While many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, the once hard-living pioneer of gory rock theatrics and catchy heavy metal anthems is one of music’s great survivors.
When Marilyn Manson started strutting the stage with his grotesque gothic makeup,Rammstein’s Till Lindemann messed around with a bloodied ax, and the singer of the Death Metal band “Bloodbath” screamed into the microphone while covered with blood, it was nothing new.
Alice Cooper pioneered such gruesome heavy rock theatrics over half a century ago. Interestingly, the devil on stage doing his voodoo was not only a shock rock pioneer but the son of a pastor.
Vincent Damien Furnier was born in Detroit, Michigan on February 4, 1948. While not much is known about his childhood, he was a regular church-goer and at age 13 was proud to watch his father — who also loved rock’n’roll music — become ordained as a bishop. Indeed, few know that Alice Cooper remains a committed Christian to this day — despite his irreverent stage persona and long struggles with alcohol and drugs.
The birth of Alice Cooper
Having started a band in high school, Furnier pursued his musical ambition in the midst of the 60s flower power movement.
But he soon wanted to show just how much the Love Generation got on his nerves. While Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin became hippie icons, Vincent scratched around for gigs with his band The Spiders, who would regularly empty out clubs with their quirky garage rock.
Furnier and the band ultimately ended up in Los Angeles, where they met musician Frank Zappa. The leader of the experimental rock band The Mothers of Invention liked this group that didn’t care less what the mainstream was doing. So Zappa signed them to his new label, Straight Records.
The band called itself Alice Cooper from then on because they allegedly thought it was funny to have a name that sounded like the nice grandma from across the street. A different version of the story says that Alice Cooper was the name of a witch who was burned at the stake in 17th-century England.
The chicken incident
The band Alice Cooper would soon find success on the back of an inimitable stage show. It was during a concert in Toronto in 1969 that the idea for a stage routine that forever mark Alice Cooper’s image was conceived. A live chicken came flying out of the audience and onto the stage. Singer Furnier threw it into the audience, saying “It’s a chicken, it can fly on its own.”
Unexpectedly, the audience tore the bird to pieces. Some in the media wrongly reported that Furnier himself had torn the head off and drank the chicken’s blood. The incident strangely inspired the band to shock audiences with bizarre theatrics, including cavorting on stage with an 11-foot boa constrictor snake.
But with the new shock rock schtick also came musical success. The 1972 single “School’s Out” went to number one in the UK charts; while the next year, the album “Billion Dollar Babies” also reached number one in the US.
When the band broke up after its initial success, Furnier claimed the name Alice Cooper for himself as a solo artist — and even managed to have it written into his passport. And the hits kept coming with the release of the 1975 solo concept album, “Welcome to my Nightmare,” which also went top 10 in the US.
In 2003, Alice Cooper was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame. The musician came to the ceremonial unveiling in his usual outfit, and overjoyed, he told the fans who had flocked to the event that he would polish the star every time he walked by.
Fun fact: Cooper’s star is placed between Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and country star Gene Autry.
Only a monster on stage
Cooper was an acute alcoholic until 1983 but has been sober ever since and never fully succumbed to the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
These days, he’s a loyal husband and loving father. He has two daughters and a son. The eldest daughter Calico is a regular in his shows, playing a nurse, dominatrix or Paris Hilton, who is bitten in the throat by her lap dog.
Contrary to the shock rocker cliché, Cooper’s hobby is golfing and he goes to church every Sunday.
He even (jokingly) contemplated running for US President in 2016 — part of his platform was “Adding Lemmy (from band Motorhead) to Mt. Rushmore.”
He still rocks the stage, but when it comes to golf, things are a bit more relaxed. For more than 30 years, the sport has helped him balance his wild stage shows.
At some point he even had a 2 handicap, which just about amounts to world class. Golf saved his life when he was recovering from alcohol addiction, Cooper says in his 2007 book, “Golf Monster: A Rock’n’Roller’s Life and 12 Steps to becoming a Golf Addict.” The rock star shares anecdotes from his rock’n’roll life and doesn’t leave out the dark sides — relaxed, humorous and relentlessly honest.
In an interview with a Christian online magazine, Cooper explained why he stringently separates these two sides of his life.
“Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain died because they wanted to embody their stage presence at all times. They drank and took drugs to do so,” he said. “When I stopped drinking, I made a decision. I wanted to co-exist as a person alongside the stage figure Alice Cooper. But I didn’t want to be that figure all the time.”
“Leave Alice on stage just as he is: the arrogant, evil guy,” he reflected.
“When the curtain goes down, I am a completely different person than I am on stage.”
Studio album number 21, “Detroit Stories,” was released in February 2021, and the band is working on another record.
Actually, Cooper said a year ago that he was working on two new albums, but there are no details about the release.
Just in time for the iconic rock star’s 75th birthday, rock journalist Gary Graff’s biography hit the shelves: “Alice Cooper at 75.” Based on 75 key events or releases, fans are given a richly illustrated peek at the musician’s life and career.