Simmons vs. Simmons

Gene Simmons and Richard Simmons are so much alike they're practically the same person.

I'll give you hardcore KISS fans out there (including my colleague on the other side of this argument, who actually has KISS action figures on his desk) a chance to take a deep breath, and consider the first sentence.

I'll bet nobody has ever written those words before. But think about it. Both began life as regular guys with different names than they have now. Richard was born Milton Teagle Simmons, and Gene began life as Chaim Witz. They are 61 and 60 years old, respectively. Both have created characters to attain fame, and have kept up the act for decades. Both are known for their costumes — Gene for leather bodysuits and platform boots, Richard for those teeny Dolphin-striped shorts and bedazzled tank tops. (Does this make Richard Simmons the original Hooters girl? Think about that. He could very well be the uniform muse of the hot wing purveyors, though that's an argument for a different day.) Both wear makeup. Neither ever married. Richard's most successful product series was Sweatin' to the Oldies. And let's be honest, these days when you rock out at a KISS concert, you're sweating to the oldies too, like it or not. The final, and most important, connection? Both really, really love women, though in very different ways.

These guys are practically brothers!

Okay, so that might be stretching things tighter than the spandex Richard's loyal fans don, but you get the picture. Richard, who once topped out at 268 pounds, became the go-to guru for weight loss in the '70s after shedding 123 pounds, and keeping it off. He's since dedicated his life to helping others achieve the same goal. Because of him, thousands of people are living happier, healthier lives. He's given so many people, especially women, hope. Gene has given so many women (over 1,000, according to him), well, something entirely different. So who's the better Simmons? I'll take the flamboyant, tongue-in-cheek exercise Simmons over a fire-breathing, babe-bedding, tongue-in-your-face aging rock star any day.

Let's say Richard and Gene approached my colleague's door one day, each wanting to share his life story with the aforementioned Gene-fanatic's family. My guess is he'd happily let Richard in, and have two words for Gene: Kiss off.

— Mary Helen Randall

"All great things are kind of silly. What else is Superman but a middle-aged man who wears tights and a red cape?"

There's something to be said for the most famous tongue in rock-and-roll. (Consider the pool of contestants.) When I interviewed KISS bassist Gene Simmons in April 2000, it was ostensibly a goodbye. Rock's masked men were on their way to Memphis as part of their "Farewell Tour."

Nine years, a lineup change, and a few tours later, Simmons is somehow more famous than he was when KISS was selling platinum albums — and lunch boxes, remember — in the Seventies. Thanks to his A&E television series, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, the world is likely more familiar with his longtime companion Shannon Tweed than they are with his on-stage partner in crime of 35 years, Paul Stanley. 

Gene would be the first to tell you that he's a perfectly American story. The son of a Holocaust survivor, he was ever-so-briefly a school teacher in New York City before meeting Stanley and deciding that "over-the-top" was strictly in the eye of the beholder when it comes to rock-and-roll. A devotee of comic books and horror movies as a child, Gene set out to become the rock star he wanted to see. If seven-inch boots and a face covered in makeup weren't enough, how about some blood-spitting, fire-breathing antics to accompany songs called "God of Thunder" or "Firehouse"? Other self-referential tunes Gene has sung for KISS over the years: "War Machine," "Unholy," and "Larger Than Life." Those music critics who consider Gene and his band a joke are missing a critical component. Gene gets the joke.

KISS' 19th studio album, Sonic Boom, hits the streets this month. The band will play Nashville on October 28th and Little Rock on the 29th. (I'll be in touch with Gene on the Memphis snub.) Now 60 years old, Gene will surely be carried to the rafters to perform "God of Thunder" several stories above the screaming, tongue-wagging KISS Army. If he's confused with certain heroes in capes as he does so? All part of the magic. And nothing silly about it at all.

— Frank Murtaugh

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