Notoriously outspoken and famously long-tongued, you might think there is little you haven’t already heard from KISS musician Gene Simmons. But after nearly 50 years in rock ‘n’ roll and seven seasons on reality television, Simmons still has plenty of surprises for his fans.
At 65 years old, Simmons still dons his trademark makeup and seven-inch high heels, spits fire, and flies across the stage—touring the world with KISS, one of the most successful music franchises in the world, with more than 100 million albums sold to date. But behind his onstage persona, aptly named “The Demon,” lies a man with many diverse interests, including a passion for philanthropy.
Born in Israel, and raised in a bullet-hole-speckled, one-bedroom home by his mother, a Holocaust survivor, Simmons immigrated to the United States at the age of eight. He spoke no English and had never seen a television, refrigerator or paved streets before.
“We came from nothing. My mother was making $35 a week. Rent was $37.50 a month, but I didn’t know anything,” said Simmons. “I had never seen a television set, or Kleenex, or toilet paper. We just didn’t have those things.”
Even once KISS found rock ’n’ roll success, Simmons continued to live frugally, at one time living in a $200 a month duplex with a roommate. He didn’t own a car until he was 34 years old. And now, it’s because he remembers what it was like to be hungry, Simmons says, that he finds it so important to give back.
“Philanthropy is a big word, and people don’t understand, really, what it means. … It means giving back. It means, you don’t really need all the money you have, those of us who are in the West and doing okay,” said Simmons.
Simmons is a major donor to Mending Kids International, an organization that provides quality surgical care to children who could otherwise not afford it. He also sponsors more than 140 children through ChildFund International, a nonprofit that supports children living in extreme poverty, and is a proponent of microfinance lending programs like Kiva and Heifer International.
While he may shun the quest for “more” when it comes to materials things, in matters of self-motivation, he embraces it: “Above and beyond the money and the fame and the power and the stuff is you’re in competition with yourself every day to do better today than you did yesterday. And we should all aspire to that. ‘More’ is a good word,” said Simmons.
On this week’s episode of Full Frame, Simmons sat down with Mike Walter in Los Angeles to discuss his philosophy on giving back, his fascination with China, and the future of rock ‘n’ roll.
Follow Gene Simmons on Twitter: @genesimmons