Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier; February 4, 1948) is an American rock singer, songwriter and musician whose career spans more than four decades. With a stage show that includes guillotines, the gallows, the electric chairs, fake blood, boa constrictors and baby dolls, Cooper had drawn equally from horror movies, vaudeville and garage rock to pioneer a grandly theatrical and violent brand of hard rock that was designed to shock.
Alice Cooper was originally a band consisting of Furnier on vocals and harmonica, lead guitarist Glen Buxton, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar, and drummer Neal Smith. Taking on the name in 1968 the Alice Cooper band broke into the international music mainstream with the 1971 hit "I'm Eighteen", which was followed in 1972 by the even bigger single "School's Out", which reached #1 in the UK during that summer. The band reached their commercial peak with the transatlantic #1 album Billion Dollar Babies in 1973.
Furnier's solo career as Alice Cooper, legally adopting the band's name as his own, began with the 1975 concept album Welcome to My Nightmare and reached his commercial peak with the 1989 hit "Poison". His most recent studio release was Along Came a Spider, his 18th solo album, in 2008. Expanding from his original Detroit-based garage rock roots, over the years Cooper has experimented with many different musical styles, including art rock, conceptual rock, rock and roll, pop ballad, jazz, new wave, gothic rock, heavy metal, and industrial metal.
Alice Cooper is known for his social and witty persona offstage. The Rolling Stone Album Guide goes so far as to call him the world's most "beloved heavy metal entertainer". He helped to shape the sound and look of heavy metal, and is seen as the person who "first introduced horror imagery to rock'n'roll, and whose stagecraft and showmanship have permanently transformed the genre". Away from music, Cooper is a film actor, a golfing celebrity, a restaurateur and, since 2004, a popular radio DJ with his classic rock show Nights with Alice Cooper.
Cooper was born as Vincent Damon Furnier in Allen Park, Michigan, the son of Ella Mae (née McCart) and Ether Moroni Furnier. His father was a lay preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ (also known as the Bickertonite Church) which, historically, is a branch of the Latter Day Saint movement. He has French Huguenot, Sioux Native American, English, Scottish and Irish ancestry, and was named after one of his uncles (Vincent Collier Furnier) and the writer Damon Runyon. His paternal grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite). Vincent Furnier was very active in his church at the ages of 11 and 12.
While in Detroit, Furnier attended Washington Elementary School, and then a middle school that is now Lutheran High School Westland. Following a series of childhood illnesses, Furnier moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona. Furnier attended Cortez High School in northern Phoenix. He was also a member of the Order of DeMolay.
In 1964, at the age of 16, Furnier was eager to take part in the local annual letterman's talent show and gathered fellow cross-country teammates to form a group for the show. They named themselves The Earwigs, and since they did not know how to play any instruments at the time, they dressed up like The Beatles and mimed their performance to Beatles songs. As a result of winning the talent show and loving the experience of being onstage, the group immediately proceeded to learn how to play instruments they acquired from a local pawn shop. They soon renamed themselves The Spiders, featuring Furnier on vocals, Glen Buxton on lead guitar, John Tatum on rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar, and John Speer on drums. Musically, the group were inspired by artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and The Yardbirds. For the next year the band performed regularly around the Phoenix area with a huge black spider's web as their backdrop, the group's first stage prop. In 1965, they recorded their first single, "Why Don't You Love Me" (originally performed by The Blackwells), with Furnier learning the harmonica for that song.
In 1966, the members of The Spiders graduated from high school. After North High School footballer Michael Bruce replaced John Tatum on rhythm guitar, the band scored a local #1 radio hit with "Don't Blow Your Mind," an original composition from their second single release. By 1967, the band had begun to make regular road trips to Los Angeles, California to play shows. They soon renamed themselves The Nazz and released the single "Wonder Who's Lovin' Her Now," backed with future Alice Cooper track "Lay Down And Die, Goodbye." At around this time drummer John Speer was replaced by Neal Smith. By the end of the year the band had relocated to Los Angeles permanently.
In 1968, upon learning that Todd Rundgren also had a band called Nazz, the band were again in need of another stage name. Believing that the group needed a gimmick to succeed and that other bands were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage, Furnier chose Alice Cooper as the band's name and adopted this stage name as his own. Cooper admitted in 2007 that the name change was one of his most important and successful career moves.
Early press releases claimed that the name was agreed upon after a session with a Ouija board, during which it was revealed that Furnier was the reincarnation of a 17th century witch named Alice Cooper.
