The creator of shock rock and a major innovator of theatrical rock shows, Alice Cooper blazed into the public consciousness with his trademark black snake eye makeup, Goth appearance and anti-establishment, disaffected youth anthems, including 1971's "I'm Eighteen" and 1972's "School's Out." The band's horror-soaked, violent concerts that climaxed with Cooper's faux execution by guillotine, electric chair or other implement of death proved a sensation, electrifying fans and scandalizing many parents and public figures who denounced the singer as a Satanist. Cooper went solo with the hit 1975 album Welcome To My Nightmare and enjoyed a 1980s reign over the glam metal musical world he had helped create, culminating in the massive 1989 single "Poison." Cooper retreated from the public eye to seek treatment for alcoholism. He rebuilt his career on healthier footing, hosting a successful radio show, making film appearances, including a notable cameo as himself in "Wayne's World" (1992), and continuing to make music. Belying his prince of darkness persona, Cooper impressed critics with his intelligence and thoughtful analysis of his self-created horror persona, and won over fans with a warmth and sense of humor few expected. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and feted as one of the all-time influential figures in modern music, Alice Cooper enjoyed enviable career longevity as well as an acclaimed reputation for revolutionizing rock's stagecraft and showmanship.
Born Feb. 4, 1948 in Detroit, MI, Vincent Damon Furnier was the pious son of a preacher. The family moved to Phoenix, AZ, where Cooper made lifelong friends on the school newspaper and track teams. Led by Cooper, a group of his pals won a talent show lip-synching a Beatles song. Inspired to buy real instruments from a local pawnshop and learn to play, they dubbed themselves The Spiders and performed against a giant web backdrop. After some regional success, they eventually moved to Los Angeles to perform as The Nazz, but were forced to find a new name. The genesis of "Alice Cooper" became a much-embellished legend in the group's mythology, including an oft-repeated tale of a Ouija board revealing Cooper was the reincarnation of a 17th century witch of the same name. In actuality, Cooper was a savvy showman at heart and realized that such an unexpected name with its combination of masculine and feminine overtones, would set the band apart with a new and frightening image. Inspired by pulp cinema and horror movies, Cooper made the revolutionary decision to gleefully embody the band's macabre, gender-bending ethos as their witchlike frontman, creating his iconic look of black leather, disheveled hair and heavy, dark eye makeup.
The band's raw talent and charisma led to an unorthodox but successful audition for Frank Zappa. While supporting their first album, 1969's Pretties for You, Cooper courted controversy when during a September concert in Toronto, he threw a live chicken into the audience which was immediately torn to pieces by the crowd. The press's sensationalized take, in which Cooper ripped off the chicken's head with his teeth before drinking its blood, sparked outrage and helped add luster to the band's growing reputation. Their follow-up, 1970's Easy Action flopped, but after relocating to Cooper's hometown of Detroit, they found that their increasing elaborate performances went over better in the Midwest. Alice Cooper's third album, 1971's Love it to Death with producer Bob Ezrin's pared-down touch, became a success. A scandal over the album's cover image, where Cooper's thumb stuck through a pair of pants seemed to resemble an exposed penis necessitated a reissue, but burnished the group's alluringly dangerous image. Disaffected youth of all ages rejoiced at the sound of Cooper's dark call-to-arms single "I'm Eighteen," and the band's definitive sound, image and reputation were set.
Live shows were the band's ultimate key to world domination, and Alice Cooper concerts were a head-spinning sensory overload of horror and death imagery, including Cooper's ultimate "execution" in an electric chair. Bringing a tightly polished level of showmanship and an outsized sense of theatricality to their tours through the U.S. and Europe, the band earned the admiration of many other performers, including Elton John, Johnny Rotten and David Bowie, and created the concept of "shock rock," a graphic, dark genre. 1971's Killer furthered the group's rise, launching hits such as "Halo of Flies," "Be My Lover" and "Under My Wheels." The outrageousness of the live performances increased accordingly, with Cooper ending each show hanging on the gallows. Alice Cooper solidified their reputation as more than just a novelty act with the smash success of 1972's rebellious School's Out, which saw them adopting a harder, more masculine sound and image. As the instant-classic title track hit number one in the U.K. and went Top Ten in the U.S., cultural watchdogs and concerned parents sharpened their knives. Horrified by what they saw as Alice Cooper's corrupting influence and championing of indecency, immorality and Satanism, they made many highly visible attempts to ban the band's music and performances. The notoriety helped fuel the Alice Cooper legend and increase the band's street cred, as well as their record sales. In fact, 1973's Billion Dollar Babies went to No. 1 in both the U.S. and U.K., spawning "No More Mr. Nice Guy," a defiant anthem written to his haters, including members of his mother's church group and others who would confront his parents over their son's supposedly evil work.
