In our weekly series we write about celebrities – artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and scientists – who have some Hungarian origin, yet only few would consider them as “par excellence Hungarians”. In many cases even the person concerned knows only very little about his or her Hungarian roots, while others are proud of their “magyar” background despite lacking the ability to speak the language of their parents or grandparents. Our fourth target is:
Gene Simmons, musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, actor and television personality, guitarist and co-lead singer of the legendary rock band KISS
Both of the legendary rock star’s parents were born in Hungary (photo: rollingstone.com)
Best known as the fire breathing, blood splitting and larger than life co-founder of hard rock supergroup, KISS, Simmons was actually born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel on 25 August, 1949 to Jewish-Hungarian parents Flóra Klein and Ferenc Witz, both of whom hailed from the northeastern corner of the country, her mother being born in the small village of Jánd. At the age of 8, he moved with his Holocaust survivor mother to the Jackson Heights neighbourhood, while his father remained in Israel. Simmons, who later adopted his mother’s maiden name of Klein, has described his childhood as “dirt-poor”, scraping by on bread and milk.
Like many American teenagers of the 1960s, he was influenced by a fascination with comic book super heroes, monster movies and rock and roll music – The Beatles in particular – , thus the teenage Simmons set about creating what he perceived as the ultimate music supergroup.
Simmons eventually crossed paths with like-minded musician and songwriter Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen) in the early 1970s, and after several failed attempts to create their dream band, they recruited fellow New Yorkers spaced out guitarist Ace Frehley (born Paul Daniel Frehley) and “do anything to make it” drummer Peter Criss (born Peter Crisscuola).
The four struggling young musicians practiced relentlessly in a rundown loft in New York City refining their music and stage show before eventually launching themselves on the New York live music scene in the early 1970s with their blitzkrieg style of hard rock, kabuki stage make up and unforgettable high energy performances. After bombarding media, TV & public relations identities with invites to their shows, Simmons and Stanley soon brokered a deal with Madison Ave executive Bill Aucoin for him to manage the band, and Aucoin soon scored KISS a record deal with the fledgling Casablanca Records & Filmworks…..and the rest as they say is KISStory!
Since the two founded the hard rock band in New York City in January 1973, KISS has been awarded 30 gold albums to date, the most of any American band, counting the 1978 solo albiums. The band has sold more than 40 million albums in the United States and in excess of 100 million worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time. Well known for its members’ face paint and stage outfits, the group has played over 2000 elabourate live performances to millions of loyal fans (known as the KISS Army) right around the globe. Some of the bands best-known hits are I Was Made For Lovin’ You (written by fellow Hungarian-American songwriter Desmond Child), Rock ‘n Roll All Nite, Detroit Rock City, Love Gun, Strutter and God of Thunder. On 10 April 2014, KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The 67-year-old rock star resides in Los Angeles, California, with Canadian former Playboy Playmate and actress Shannon Lee Tweed, whom he wed in 2011 following a 28-year-old relationship.The couple have two children, Nick (born 1989) and Sophie (born 1989). Simmons speaks German, English and Hebrew, in addition to Hungarian, and has so far performed with KISS three times in Hungary.
And now, watch this sensational video of him singing in Hungarian with his mom:
Previously on Hungarian Roots:
cover photo: AFP/Getty Images