40 Years Ago: How a Drunk Ace Frehley Torpedoed Kiss’ ‘Tom Snyder’ Appearance
On Oct. 31, 1979, the personality conflicts that had been privately tearing Kiss apart were made public on live national television.
It took about only 18 seconds for the band's appearance on Tom Synder's Tomorrow show to go off the rails. That's the moment when a clearly inebriated Ace Frehley starts cackling and making jokes about being the lead "trout" player, riffing off Snyder's earlier off-camera mispronunciation of "bass" guitar.
Stanley seems to laugh along through gritted teeth before immediately, but futilely, attempting to get the conversation back on course. Meanwhile, Simmons shoots death stares at his drunken bandmate, probably wishing he really could breathe fire.
But Snyder, who at one point notes that his producers had warned him Frehley would "be the hardest to make talk," clearly sees more value in his antics than the more standard biographical and promotional chatter being offered by the sober duo, and gamely eggs the Spaceman on.
Watch Kiss on 'Tomorrow' in 1979
The band's fourth member, drummer Peter Criss, was delighted to see Frehley so publicly upend the band's hierarchical apple cart, offering encouraging laughter to even the lamest of the guitarist's jokes. "For the first time, Ace and I had hijacked an interview from Gene and Paul," he recalled in his 2012 biography Makeup to Breakup. "And the result was hilarious."
From the outside, everything still seemed to be going Kiss' way around the time of the interview. Their seventh studio album, Dynasty, had spawned a massive hit single, "I Was Made for Loving You"; the previous year all four members had released their own platinum-certified solo albums.
But behind the scenes trouble was brewing on at least two fronts. The solo records were actually a last-ditch effort to keep the disgruntled Frehley and Criss from quitting. Perhaps more disturbingly, the disco-influenced sound of the new album, particularly that hit single, and the band's new Vegas-style outfits started to alienate many of the band's most loyal fans.
Watch Kiss' 'Dynasty' TV Commercial
Consumer burnout was also a factor. In the four years following the breakthrough of 1975's Alive!, the band toured constantly, released three studio albums, a greatest hits collection, a second live album and the four solo efforts. If that wasn't enough, they also flooded the market with hundreds of pieces of merchandise.
Instead of the multiple sold-out nights the band had planned for major cities on the Dynasty tour, dates were being removed from the itinerary. "It was shocking and scary to see that instead of getting bigger, we were getting smaller," Stanley said in his 2014 book Face the Music. "People were having second thoughts about coming to see us."
Rather than being united in this challenging time, Kiss had divided into two opposing camps. Criss and Frehley accused their bandmates of being too controlling, while Simmons and Stanley countered that the hard-partying guitarist and drummer weren't carrying their weight and couldn't be trusted. No surprise then that the two factions are visibly seated apart from each other throughout the Tomorrow interview.
In his 2011 biography, No Regrets, Frehley admitted to having overindulged before the show. "I was nervous as hell about going on network TV -- live! -- in front of millions of people," he wrote. "So I started pounding some Stoli in the back of my limo as soon as it passed through my gates on the way to the city."
Once he arrived at the studio, manager Bill Aucoin greeted him with a bottle of champagne. "By the time we took our places opposite Tom on the set in full Kiss costume and makeup, I was feeling no pain," Frehley recalled. "And I was ready for anything."
Even in his addled condition, Frehley quickly realized he was angering Simmons and Stanley. "If you watch the video, you can actually see me turning to Gene and putting my hands up at one point and quietly saying, 'What?' -- like a child who's misbehaving at a family function and wants his dad to loosen up and join in the fun," he said. "How seriously can you take yourself when you're sitting there in a superhero costume and full face makeup? ... I love the guy, but he never, ever got it."
"It may seem funny that somebody is drunk," Stanley told LA Weekly (via BraveWords) about Frehley's Tomorrow show behavior in a 2012 interview. "But the fact is that the root of it was, I believe, a contempt and a lack of respect for the audience and the fans. So, sure, can you look at it and chuckle? Yeah, I can too, but I see deeper. And I look at it and say, What a shame to take this lofty position that somebody gave us and spit in its face by showing up inebriated or unable to connect a sentence. It may be funny on the surface, but what's below the surface is a lack of appreciation for a gift that you've been given."
The foursome wouldn't be together much longer. The final show on the Dynasty tour came six weeks later, and would be the last time Kiss' original lineup played together for 16 years. Even though he is credited on both albums, Criss played on only one Dynasty track, didn't play at all on 1980's Unmasked and was officially replaced by Eric Carr later that same year. Frehley departed the group in 1982.
The Tomorrow interview "might have been the first time a single appearance so clearly delineated the diverse personalities of Kiss," Frehley noted in No Regrets. "I enjoyed myself on the show and wasn't trying to piss off anyone. After the interview, Tom came back to my dressing room and we shook hands and had another good laugh. ... He seemed to really enjoy the experience."
Watch Kiss on 'Tomorrow' in 1979
“I got sober a couple of times over the years … but invariably I’d relapse because I’d get on a bus with a bunch of musicians who were getting high, smoking pot and drinking beer and whatever," he noted. "How long you gonna last on a bus before you end up saying, ‘Gimme a cold one’? … So, pretty much, my [addiction] sponsor said to me, ‘The only way you’re gonna get sober, Ace, is if you get rid of all the people around you who get high, and surround yourself with sober people … or at least with musician who keep it behind closed doors. … You don’t want to see it, you don’t want to smell it. And that’s what I’ve been doing.”