Gene Simmons will be the first to tell you that he is a rock god. What Gene Simmons Family Jewels reveals is that he is also a loving father and — as much as he might protest — a devoted, if not completely faithful, companion to girlfriend Shannon Tweed, to whom he has been “happily unmarried” for more than 20 years. The series, which premieres Aug. 7 on A&E, takes a look at the personal life of the Demon, who’s known around the globe as a member of the band KISS and for his legendary pursuit of women (he recently landed at No. 3 on Maxim’s list of “The Living Legends of Sex”). It’s a premise not unlike that of The Osbournes: Take an outrageous, larger-than-life rock star and show the cuddly, domesticated version of him. But that’s where the comparison ends.
Unlike Ozzy Osbourne, who now seems more clown prince than Prince of Darkness, Simmons manages to escape the process with his dignity somewhat intact. This is due largely to his and Tweed’s ability to raise seemingly normal, well-adjusted kids. Which is to say, Nick and Sophie Simmons are no Jack and Kelly Osbourne. Nick, 17, wants to make a name for himself and only reluctantly accepts the relentless “help” his father offers in getting his music career off the ground. And 13-year-old Sophie can’t even bring herself to pierce her bellybutton, perhaps the most benign of teenage rites of rebellion. Most importantly, each clearly loves and respects both of their parents.
The Simmons household isn’t, by any means, traditional — Gene’s almost adolescent fear of marriage and commitment prevents that — but Family Jewels proves that he can be the God of Thunder and still be a pretty good dad, too.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
Gene Simmons: About two years ago I started Simmons Records — restarted it — and released an album called A**hole, which is … well, I’ve been called that a few times, and since I have one, and carry it around with me wherever I go, I thought the least I could do was subscribe to the truth-in-advertising notion. I have one, I am one. … But those are semantics, and I’m not anti-semantic. And so I was looking for a way to promote [the album], and A&E approached me about doing a special. I was touring with KISS at the time in Australia and my album was about to be released after the tour, so they followed me around and it was a special that went on A&E called 24/7, because they couldn’t figure out what to do. They wanted to do a bio and I said, “Absolutely not.” So I suppose their ratings skyrocketed and they said would I be interested in a show, and I said, “Only if you commit to 13 [episodes] and only if I get to do whatever I want to do, anyway I want to do it, without interference.”
Was the entire family onboard right from the get-go?
No, they were kind of “eh.” They’re not at all affected people — what you see is really who everybody is. Sophie and Nick are Hollywood kids, which I loathe to say because it carries such bad [connotations]. They actually are very unaffected by all that. You never see us at Hollywood premieres and stuff like that — not because we don’t enjoy it. … Anyway, it’s not really an issue and they’re not really tugging at my sleeves [saying], “Let’s go the Superman premiere.” They’d rather go and sit there like real people and just sort of watch it. They initially were reluctant. They’re not at all interested in promo and stuff like that. They keep me grounded, that’s for sure, because I have a huge ego.
Image has always been at the forefront with KISS.
But also mystery.
So did you have any concerns about letting an audience see behind your public persona?
Well, it’s 32 years on now — well, February is 33 — and I just came from the opening of the KISS Coffeehouse, which is going to be the first in a franchise, and there isn’t anywhere we can’t go and most places we haven’t been to. I’m holding in front of me the French Coca-Cola bottle with my face on it. You know, mystery shmystery. When you get too big, it’s time to just sort of do what you want to do and not worry about it all.
I came out of watching three episodes of the show with a different impression of you than I had going in.
In all honesty, I think a few things are exactly the way you expected: no smoking, no drinking, no getting high. I refuse to hurt myself and I’ve always been public about that. I’ve always been public — my life’s an open book. The world is full of beautiful women and to ignore that is a lie. And that’s why all the men who get married are lying. They sneak peeks when their wife isn’t looking and they actually say emasculated things like, “If my wife finds out, she’ll kill me.” What’s happened to the male of the species? That’s what I want to know. So, what you see is exactly what you get, which is: I am the king of the world outside of home, and at home everybody else can run around and tell me what to do. Which is sort of what happens. If you see a lion coming back [to its den], you see the little cubs jumping all over Daddy — who would otherwise be killing all living things. And that’s OK.
You hinted at it a moment ago. Can you explain the concept of being “happily unmarried”?
