Originally Published: October 2011
Author: Justin Beahm
He transcends introduction. He reinvented rock 'n' roll. He took silver-screen horror and injected it into vinyl, making his records a darker shade of black. His blend of Grand Guignol theatrical performance and snarling hard rock laid the path for all who would follow in face paint and stage blood. The list of people he has influenced is too long to mention, and his indelible mark on music is unquestionable.
The story of this Motor City icon, born Vincent Furnier in February 1948, has been told time and again, yet the focus has almost always been on his music and over-the-top onstage antics. Of course, the tunes are the gateway into Cooper's bizarre world, but once inside the cemetery gates, one is treated to a lush garden of dark delicacies in film, television, radio and lore. While the crown is claimed by others, Alice Cooper is the true King of All Media.
Over the course of his five-decade career, Cooper has managed many impressive feats. He has pulled the rare coup of remaining relevant to each new generation of fans. He conquered personal demons when he successfully kicked a crippling long-term addiction to alcohol that nearly destroyed him personally and professionally. He decided he wanted to be a restaurateur, and the result of his efforts, Cooperstown in Phoenix, Arizona, has become an essential stop for vacationers, sports nuts and music fans alike. On top of it all, he has been married to the same woman, Sheryl, for 35 years and claims parenthood as his greatest triumph. With his penchant for openness with the public, whether backstage, in print or via the airwaves on his weekly radio show, few stones have gone unturned in the universe of Alice Cooper. Yet there remains gold in these hills.
On the cusp of his latest release, the Bob Ezrin-produced Welcome 2 My Nightmare (out this month from Universal), and the opening of a maze based on both Welcome albums at this year's Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, Fango spent time with the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and confessed horror fanatic to discuss the evolution of his famous persona, strange days with Jim Morrison, how J. Edgar Hoover freaks him out and his second life on screen and on the tube.
FANGORIA: In addition to golf, you consider horror films one of your addictions...
ALICE COOPER: Since I was 6 years old in Detroit; every Saturday, 10 of us kids would get dropped off at the Eastown Theatre in the morning, and we'd watch three movies a day. Every weekend we spent all day watching the classic black-and-white horror movies. As the movies progressed, I always followed them.
FANG: Who were your favorite horror stars when you were a kid?
COOPER: Like anybody else, I grew up with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney. Those were the greats. Then there were a lot of newcomers who came along with moments of brilliance, and then they'd disappear. I'd find a little Italian vampire movie somewhere, or something nobody had ever seen before, and say, "What is this?" Suspiria was like that. The first time I saw that, I knew it was going to be a classic.
One that I was totally surprised by...on Christmas morning I was watching a TV movie called Salem's Lot. It goes on for two hours and they're talking about, "Mr. Barlow, Mr. Barlow, Mr. Barlow..." and then the scene where he shows up and his whole face fills the screen literally stopped my heart for a second. I wasn't expecting that. When the kid is floating outside, scratching on the window, and the guy in the rocking chair is saying [in classic creepy Cooper voice], "Teacher, come here teacher..." It was truly scary. That is one of my top five of all time.
FANG: Let's talk about the character of Alice Cooper in film terms, starting with the treatment stage, or original concept for the persona.
COOPER: I think Alice started out when I decided to hide behind a character, which is what I did as a lead singer. I had gone as far as I could. I realized there was no villain in rock 'n' roll, so I said I would gladly be the Captain Hook to all these Peter Pans. We needed one. I was not built to be a hero. I didn't look like a hero. I wasn't a prettyboy. I thought, "I could play that guy," so I created the makeup. When I look at the character, I notice there's two of him. There was the early Alice, who was an alcoholic and whose posture was always bent over. He was the whipping boy, the guy all the outcasts in rock 'n' roll looked to as their hero. He was an outcast and the black sheep of everything.
Then, when I quit drinking, I realized that Alice didn't live anymore. I was sober and felt great, so I thought Alice should look good and feel great. Why shouldn't Alice be a villain now, but a really arrogant Alan Rickman-type villain? Why shouldn't he be arrogant and overblown and sadistic, but have a good sense of humor? There is a gentlemanly thing about Alice that is kind of interesting. He'd slit your throat, but he'd never swear at you. He might do something totally horrible to you but slip on a banana peel the next second. There is a little Clouseau in him too. There's that moment where he could look really cool and the next second look like a total idiot.
