March 05, 2010
Away from his fire-breathing, blood-spewing, face-painted, tongue-wagging Kiss persona, Gene Simmons cuts an an impressive 6ft 2ins figure, sat in the boardroom of a London hotel.

As the metal monster band's frontman and bassist for 35 years, Simmons is the 60-year-old head of a multi-million dollar empire run with his surviving Kiss partner, guitarist Paul Stanley.

It has included comic books, TV series, condoms, board games, guitars, credit cards and 100 million album sales. A brand new album, Sonic Boom - Kiss's 19th studio outing and their first in 11 years - came out last October and Gene is in town for a secret gig as a prelude to a full UK tour in May.

The baseball cap and black leather jacket-clad Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel in 1949. He was then raised in extreme poverty by his concentration camp surviving Hungarian-Jewish mother in New York.

These days, Gene is clearly his own biggest fan.

"I'm Gene Simmons," he says rather unnecessarily, offering a handshake, adding without irony, "It's great for you to meet me."

He removes his chewing gum and sticks it to the mahogany table beside his dark glasses.

"That's eBay right there," he tells me.

Surprisingly, it is not Kiss gum.

"We stay away from food products," Simmons retorts. "One person chokes and sues you, then you go out of business."

And going out of business isn't in the plans Gene keeps in the handwritten black filofax.

"Know where you are and what you are doing," he advises. "I've got books like this at home going back years," he adds, showing me the latest business plans for a film production tie-in. But surely by now he has enough money?

"You always want more," Gene smiles. "It gives you the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, right down to paying for your mother's hip operation, if she should need it. More is a good word."

But despite his success, Simmons has never forgotten his heritage and named his daughter Sophie after Meryl Streep's character in the holocaust survivor movie Sophie's Choice.

"I wept uncontrollably when I saw it," he says. "It's my mother's story, although she never talks about it. I know she used to cut the Commandant's hair for food scraps - she was only 14."

Simmons reached a more mainstream audience when he hosted the C4 reality TV show Rock School. On another TV series, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, he invited the world into his unconventional Beverly Hills homelife where he's been "happily unwed" to former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed for 25 years. They have two children, Nicholas (21) and Sophie (17).

In the past he's lived with both Cher and Diana Ross, and has slept with an estimated 4,700 - and counting - women.

"Well I didn't actually sleep with them," Simmons explains. "Sleeping doesn't really get you anywhere. All men have an open relationship - I'm just honest about it."

Kiss became successful soon after forming in 1973 but, with their make-up and costumes, were derided both by critics and their peers.

"We certainly were," Gene agrees. "We had the attitude that we were in a gladiatorial arena and we made sure we won. We'd politely shake hands with anyone we played with, and then show them a spot in the back yard where they would be buried."

The Kiss man may have had plenty of sex and rock 'n' roll, but he's very anti drugs.
"Anyone who goes onstage on drugs and expects people to pay full ticket price is, frankly, an abomination," he says.

And that's clearly Simmons' recipe for a long life at the top - be a businessman first and foremost rather than your typical rock hedonist.