Yeah, it’s called: The only thing wrong with marriage is one of the two [people] tends to be a man. I have little respect for the institution from the man’s side, because men lie and I believe in oaths. And I believe that women should be pissed off at men, because if a man, respectfully, is stupid enough to say, “I promise to be with you until the day we die, richer or poorer and I’m going to support you no matter what,” he should be held liable. I find the institution of marriage a sham because it involves lying, and lying means you’re going to take an oath knowing full well that there’s a pretty good chance — statistics tell us, from 60 to 75 percent of all marriages fail. It’s like jumping out of a plane with a parachute, and the instructor telling you, “Listen, you’ve got a one-out-of-four chance of surviving.” Why would you jump? So, not to be too funny about it, but I found out the big secret — the biggest cause of this enormous problem of divorce that we have. The biggest cause of divorce is marriage. I mean, that’s kind of funny stuff but there’s a very simple idea: stay together if you want to and don’t if you don’t. And have really good rules and have cohabitation agreements which describe the financial relationship, and good fences make good neighbors.
Is fidelity the aspect of marriage that you have a problem with?
No, it’s money. The only one who has the right to put their hand out is the mother who gave me birth. Nobody else can ask me where I’m going. Who the f*** wants to know? And I think the male of the species is in a sad state indeed. And it’s of his own doing. They’ve let this happen. I think it’s pathetic and I’m embarrassed by it. I could never watch I Love Lucy. I mean, here’s Desi Arnaz, who goes and does the band, and all Lucy did was try to ruin it, stay at home and scratch her butt. I can’t watch that show. It makes me furious.
Having said all that, what’s running through your head during the first episode when your family throws you a surprise fake wedding?
So help me God — and I’ll say this on my life, on my children, just so you know because people say things for effect all the time — I didn’t have a f***ing clue that was going to happen. That was real. I was going to surprise Shannon [on her birthday] with, you know, “Here’s some coffee because you like your own brand.” And she’s going, “Yeah, right.” So I spring her a ring and some antique diamond earrings, blah, blah, blah. And then I didn’t know what happened. The rug was pulled out from under me because everybody at the party was in on this thing, because I’m so scared of marriage. Not because of marriage in general but because of the consequence, which is what happens if Shannon changes or I change, and you want to leave? Then what happened to that oath? I thought that was sacred. I urge all men not to get married, to stay with whoever they want for as long as you want, with good pieces of paper that define the relationship financially and otherwise. And I urge all women to get married as often as they can, as many times as they can and as soon as they can before they die, because every time they get divorced — 50 percent gross pre-tax dollars.
So if the situation were reversed — if there’s a woman who’s got a lot of money — you would cater your advice based on …
It doesn’t fly both ways. Biology speaks louder. No. I mean, Carlo Ponti was a short, bald guy with a lot of money and power, and he got Sophia Loren. If you have a short, bald woman who’s old, it’s not going to fly. No, it doesn’t work the other way. Tell me if this is true: Two guys are talking, two girls are talking. Guy says to his friend, “I’ve got a blind date for you,” so his friend says, “Really? What does she look like?” Naturally, it’s biology speaking. Two girls are talking: “I’ve got a blind date for you.” “Oh, really? What does he do?” That’s biology talking. She’s not interested in how he’s looking, necessarily. She’d prefer [he’d be attractive, but] she’s interested in whether he can make money. And even if she has her own money, biology still speaks. She wants to send a message to the world that he can support me, if he could. I’m not having any of that. … Women will not agree to that. They just won’t. Because it’s the big secret. The big secret is that the clock is ticking and by mid 40s, women stop making eggs. And men are attracted to younger women because they have eggs. That’s biology. That’s nothing personal. And so I don’t pretend there aren’t beautiful women in the world. And this show … when I watch all the other families in reality shows and Everybody Loves Raymond and stuff like that, I’m going, “My f***ing God. What happened to your manhood? Where are you, you pitiful guy? All he gets to do is sit in front of the TV set and talk a lot. Men don’t talk. Women talk. I don’t want to talk.
Outside of the marriage issue, what stands out most on the show is your relationship with your kids. It seems to be very strong and they seem to be, surprisingly, very normal. What’s the most difficult part of balancing your role as a rock star with being a dad?