FANG: You talk about Alice as if he is someone else.
COOPER: I talk about Alice in the third person. With the kids, we would be watching me in a video and they'd say, "Hey look, there's Alice Cooper." They never said, "Hey look, there's Daddy." They always understood that I played Alice Cooper. I always said to myself that if Alice Cooper isn't my favorite rock star, then something's wrong. I get to go outside myself and think about what I would like my favorite rock star to wear and what I would want him to do and sing about. That's how I designed Alice.
FANG: Producer Bob Ezrin brings focus to Alice...
COOPER: I think you really have to look at Bob Ezrin as being the Steven Spielberg of Alice. The real George Martin. He took all the raw stuff that was there and put it into form. He was the one who was going to make it sound great on the radio and give it class. He brought in the very classical way to look at things, putting a cello where a guitar would have been, then putting a guitar back on top. When I would write lyrics, Bob would be good about saying, "I don't think Alice would say that." We could write outside of Alice and write for this character. I wasn't writing for me.
FANG: That must have brought great freedom.
COOPER: Oh, in every way. When I first started and went to LA as the lead singer for The Nazz, which then became Alice Cooper, it got to the point where that band just kept getting more and more theatrical despite ourselves. Bob brought that out in us and was the missing link.
FANG: The evolution of Alice over the years...
COOPER: The only thing I kept consistent was the sense of humor, and that every album was a guitar-oriented album. Even Flush the Fashion and DaDa and these albums I don't remember writing. I don't remember writing Special Forces or Zipper Catches Skin. They end up being fan favorites, but I honestly don't remember writing or touring for any of that stuff. It was a blackout.
FANG: Was the line between Vince and Alice ever blurred?
COOPER: Yes. There was a point where I didn't know where Alice ended and Vince began. That was when I was drinking. At that point, I was growing up with big brothers like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. These were the guys I was out with every night, trying to keep up with them. Then I saw them start dying at 27 years old and realized I had to find a way to be me and Alice.
FANG: How did you go about separating the two?
COOPER: When I finally got sober, I realized Alice wants to stay on stage. He doesn't want to live in this world. He doesn't want to have a house or have a car or play golf or do anything I want to do. He is built for one thing, and that is to perform for that audience. When the curtain goes up, there he is. When the curtain goes down, he's gone. He knows his place and doesn't interfere in my life. Likewise, I don't interfere in his. We have a really good relationship now.
FANG: How is Alice different today?
COOPER: Now the only thing I miss is being nervous. I am never nervous anymore, and know exactly what's going to happen. Sometimes someone will suggest trying something new, and I'll say I want to try it cold without rehearsing. That is me coloring outside the lines a bit, but I like the idea of something happening on stage that I'm not aware of. It used to be that every night, I was nervous before going on because I wasn't sure of the Alice character. Now I think it's second nature to me. I feel more comfortable on stage than I do off stage.
FANG: How was it working with Vincent Price?
COOPER: I was a big fan, growing up with all the great Vincent Price movies. Bob said we needed a spider museum curator for Welcome to My Nightmare, and I started thinking about who had the most distinctive voice in horror. Of course, Boris Karloff wasn't with us anymore and neither was Bela Lugosi, so immediately I said, "If we can get Vincent Price, that would be such a coup." We called him and he said, "Of course." I was actually really nervous about him coming down to read what I'd written for him, the black widow spider thing. He came in and seemed to know all about us. I told him I was in awe that he was there, and . , he said, "All right, are we past that now? What is this bit about "the black widow spider?" He asked if he could rewrite some of it and I said, "Please do!"
Then I said, "We're doing this off-Broadway in Tahoe. Would you do it on stage with me?" and he went, "Absolutely!" So I had him for two nights on stage doing the curator thing. We then did it with him on video for The Nightmare in Toronto, where I got to work with him for five days. He was great. We sat and talked about old movies and rock 'n' roll. He loved to cook, so every time he got the chance he would go in the kitchen. I learned so much from him about being scary and personable and nice. I learned the nicer you are, the better you are going to get along in this business.
FANG: Know any other famous monsters?