Nonetheless, at the time Cooper and the band realized that the concept of a male playing the role of an androgynous witch, in tattered women's clothing and wearing make-up, would have the potential to cause considerable social controversy and grab headlines. Cooper stated in a 2008 interview that his look was inspired in part by the film Barbarella. "When I saw Anita Pallenberg playing the Great Tyrant in that movie in 1968, wearing long black leather gloves with switchblades coming out of them, I thought, 'That's what Alice should look like'. That, and a little bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers".
The conception for the character that Cooper plays on stage came when he took careful observation of the rock world around him. He noticed that rock stars were always made out to be heroes, and that rock villains were scarce. In a 2010 interview he stated, "Why do we always have rock heroes? Why not a rock villain? I was more than happy to be rock's Darth Vader. I was more than happy to be Captain Hook."
The classic Alice Cooper group line-up consisted of singer Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier), lead guitarist Glen Buxton, rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith. With the exception of Smith, who graduated from Camelback High School (which is referred to in the song "Alma Mater" on the School's Out album), all of the band members were on the Cortez High School cross-country team, and many of Cooper's stage effects were inspired by their cross-country coach, Emmett Smith (one of Smith's class projects was to build a working guillotine for slicing watermelons). Cooper, Buxton and Dunaway were also art students, and their admiration for the works of surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí would further inspire their future stage antics.
One night, after an unsuccessful gig at a club in Venice, California, called The Cheetah, where the band emptied the entire room of patrons after playing just ten minutes, they were approached and enlisted by music manager Shep Gordon, who ironically saw the band's negative impact that night as a force that could be turned in a more productive direction. Shep then arranged an audition for the band with composer and renowned record producer Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records. For the audition, Zappa told them to come to his house "at 7 o'clock." The band mistakenly assumed he meant 7 o'clock in the morning. Being woken up by a band willing to play that particular brand of psychedelic rock at seven in the morning impressed Zappa enough to sign them to a three-album deal. Another Zappa-signed act, the all-female GTOs, who liked to "dress the Cooper boys up like full size barbie dolls," played a major role in developing the band's early onstage look.
Cooper's first album Pretties for You, released in 1969, had a slight psychedelic feel. Although it touched the US charts for one week at #193, it was ultimately a critical and commercial failure.
Alice Cooper's "shock rock" reputation apparently developed almost by accident at first. An unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper and a live chicken garnered attention from the press, and the band decided to capitalize on the tabloid sensationalism, creating in the process a new subgenre, shock rock. Cooper claims that the infamous "Chicken Incident" at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969, was an accident. A chicken somehow made its way on stage during Cooper's performance; not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly. He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by disabled people in wheelchairs, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces.
The next day, the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and Zappa phoned Cooper to ask if the story, which reported that he had bitten the head off the chicken and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it", obviously recognising that such publicity would be priceless for the band.
Despite the publicity from the Chicken Incident, the band's stronger second album, Easy Action, released in June 1970, met with the same fate as its predecessor. At around this time the band, fed up with Californians' indifference to their act, relocated to Cooper's birthplace, Detroit, where their bizarre stage act was much better received by the crowds of the Midwest states who were accustomed to the similar hard rock styles of local bands such as The Stooges and The MC5. Despite this, Cooper still managed to receive a cream pie in the face when performing at the Cincinnati Pop Festival. Detroit would remain their steady home base until 1972. "LA just didn’t get it," Cooper stated. "They were all on the wrong drug for us. They were on acid and we were basically drinking beer. We fit much more in Detroit than we did anywhere else."
Alice Cooper appeared at the Woodstock-esque, Strawberry Fields Festival near Toronto, Ontario in August 1970. The band's mix of glam and increasingly violent stage theatrics stood out in stark contrast to the bearded, denim-clad hippie bands of the time. As Cooper himself stated: "We were into fun, sex, death and money when everybody was into peace and love. We wanted to see what was next. It turned out we were next, and we drove a stake through the heart of the Love Generation".
In autumn 1970 the Alice Cooper group teamed with producer Bob Ezrin for the recording of their third album Love it to Death. This was the final album in their Straight Records contract and the band's last chance to create a hit. That first success came with the single "I'm Eighteen", released in November 1970, which reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1971. Not long after the album's release in January 1971 Warner Bros. Records purchased Alice Cooper's contract from Straight and re-issued the album, giving the group a higher level of promotion.
