Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz on August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel to Hungarian-Jewish parents. Gene Simmons mother was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, and his father was a carpenter. Five years after his birth his parents separated, and when Chaim was only nine his mother brought him to the United States, renaming her son Gene Klein, and settling in Brooklyn, NY.
With the help of new interests, television commercials and Walt Disney movies, Gene Simmons picked up English and added to a vocabulary which also included Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish and Hungarian. After seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Gene‘s life changed. Soon after, his mother gave him a secondhand Kent guitar, which she purchased for $15, and from there things got better.
Simmons graduated from Richmond College in 1970 with a degree in education and four languages: English, German, Hungarian and Hebrew. Having long decided against his childhood plan of becoming a Rabbi, he briefly worked as a sixth-grade school teacher in Spanish Harlem, but gave it up after he realized the children were against him. Gene also held a job as “Personal Assistant” to the editor of Vogue and Glamour magazines. Around this time the name ‘Gene Simmons” was adopted as a stage name.
In 1973, KISS was born, with Simmons as its co-founder. Borrowing a leaf from the pages of several other New York bands, KISS started experimenting with makeup. After soon realizing that a feminine appearance would in no way suit what KISS was trying to bring to the stage, it was decided that they would go to the extreme: each member would come up with a unique style of makeup suiting his distinct personality, makeup that would be worn every time the band performed.
Gene‘s KISS character was The Demon, and his bat-like makeup allowed him to act out all of the characters that had enchanted him as a child. Since the band stole the media spotlight, he has always been the most photographed member, and his on-stage fire-breathing, tongue-waggling and blood drooling have made headlines everywhere.
The Simmons-Stanley composition that let the public know KISS’ prime objective, “Rock and Roll All Nite,” was written primarily as a “battle cry” for the band and its fans to believe in. KISS decided to remove their trademark makeup in 1983. This would prove to be a make-or-break situation for the band.
During the mid to late ’80s, Gene Simmons was busy with things not completely related to the band. He launched his own record label, the inventively titled Simmons Records. He also signed a deal with KISS’ management to jointly manage Liza Minelli’s career. Additionally, Gene Simmons discovered Van Halen and produced their 15-song demo.
The film Detroit Rock City (1999) saw Gene Simmons tackling the role of movie co-producer, as well as making a guest appearance with the rest of the band.