significance of Kiss' stage makeup and personas:
I've always been a fan of Americana, and Americana has always been about imagery, often above content. I think there's nothing wrong with that. The world worships this culture. Most people only think about America in terms of rock & roll, movies and television. Kiss is very all-American, in the sense that our constituency has never had anything in common with critics... because our power, our lifeblood, our very reason for existence is our fans. Without them, we'd be nothing.
Simmons was a supporter of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing on his website: "I'm ashamed to be surrounded by people calling themselves liberal who are, in my opinion, spitting on the graves of brave American soldiers who gave their life to fight a war that wasn't theirs...in a country they've never been to... simply to liberate the people therein". In a follow-up, Simmons explained his position and wrote about his love and support for the United States: "I wasn't born here. But I have a love for this country and its people that knows no bounds. I will forever be grateful to America for going into World War II, when it had nothing to gain, in a country that was far away... and rescued my mother from the Nazi German concentration camps. She is alive and I am alive because of America. And, if you have a problem with America, you have a problem with me."
During the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon, Simmons sent a televised message of support (in both English and Hebrew) to an Israeli soldier seriously wounded in fighting in Lebanon, calling him his "hero."
In 2010, Simmons said he regretted voting for Barack Obama and criticized the 2009 health care reforms. Following Obama's 2011 Mideast speech, in which the President called on Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a settlement "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," Simmons told CNBC that Obama was gravely misguided. "If you have never been to the moon, you can't issue policy about the moon. For the president to be sitting in Washington D.C. and saying, 'Go back to your '67 borders in Israel' – how about you live there and try to defend an indefensible border – nine miles (14 km) wide?" Simmons also accused the United Nations of being "the most pathetic body on the face of the earth."
During his visit to Israel in 2011, he stated that the artists refusing to perform in Israel for political reasons are "stupid," referring to artists who canceled planned concerts in Israel.
In an April 2012 interview, Simmons endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for President, stating as well that "America should be in business and it should be run by a businessman."