Love it to Death proved to be their breakthrough album, reaching number 35 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album charts. It would be the first of eleven Alice Cooper group and solo albums produced by Ezrin, who is widely seen as being instrumental in helping to create and develop the band's definitive sound.
The group's 1971 tour featured a stage show involving mock fights and gothic torture modes being imposed on Cooper climaxing with a staged execution by electric chair, with the band sporting tight, sequined, and color-contrasting glam rock-style costumes made by prominent rock fashion designer Cindy Dunaway (sister of band member Neal Smith, and wife of band member Dennis Dunaway). Cooper's androgynous stage role had developed to present a villainous side, portraying a potential threat to modern society. The success of the band's single, the album, and their tour of 1971, which included their first tour of Europe (audience members reportedly included Elton John and a pre-Ziggy David Bowie), provided enough encouragement for Warner Bros. to offer the band a new multi-album contract.
Their follow-up album Killer, released in late 1971, continued the commercial success of Love It To Death and included further single success with "Under My Wheels", "Be My Lover" in early 1972, and "Halo Of Flies" which became a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands in 1972. Thematically, Killer expanded on the villainous side of Cooper's androgynous stage role, with its music becoming the soundtrack to the group's morality-based stage show, which by then featured a boa constrictor hugging Cooper onstage, the murderous axe chopping of bloodied baby dolls, and execution by hanging at the gallows.
The summer of 1972 saw the release of the single "School's Out". It went Top 10 in the US, was a #1 single in the UK, and remains a staple on classic rock radio to this day. School's Out the album reached #2 on the US charts and sold over a million copies. The band now relocated to their new mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. With Cooper's on-stage androgynous persona completely replaced with brattiness and machismo, the band solidified their success with subsequent tours in the US and Europe, and won over devoted fans in droves while at the same time horrifying parents and outraging the social establishment. Controversy seemed to have little negative effect on the band's popularity, as they were selected to be the first band to appear on then-new US television series ABC In Concert in September 1972. In England, Mary Whitehouse, a well known campaigner for values of morality and decency, succeeded in having the BBC ban the video for "School's Out" and Member of Parliament Leo Abse petitioned Home Secretary Reginald Maudling to have the group banned altogether from performing in the country.
In February 1973 Billion Dollar Babies was released worldwide and became the band's most commercially successful album, reaching #1 in both the US and UK. "Elected", a late-1972 Top 10 UK hit from the album, which inspired one of the first MTV-style story-line promo videos ever made for a song (three years before Queen's promotional video for "Bohemian Rhapsody"), was followed by two more UK Top 10 singles, "Hello Hooray" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy", the latter of which was the last UK single from the album; it reached #25 in the US. The title track, featuring guest vocals by Donovan, was also a US hit single. Due to Glen Buxton's waning health around this time Mick Mashbir was secretly added to the band (who also played, without credit, on Muscle of Love) to supplement Glen's playing.
With a string of successful concept albums and several hit singles, the band continued their gruelling schedule and toured the US once again. Continued attempts by politicians and pressure groups to ban their shocking act only served to fuel the myth of Alice Cooper further and generate even greater public interest. Their 1973 US tour broke box office records previously set by The Rolling Stones and raised rock theatrics to new heights; the multi-level stage show by then featured numerous special effects, including Billion Dollar Bills, decapitated baby dolls and mannequins, a dental psychosis scene complete with dancing teeth, and the ultimate execution prop and highlight of the show: the guillotine. The guillotine and other stage effects were designed for the band by magician James Randi, who appeared on stage during some of the shows as executioner. The Alice Cooper group had now reached its peak and it was among the most visible and successful acts in the industry. (Cooper's stage antics would influence a host of later bands, including, among others, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Kiss, Blue Öyster Cult, GWAR, W.A.S.P. and, later, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie.) Beneath the surface, however, the repetitive schedule of recording and touring had begun to take its toll on the band, and Cooper, who was under the constant pressure of getting into character for that night's show, was consistently sighted nursing a can of beer.
Muscle of Love, released at the end of 1973, was to be the last studio album from the classic line-up, and marked Alice Cooper's last UK Top 20 single of the 1970s with "Teenage Lament '74". A theme song was recorded for the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, but a different song of the same name by Lulu was chosen instead. By 1974, the Muscle of Love album had not matched the top-charting success of its predecessor, and the band began to have constant disagreements. Cooper wanted to retain the theatrics in the show that had brought them so much attention, while the rest of the group thought they should be toned down so that they could concentrate more on the music which had given them credibility. Largely as a result of this difference of opinion, the band decided to take a much-needed hiatus.