None. Discipline. The same discipline that will not allow me to get high or get drunk or smoke is the same discipline that’s in this house. The only job kids have is to do well in school and behave — period. “I’ll protect you, I’ll give my life for you, [but] this is not a negotiation.” And what’s happened to parenting in America is just a f***ing insult. This idea of — and I’ve heard shrinks talking about this — “let’s sit down and negotiate with your child.” Well, first, they never earned the right, and what makes you think that any of this is sinking [in]? There’s no qualification for negotiation, and they haven’t earned the right to negotiate. No, no, no. Good rules make good neighbors. Mother Nature doesn’t really care if you’re young, old, good guy or bad guy. There’s a price: Put your hand in the fire, you will get burned — whether you meant it or not. Human beings come up with this thing, “I ran you over but I didn’t mean it.” And my point is, “What the f***’s the difference? I’ve been run over.” So, I’m a firm believer in discipline. They know about tough love camp in the middle of the desert. There’s no hitting here because they know this is serious business. And small noes like, “Can I move this dish over here?” “No.” That same no is the one that says, “Can I get high?” The word “no” means no. Once. And that’s it — consistency and strict rules. And be willing to act up. Don’t bluff. We don’t bluff. I will not bluff. Bluff is for wimps. Say or don’t say it, but mean it. Yoda was right: Do or do not do, but do not try.
In your household, are you the disciplinarian or is that duty split evenly between you and Shannon?
Well, Shannon spends a lot more time with the young people — it’s difficult to call them kids. She takes them to school every day and does all that stuff. And she is every bit the disciplinarian that I am. We’re like two different sides of the same coin. We’re completely different, you know — it’s beauty and the beast. We’re completely different. I have very strange habits because I’m an only child; she comes from a family of seven. But we’re both outsiders — I’m from Israel, she’s from Canada. We both have a sense of being strangers in a strange land. But don’t kid yourself. In this household, there is a man. This is my house. Most of the rest of you wimps out there don’t have the balls to stand up on your own two feet and say, “This is my house. I paid for it. I worked for it. It’s mine.” Everybody lives here because I allow it, when it really comes down to it. This idea of joint bank accounts and “we” and stuff like that … the person who earns the money owns it. When I go and buy a car, the people who sit in it don’t say “our car.” I don’t subscribe to that notion. What happened to man? That’s my question to all of you wimps out there. What the f*** have you done to yourselves?
Do you think that your situation might be magnified based on the success that you’ve attained?
No, I’ve always been the same guy. I’ve never had a girlfriend because I never wanted to promise her that I’d stay with her. The very first relationship I ever had was Cher, when I was, oh, I guess almost 30. Up until then, I would never promise anything to anybody. I wouldn’t do it because, my God, have some self-respect and ethics. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t say “I love you” to every girl you meet — you’re lying.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in one of the episodes where you express concern over what your daughter is wearing and you tell her to stay away from boys, and then it cuts to a scene where you’re introducing your son to women at the NAMM show. Does that discrepancy come from their age …
I don’t see a discrepancy. My son is 17 years old and 6-foot-7, and my daughter Sophie is 13.
And that’s exactly what I was wondering, if it was the age or the gender?
Well, of course. Age is very important. And now it’s time for the come-to-Jesus truth moment. The bulls*** that the politically correct world knows is true but won’t say: It is a double standard. I’m not passing judgement. What’s right for the guy may not be right for the girl. You know, if a guy comes into a club with two girls, that’s cool. The girls think it’s OK and the guys think it’s OK. And if a girl comes into a club with three or four guys … the other women have a lot to say about it. So I didn’t create these rules, and everybody should figure out what those rules are. I’m OK with all responsible behavior, however, I know the male of the species. The male of the species is not interested in sitting and playing Mahjong and talking about fabric. If you’re straight, you don’t say the word “fabric.” OK? You don’t know fabric. You leave that to other people to figure out. So is there a double standard? You’re goddamn right there is. And especially for a 13-year-old girl.
Especially given that she seems like a very mature 13-year-old girl …
That’s precisely the point. Physically, she’s almost 5-10. Call it for what it is — Sophie is a very attractive young lady. She’s not a 13-year-old girl. She doesn’t act it, and the bigger problem for older guys is she doesn’t look it. Twenty-year-old guys turn around and look, and that’s not good.
As she gets older, how do you plan on handling that situation?
I’ll just kill him. [Laughs.]
I pity the poor guy who comes home to meet you.
