Did I ever think that I’d be calling a studded codpiece-wearing demon the best Jewish husband on television? No, but after developing a mild addiction to the A&E cable network reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” starring the KISS bassist, his long-time girlfriend and their two young-adult children, I must.
Simmons was born in Haifa to a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and given the name Chaim Witz. He came with his mother, Flora Klein, to Jackson Heights, Queens, when he was 8. Shortly after arriving in the U.S. Chaim adopted the name Eugene Klein. He later attended Sullivan County Community College, in the Catskills, and in the late 1960s started calling himself Gene Simmons after rockabilly performer Jumpin’ Gene Simmons.
With another Boychik, Paul Stanley (né Stanley Harvey Eisen), Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, they formed KISS, which even now occasionally tours. Simmons is a merchandising maven and has countless KISS product deals putting the band’s name and logo on everything from guitars to action figures to condoms.
For 20-odd years he has been boyfriend to Playboy playmate Shannon Tweed. Simmons, with his claims of exorbitant sexual conquest, famously long tongue and uber-confidence in his own coolness, is a pop culture icon.
But is Simmons the kind of man who has a stripper pole delivered to his house so that his girlfriend can use it, which embarrasses their son and leads to his teenage daughter giving it a whirl? Yes, though he’s also the kind of man who gets upset when he sees his daughter twirling around it.
Is he such a slattern for shekels that he humiliates his family by taking them camping in a camper covered with advertisements for an erectile dysfunction product?
So is he any kind of role model for Jewish family values? Not so much.
Yet there is something of him that is the prototypical Jewish husband. Simmons is warm and a bit emotional and connected to people. Though his ego is as big as any of his reputed body parts, he can be self-deprecating. And he shows up when it counts. He goes to military bases to thank young people in uniform for serving our country. Most touching, perhaps, was a recent episode when Tweed had a breast cancer scare and, though she insisted he not come, Simmons left a KISS tour to fly in and meet her at the doctor’s office and be with her when she got the biopsy results.
Despite his Los Angeles-glitz lifestyle, so many aspects of which are alien to me, there is something familiar about him. At the end of the day, despite decades of a fire-breathing, make-up wearing, platform-boot clad rock-star life, and despite extensive and on-camera plastic surgery, there is something ordinary about him.
At the end of the day, he seems like a nice Jewish guy. And that is inordinately compelling. So for that quality, Gene Simmons, and despite the fact that you’re not actually married, you win my award for being Jewish husband of the year.