During this time, Cooper relocated back to Los Angeles and started appearing regularly on TV shows such as Hollywood Squares, and Warner Bros. released the Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits compilation album. It featured classic style artwork and reached the US Top 10, performing better than Muscle of Love. However, the band's 1974 feature film Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper (consisting mainly of 1973 concert footage with 'comedic' sketches woven throughout to a faint storyline), released on a minor theatrical run mostly to drive-in theaters, saw little box office success.
As some of the Alice Cooper band's members had begun recording solo albums Cooper decided to do the same himself, and 1975 saw the release of his first solo album Welcome To My Nightmare. Its success marked the final break with the original members of the band, with Cooper collaborating with their producer Bob Ezrin who recruited Lou Reed's backing band, including guitarist Dick Wagner to play on the album. Spearheaded by the US Top 20 hit "Only Women Bleed", a ballad, the album was released by Atlantic Records in March of that year and became a Top 10 hit for Cooper. It was a concept album, based on the nightmare of a child named Steven, featuring narration by classic horror movie film star Vincent Price (several years after Welcome To My Nightmare, he guested on Michael Jackson's "Thriller"), and serving as the soundtrack to Cooper's new stage show, which now included more theatrics than ever (including an furry Cyclops which Cooper decapitates and kills).
However, by this time alcohol was clearly affecting Cooper's performances. During the Welcome to My Nightmare tour in Vancouver, and only a few songs into the routine, Cooper tripped over a footlight, staggered a few paces, lost his bearings and plunged head first off the stage and onto the concrete floor of the Pacific Coliseum. Some fans, thinking it was all part of the act, reached through the barriers to pull at his blood-matted hair before bouncers could pull him away for help. He was taken to a local hospital, where medical staff stitched his head wound and provided him with a skullcap. Cooper returned to the venue a couple of hours later and tried to perform a couple of more songs, but within minutes he had to call it a night. The opening act, Suzi Quatro, had already left the building and the remainder of the concert was cancelled.
Accompanying the album and stage show was the TV special The Nightmare, starring Cooper and Vincent Price in person, which aired on US prime-time TV in April 1975. The Nightmare, the first rock music video album ever made (it was later released on home video in 1983 and gained a Grammy Awards nomination for Best Long Form Music Video), was regarded as another groundbreaking moment in rock history. Adding to all that, a concert film, also called Welcome to My Nightmare and filmed live at London's Wembley Arena in September 1975, was released to theaters in 1976. Though it failed at the box office, it later became a midnight movie favorite and a cult classic.
Such was the immense success of Cooper's solo project that he decided to continue alone as a solo artist, and the original band became officially defunct. It was also during this time that Cooper co-founded the legendary drinking club The Hollywood Vampires, which gave him yet another reason to indulge his continued ample appetite for alcohol.
Following the 1976 US #12 hit "I Never Cry", another ballad, two albums, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell and Lace and Whiskey, and another ballad hit, the US #9 "You and Me", it became clear from his performances during his 1977 US tour that he was in dire need of help with his alcoholism (at his alcoholic peak it was rumored that Cooper was consuming up to two cases of Budweiser and a bottle of whiskey a day). Following the tour, Cooper had himself hospitalized in a New York sanitarium for treatment, during which time the live album The Alice Cooper Show was released. His experience in the sanitarium was the inspiration for his 1978 semi-autobiographical album From The Inside, which Cooper co-wrote with Bernie Taupin. The release spawned another US Top 20 hit "How You Gonna See Me Now", which peaked at #12, and was yet another ballad, based on his fear of how his wife would react to him after his spell in hospital.
The subsequent tour's stage show was based inside an asylum, and was filmed for Cooper's first home video release, The Strange Case of Alice Cooper, in 1979. Around this time, Cooper performed "Welcome To My Nightmare", "You and Me", and "School's Out" on The Muppet Show (episode # 307) on March 28, 1978 (he played one of the devil's henchmen trying to dupe Kermit the Frog and Gonzo into selling their souls). He also appeared in an against-type casting in the campy role of a piano playing, disco bellboy in Mae West's final film, Sextette. Cooper also led celebrities in raising money to remodel the famous Hollywood Sign in California. Cooper himself contributed over $27,000 to the project, buying an O in the sign in memory of friend and comedian Groucho Marx.