COOPER: Christopher Lee is a terrific guy. I got to meet George A. Romero and Tom Savini. A lot of the movie stars died before I got to meet them. I know all the new guys, like Jeffrey Combs, who is a funny and versatile actor. Romero came to two of our shows. Great guy. Always laughing. I've worked a lot with Wes Craven and John Carpenter. All those guys are always laughing. That's what I love about horror directors: They're the guys who are probably laughing harder than anybody.
FANG: An interesting observation...
COOPER: The scariest human being ever in America was probably J. Edgar Hoover, when you start realizing what his pastimes were. He was the head of all law enforcement and he was a drag queen. How weird is that? The toughest guy was wearing a dress when he wasn't wearing a three-piece suit. To me, that is weirder than any horror monster.
FANG: You and Jim Morrison were so close, you must have some good stories.
COOPER: There were so many. I was in a car one time and he was in the back seat with his girlfriend in Laurel Canyon. I was talking, talking, and finally turned around and he was gone. We'd turned the corner and he'd jumped out of the car and rolled all the way down Topanga Canyon. We stopped the car and here he came walking up and I was going, "What are you doing?" He said, "I always wanted to do that."
There was another time at a party at the 8000 building at Doheny and Sunset. Picture this, OK? This was [at the time of] "Light My Fire," [when The Doors were] probably the biggest band in the world. There's a ledge there where it's an eight-story drop to Sunset Boulevard, and he was walking on the edge like a tightrope with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other hand, like a balancing thing. He was already so out of it that one breeze and he'd be dead, and nobody was pulling him off! So I was standing there going, "Jim! Jim! Come over here! C'mon, let's get a drink." One little trip and he was falling off the building. Jim was self-destructive in a way that you could never talk him out of his goal. His goal was to die in some romantic way.
FANG: Was it the same with you when you were drinking?
COOPER: No, I always had people around me. I wasn't stupid.
FANG: Let's talk about some of your film and television appearances, starting with The Nightmare in 1975.
COOPER: We felt that out as we went. There were no rules. I was doing what Alice would do naturally. Nobody knew what they were doing, and maybe that's why it worked. There was no acting going on; I was just doing what the song said.
FANG: The Muppet Show in 1978 introduced you to a whole new audience.
COOPER: That was working with real pros like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. I never had so much fun in my life. The odd thing about it is that you find yourself buying into these characters, these puppets, because they never lose character. When you're rehearsing with Kermit, you're rehearsing with a guy's hand, but you forget that. You end up talking to the character, and they respond and talk back to you. It's the weirdest thing.
FANG: It was really bold of them to have you on that show.
COOPER: It was. When they asked me to do the show, I went, "I can't do this. I'm the scariest guy in the world right now." I had all these glorioso thoughts about how grand I was, and then I looked at who was just on the show. Christopher Lee. Vincent Price. John Cleese. I went, "Yes. Of course I'll do it!" I went there with total faith. They made those other guys look great. When I got there, the script was very funny. They realized if I had no problem making fun of the Alice character, then they were really going to have fun.
FANG: You played your largest film role as Vince Raven in the 1984 Euro-B-movie Monster Dog.
COOPER: I was so out of my comfort zone on that. I had just gotten out of the hospital and told my manager Shep that I had to find something that would let me prove to myself that I could work sober. I had never done a concert sober, never done anything. He said, "What if we take a movie?" And we found that movie in Spain.
FANG: That must have been a different experience for you.
COOPER: I knew I had to show up at 7 in the morning and know my lines. I had to film every day and I was the romantic lead, which was weird for me. I really challenged myself. I wanted to make the kind of movie I like to rent. Really a great C-movie. I don't like A-movies or B-movies. I wanted to do a C-movie where there's so much blood in it it's stupid, and the story is stupid. I had to do it sober, and it worked. I am very proud to say I am in two of the all-time greatest turkeys: Monster Dog is one of them, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the other one.
FANG: This would also have been your first experience being dubbed, right?
COOPER: Everybody in the cast was either British or American. When we got the print back, everybody was overdubbed in broken English for some reason. My voice was some truck driver from Barcelona. I was laughing, having such a ball watching it, thinking, "This is just horrible, I love it."
FANG: You recorded some new material for the soundtrack that was very different from what fans were used to hearing from Alice.
COOPER: They said they needed something vampire-ish, so I wrote "See Me in the Mirror." It had kind of a romantic feel to it. The other one was "Identity Crisis," which was actually before Adam Ant, who did a video very much like it. He was Clint Eastwood, he was Alice Cooper in one of those things. In this one I was James Bond, I was Billy the Kid, I was Sherlock Holmes.