But that’s good. I’m not going to be pushing the marriage button — “What are your intentions with my daughter?” — I will be pushing my daughter’s happiness issue. It’s what she wants for herself. From day one, what I’ve told her is, “Do not define yourself by the guy.” Every single woman’s magazine is “10 Ways to Keep Him Happy,” “Three Ways to Fart at 4 O’Clock in the Morning So He’s Happy,” “How Do I Keep My Man?” Women still — still — like taking the guy’s last name and refuse to hold on to their last name. Women like that. There’s emancipation and we’ve got freedom and women can call, “Look, let’s get married but I don’t want your last name; I want mine.” They just won’t do it. That’s biology talking. Women want to be connected to men, and that’s OK except that I don’t want Sophie to become subservient. Which is why she’s taking computer classes … rides horses and volleyball and does everything. Well-rounded, not dependent. Every time I watch Oprah, I see these 50-year-old women whose husbands left them, who are like invalids, who can’t balance a checkbook and don’t have a f***ing clue how to do anything. But they can cook.
That’s incredibly surprising, considering the supposed changes that have been made in society over the years.
That’s women. Woman can point to the work force and stuff like that, but they’re absent in mathematics, science, architecture, quantum physics, the Internet — they’re just invisible. They’re not there. This kind of equal workload is a lie. It’s a politically correct lie, but it’s a lie. Women are invisible in the stuff that really builds the world. They’re in fashion and in business and in offices, but not in the stuff that makes the world grow.
Given your paternal instinct to protect your daughter, do you ever put yourself in the shoes of the fathers who were concerned over what you were doing with their daughters?
I never, ever went for underage girls. Period. You’ve never read about it, you’ve never heard about it, you’ve never seen it. Underage is off limits. Period.
But I’m assuming the urge to protect your daughter won’t go away when she turns 18 …
Yeah, but then she’ll have her own say about it. You know, your mom was right and your dad was right in the old days: You live under my roof, it’s my rules. It’s a good idea. It’s a fine idea. I am paying for the privilege to tell you what to do — what do you think of them apples? I’m protecting you and I’m paying for you — my rules. Once you go off on your own, I have squat to say. This ain’t India. This isn’t arranged marriages.
Transitioning to your son, who’s actually getting close to that age — he’s 17, correct?
Yes. He’s shockingly much more of a gentleman than I ever was, and very considerate and an extraordinary human being.
It’s amazing because we see other shows that focus on the family lives of famous people, and the kids are just insane …
They’re insane and they misbehave because they’re allowed to, don’t you get it?
And that’s the thing — your kids seem perfectly normal.
But it goes for the animals, too. You notice the animals don’t bark — because they’re not allowed to. Literally, when they hear [a whistle], they immediately hold their breath. Because Mother Nature is a good teacher. When you see the alpha male eating first, the other ones stay away because [otherwise] they get killed. Good rules, repercussions for bad behavior — you’ll get results. … [With pets] you can’t do lovey-dovey and you can’t kind of go, “Oh, they’re so cute,” because they will twist you, they’ll rule you. … And young people, children, are trying to figure out how to survive in this world, which is why they go and they try stuff, trying to figure out who they are. Not here. I catch you high once, you’re going to be in the desert in a camp you never knew existed. Just once. They know that. And [as a result] they make really valid decisions. Nick was at a party after his band played. He doesn’t drive yet, and he called and Shannon said, “You’ve got to go pick him up.” I said, “What are you talking about? It’s only 10, 10:30. They just got offstage.” So I got on the phone with Nick, he says, “Nah, I don’t want to hang out here. The guys are starting to get [high].” For a 17-year-old to offer that?
You’re goddamn right, it’s amazing. I was like that. As a matter of fact, sometimes I waited for the guys to get bombed so I could be the fox in the chicken coop and steal the girls. The other guys were useless. Who are they going to go home with? … There’s not a successful guy out there who says, “What do you do for a living?” “Oh, I’m a drunk.” “Oh great, you must have billions.” It doesn’t work. I love money too much to numb my senses.
One of the episodes that I screened was called “Food or Sex.” Is there even a choice between the two?
Well, it’s always food … because without food, you don’t live a day. But the urge to merge is primordial. You know, I have it all figured out, if you don’t mind.
Not at all.
Since the male and the female of the species both crawled out of the ooze we were all created from, one undying truth has been true then and is even truer now. You see, the male of the species manufactures billions of sperm every day. The female of the species manufactures one egg per month. Ever since creation, the female of the species has believed that every one of those billions of sperm belonged to her. She’s deluded herself into believing that.