In 1957, Gene Simmons emigrated to New York City as a child with his mother -
a Hungarian immigrant and the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust
- after his father, Feri Witz, abandoned his family. After emigrating to
America, he took the name Gene Klein; he felt that 'Gene' was more American than
'Chaim', and his mother's maiden name was Klein. In the late 1960s, he changed
his name again, to Gene Simmons, as he simply felt that "Gene Klein" didn't have
enough of a ring to it.
Gene Simmons' first band, Bullfrog Bheer, played a few gigs and made a few recordings in the late 1960s, one of which ("Leeta") was eventually released on the KISS box set in demo form. Another Bullfrog Bheer song, "Little Lady", eventually was recorded by KISS as "Goin' Blind", and an early-Who-ish sounding song called "Stanley the Parrot" is said to have been the original incarnation of KISS' "Strutter".
Gene Simmons formed the rock band Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Stanley Eisen (a.k.a. Paul Stanley) and recorded one album, which was never released. Dissatisfied with Wicked Lester's sound and look, Simmons and Stanley went looking for other musicians and eventually joined up with drummer Peter Criscoula and lead guitarist Paul Frehley—who would become Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, respectively. When Simmons and Stanley's attempts to fire their old band members met with resistance, they simply quit Wicked Lester, walking away from their record deal with Epic Records. They formed a new band with Criss and Frehley, which they soon dubbed KISS. KISS released their first self-titled debut album in February of 1974 and have been active to the present day, with Simmons being the driving force behind their extensive marketing franchise.
Gene Simmons is also a movie producer and actor who has appeared in a number of movies including Runaway, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Trick Or Treat, Red Surf, Detroit Rock City, The New Guy. Most recently, Simmons has been the creative force behind such television projects as:
In 2005, Gene Simmons was sued by a former lover, Georgeann Walsh Ward, who claimed that he "defamed her in the VH1 documentary 'When KISS Ruled the World,' which 'repeatedly falsely portrayed her as an unchaste woman,' . . . though it never mentioned her by name, allegedly implied that Ward was more a groupie than a girlfriend. Ward claimed that she was in an "exclusive, monogamous relationship" with Simmons that began before KISS formed." The suit is ongoing.
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