FANG: You had a couple of songs in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives in 1986, including "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)."
COOPER: They asked me to write it, and I thought [about Jason], it's not the mask that's scary, it's the man behind the mask that's scary. I wrote it as a pop song. You're with your baby and you're all alone and your parked and all of a sudden there he is. I tried to do a three-minute little movie in the lyrics with that.
FANG: The video for "He's Back" is a lot of fun, with you integrated into movie clips and a theater setting.
COOPER: I was a big fan of all those slasher movies, hoping they would never end. To me, you had to be a Jason fan, a Michael Myers fan or a Freddy fan. I was always a Michael fan, because of the fact that there was no emotion in what he did. He was just a killing machine. Freddy Krueger was a standup comedian, the Henny Youngman of the horror universe. Michael Myers had this coldness about him.
FANG: How did you first meet John Carpenter?
COOPER: He was at Wrestlemania III. He's a big wrestling fan - I mean, more than he should be. Knowing it's all fake, I was going, "Really? You're buying into this?" He loves it. I don't know if he loves it as comedy or what, but he's way into it.
FANG: You worked Wrestlemania with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, right?
COOPER: Yeah, I did that with the Honky Tonk Man and Jake the Snake. That was my kind of theater. I understood it.
FANG: So how did you get involved with Prince of Darkness in 1987?
COOPER: When John was going to do Prince of Darkness, I said I wanted to go down and watch the filming of it. He said, "It would be great if you were one of these street zombie characters," and I said, "OK," so I put the hat on. Pretty soon he said, "You know the part in your show where you put the mic stand through the guy's chest? Could you do that with a bicycle?" I said, "Sure, it's just a matter of what comes out the other side; it's a simple trick." And he said, "OK, let's do that!" Pretty soon it was five days of shooting. I went from going down there to watch a couple of special effects to being in the movie. It was a great experience.
FANG: Then in 1991, you had the dubious honor of playing Freddy Krueger's stepdad in Rachel Talalay's Freddy's Dead.
COOPER: It was great! I got to say, "Freddy! Come here, boy, and take your medicine!" The hardest thing about that was, when we got ready to do it, he was going to put a straight razor through my eyeball. About four times, we tried to do it and both of us started laughing. I said, "OK, laughing is not going to work at all." Once you get the giggles you have to walk away from it, because now it's a trigger. Finally, we got to the point where he could put that blade through my eye.
FANG: Was it a big deal for you to be Freddy's stepfather?
COOPER: I loved the idea. First of all, it was great that I didn't have to be Alice. I was Alice in Wayne's World and this and that. It was great to be a character who wasn't Alice. They said, "OK, you're a horrible Southern father who beats his kids and is an alcoholic," and I said, "That's all I need to know. Give me my lines."
FANG: You joined fellow rockers Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins in Rob Stefaniuk's rock 'n' roll vampire film Suck in 2009.
COOPER: That was a fun movie to do. I had a lot of good lines in that. That one scene where we're at the crossroads and we're stalking each other and he's yelling at me, it was five degrees. It was so cold. It was in Toronto in December and I had this little thin coat on, and we were walking around doing a lot of lines, about five pages of dialogue. It was hard not to have my teeth chatter. I was concentrating so hard on my lines I forgot how cold it was, but after every take I'd have to have this big parka put on me because it was freezing.
FANG: Have you ever considered or been approached about a movie where Alice is the central character?
COOPER: I think it is going to be closer to an Alice Cooper Broadway play. Later on someone might make the story about me because there was the alcoholism, almost dying when I was 12, the rise of Alice and the fall of Alice and the rise of Alice again. There is a good story there. Could you imagine how much fun Cirque Du Soleil could have with Alice? It would be a nightmare that would go on forever and be really, truly scary. There's a lot of great stuff in the story...and it has a happy ending.
FANG: Finally, where would Vince be today without Alice?
COOPER: I probably would have been a movie writer or journalist or something like that. I don't think I would have walked out on stage without the character. If I wouldn't have had the band, I probably never would have gotten up I the courage to perform.
For more information on Cooper, including the scoop on Welcome 2 My Nightmare, visit www.alicecooper.com.