Ever increasing in grotesque genius and technical brilliance, the new tour featured several effects designed by a magician, including a working guillotine that "beheaded" Cooper every night. None other than Salvador Dali gave the show his stamp of approval, but the toll on the band was immense, heightening tensions and increasing Cooper's drinking. Fighting over their creative direction tore the band apart, with Cooper wanting to continue the over-the-top shows while the band wanted to scale back. After 1973's Muscle of Love, which featured "Teenage Lament '74" and the group's unsold attempt at the theme song for the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, the band went their separate ways. Cooper, who had legally taken his stage name, surprised with charming, humanizing appearances on family-themed programming such as game shows and talk shows, revealing himself to be not a monster but a smart, funny and self-aware entertainer. After the concert film "Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper" (1974) made minor waves, Cooper struck out on his own. His solo debut, 1975's Welcome to My Nightmare, cemented his reputation and laid the groundwork for the second chapter of his career. A concept album built around a child named Steven's bad dream, the set spun off a hit ballad, "Only Women Bleed," featured narration from Vincent Price and led to an Emmy-winning long form music video special, "Alice Cooper: The Nightmare" (ABC, 1975) as well as 1976 concert film. The subsequent tour showed Cooper putting on an even splashier show than ever before, but his alcoholism nearly ended it all after he hit his head after falling off the stage in Vancouver.
Although he referenced his demons in his work, including a pair of successful ballads, "I Never Cry" and "You and Me," Cooper's drinking continued unabated and he checked into a sanitarium for treatment. After his release, he scored another ballad success with "How You Gonna See Me Now" and the similarly soul-searching From the Inside, co-written with Elton John's lyricist, Bernie Taupin, featuring a startling wide-eyed painting of Cooper's made-up face. His subsequent asylum-set tour was immortalized in the video release "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper" (1979) and he showed his sweeter side on "The Muppet Show" (syndicated, 1976-1981), performing several of his hits. Continuing to prove that he had many dimensions, Cooper also played a waiter in the campy Mae West turkey "Sextette" (1978) and led a fundraising campaign to restore the famous Hollywood Sign. In honor of his friend Groucho Marx, Cooper bought the O for almost $30,000.
Into the 1980s, Cooper notched a surprisingly New Wave hit single "Clones (We're All)" but his albums were uneven, and he had no memory of recording several of them due to his alcohol abuse. Very near death, he was hospitalized again and returned to Phoenix to recover. He received a Grammy nomination for the 1984 release of the music video album package of "Alice Cooper: The Nightmare" but was dropped from his record label. After a restorative period where he focused on family, healing and golf, Cooper returned to music with a more metal sound. Recognized as an elder statesman of the glam metal/hard rock bands ruling the charts at the time, Cooper guested on Twisted Sister's 1985 single "Be Chrool To Your Scuel," and released 1986's successful Constrictor, which won him a new group of younger MTV-era viewers who enjoyed his New Wave-flecked "Teenage Frankenstein" and the theme to "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives" (1986), "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)." Reenergized, Cooper released 1987's Raise Your Fist and Yell, a concept album about a serial killer. It included a song "Prince of Darkness" from the John Carpenter film of the same name, in which Cooper cameoed. His tour for the album set off protests throughout Europe, with the German government taking special actions to remove some of its gorier sequences. Cooper's ever-growing legend, however, including a near-fatal mishap during an onstage hanging sequence, meant massive ticket sales. Showing how easily he could play the rock and roll villain one minute and then segue into a child-friendly nice guy in another, he made an appearance in Jake "The Snake" Roberts's corner at 1987's Wrestlemania III.
Released at the zenith of the genre's popularity, 1989's Desmond Child-produced Trash, sent Cooper to his mainstream commercial peak. He scored a global hit with the blockbuster smash "Poison" and kicked off a successful global arena tour. When he released 1991's Hey Stoopid, grunge had replaced glossy metal on the charts. Still, he carried enormous cultural cachet, adding guest vocals to Guns N' Roses's Use Your Illusion I, playing Freddy Krueger's abusive stepfather in "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" (1991), and making a hilarious, self-aware cameo in "Wayne's World" (1992). In subsequent years, he continued to record and tour, but at a slower, lower-profile pace than before. His influence could be traced over the course of decades, with the rise of acts as diverse as Kiss, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie who cobbled together the elements Cooper had brought to the forefront of music: highly visual horror imagery and dark lyrics paired with hard rock, heavy metal and pop elements.
While Manson came the closest to supplanting Cooper as Middle America's worst nightmare, many critics, including Cooper, felt that his work lacked the wit, intelligence and depth of Cooper's. In fact, Cooper argued against Manson's overtly sacrilegious act, dissecting the distance between his own artistic persona and deeply held spiritual beliefs and slamming Manson for going too far. He became a successful radio host with "Nights with Alice Cooper" and saw the release of an "Alice Cooper Track Pack" for the popular Guitar Hero videogame franchise. In 2010, Cooper toured with Rob Zombie, who returned the favor the following year by inducting Alice Cooper (the band) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooper made further headlines by revealing he was a born-again Christian, a fact many saw as incongruous with his career, but the singer eloquently analyzed the dichotomy and seemed to have no internal struggle whatsoever meshing his multiple sides. Golf became a consuming passion for Cooper, and he played as often as he could, writing a golf-themed autobiography, hosting an annual tournament benefiting his Solid Rock Foundation and sharpening his skills to near-professional levels. Longtime fans were delighted when Cooper announced in 2011 that he had finished his 26th studio album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, which he proclaimed was even darker and bloodier than the original.