20 Years Ago: Gene Simmons and Terry Gross Go Head-to-Head on NPR
Gene Simmons is not known for his filter, and even though he estimates he has slept with close to 5,000 women in his lifetime, his popularity with them shouldn't be confused with respect.
One of the most memorable and public examples of Simmons' misogynistic attitude occurred in 2002 when he appeared on NPR with host Terry Gross, a veteran journalist who's worked for the network since 1975. A relatively straightforward interview was planned, but Simmons had other ideas in mind.
Things started on a rocky note when the Kiss bassist took issue with the way Gross pronounced his Israeli birth name, Chaim Witz. “The name came out through gentile mouth, so it didn’t quite have the flavor,” he said. “It came out bland.” Gross, who is also Jewish, followed up with a correction. “Well," she said, "it’s not a gentile mouth.”
The interview got worse from there, with Simmons spending an inordinate amount of time talking about money: He claimed he had a lot more of than NPR and that apparently, unlike men, women have the additional option of selling their bodies as a source of income. Gross, at first, is a bit taken aback. "You are weird," she said.
A few moments later, Simmons corrected Gross when she asked about fishnet stockings worn by the band onstage, which Simmons said never happened. "I was sure I saw you in them," she said. "But that’s all right ... I trust you on that." Simmons' reply was perhaps intended to be playful, but it came across as sinister: "Don't ever do that. I'm a man."
He took it another step when Gross brought up the codpiece Simmons wears onstage. Simmons said it "holds in his manhood." Gross laughed, but Simmons had something else to add: "Otherwise it would be too much for you to take. You’d have to put the book down and confront life. The notion is that if you want to welcome me with open arms; I’m afraid you’re also going to have to welcome me with open legs."
Without missing a beat, Gross called out Simmons for the comment: "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." The next several minutes of the interview revolved around Simmons' supposed explanation for his thinking - that he is biologically wired to be brash and promiscuous. "I can only spell it in three letters. M-A-N," he explained. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the interview was Simmons' apparent belief that all rock artists are just in it for sex and attention, and not the actual craft of making music.
"I believe in my heart that anyone who gets up there and says what they’re doing is art is on crack and is delusional," he said, noting the reason musicians get into the business is "to get laid and make lots of money. And anybody who tells you otherwise is lying to you."
Simmons went unchecked in the half-hour he spent with Gross, emphasizing that his busy sex life simply comes along with the job. "Women, and their sisters, and their moms, seem to want to express their adoration and/or fan worship," he said. "Or perhaps they want to see if my oral appendage actually does have a spin-and-dry cycle, and whether or not it has the ability to whip up a good froth. Ladies, I’m here to tell you it does. So for whatever reason, they deem me worthy of their companionship, I was more than glad to oblige." (Simmons also clarified that he arrived at his tally of more than 4,500 sexual liaisons because he took Polaroid photos of his partners, which, he said at the time, he still had in his possession.)
There are glimpses of redemption and interest in the interview, like when Simmons talked about his early childhood memories in Israel and his mother, who survived Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He spoke of his mother with adoration, making his other comments about women all the more jarring.
Gross, for her part, made a valiant effort to keep the interview moving but knew it had gone off the rails. "I gave up trying," she wrote in the introduction to her 2004 book, All I Did Was Ask: Conversations With Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists. "By the time the encounter was over, we sounded like two first-graders calling each other names, an indignity compounded by the fact that we're both middle-aged adults."
Simmons may have realized the error of his ways after the mics went cold because he refused to allow NPR to post the interview on its site, though bootleg recordings and transcriptions are wildly available. Years later, he still wasn't over the encounter. "I don't think [Gross] was sweet," he told HuffPost Live in 2014. "I think she was practicing holier-than-thou. I found her arrogant and insulting."
He also appeared to subscribe to the belief that any press is good press because he's since made similar remarks in the media about women. In 2017, Simmons implied that women can either have kids or a career, not both and that their physical attractiveness is what drives their male counterparts. "Women have a choice," he told the New York Post. "They can dress in potato sacks, [but] as soon as they pretty themselves up with lipstick, lift and separate them and point them in our general direction, they’re gonna get a response. Guys are jackasses — we will buy them mansions and houses ... all because of sex." (Simmons reinforced this opinion in a 2021 interview, further emphasizing that women are mainly driven by money, while men are driven by sex. "That makes sense because that’s our biology," he said. "That’s our DNA.")
Simmons attempted to clarify his 2017 comment soon after when he visited the Today show and its women hosts. "What I'm pointing out is your looks, how you dress, how you present yourself is an outreach, an extension of the power you have," he said. "We can't do that. Men can't do that. We have to build skyscrapers and thereby try to be more attractive to you. ... Your actual female self is your power, so you have a choice of implementing that power, that's up to you."
He went on to express his support for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, but somehow still managed to pepper his explanation with an offensive comment. "I want all the jackasses to go to jail for being improper,'' he said. "It's just that [women] have finally stood up on their two hind legs and said, 'You only get the respect you demand.'"