Happy Birthday Alice Cooper

Happy Birthday to Alice Cooper, the hilarious and provocative golf-addicted, churchgoer who is most well known as the granddaddy of shock rock. He turns 75 today — and he still owns that stage. For nearly 20 years, he owned Cooperstown in Phoenix — a memorable cross between a Hard Rock Café and an ESPN Zone. Before it closed in 2017, my best friend and I had a great time there. I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center where kids can learn how to play music for free, as well as take classes on the music business, photography, art, and dance. It has been a great after-school program run by Alice and his wife Sheryl for more than 10 years. Married for more than 46 years, Alice credits his wife with helping find his faith and 40 years of sobriety. From one of the minions, all the best and Happy Birthday!

Archive: Alice Cooper: Twisted Human Nature

By Steve Beard, 2002

It was recently announced that the biggest hit in the 24-year history of MTV is a program called “The Osbournes.” The half-hour show – complete with constant bleeping from excessive foul language – is a curiously fascinating docu-comedy starring the members of Ozzy Osbourne’s family – wife and two teenage siblings (the eldest child bowed out of the show). Ozzy, of course, is the 53-year-old British rock singer acclaimed for his ghoulish heavy metal performances.

MTV filmed for four months as the Osbournes moved into a new Beverly Hills mansion where they promptly bemoan the loss of their former neighbor, Pat Boone. Ozzy dotters and mumbles around the house trying to figure out the TV remote control, his wife hires a pet therapist to get the dogs to stop pottying in the living room, and the kids scream and chase one another around the Osbourne compound.

With my best friend Troy (right) and our ghoulish hostess at Cooperstown in Phoenix.

The television networks are scrambling to tap into this quirky genre of “reality” television. Well, for what it’s worth, here is my recommendation for the next show: Alice Cooper’s family. That’s right, the spooky granddaddy of shock rock who festooned his stage with guillotines, electric chairs, spiders, and boa constrictors. Yikes, is right; but it would make a great show.

In 1973, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Greene joined the Alice Cooper Band as a performing member of the stage show in order to write a book. “Their most recent album, Billion Dollar Babies, had become the number one selling album in the United States,” Greene wrote. “In a British poll, the group had been voted the number one band in the world, and their single, ‘School’s Out,’ had been voted top record of the year.” A typhoon of controversy swirled around the band. One member of Parliament attempted to convince the British government to ban the band from playing in England. The publicity ended up being a gold mine.

“Alice Cooper was also the most talked-about musical group in the world,” Greene reported in his book Billion Dollar Baby. “They had been featured in Time (with two pages of color photographs) and Newsweek. Alice himself had been profiled in publications ranging from Cosmopolitan to Harper’s to the Washington Post. Rolling Stone had featured him on its cover, which might have been expected; however, so had Forbes, the business magazine.”

Decades later, Alice Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) still tours around the world doing his theatrical rock and roll show. He still watches kung-fu movies before his performances and downs Quarter Pounders with cheese afterward. Coop even shows up regularly at Alice Cooper’stown, his sports-n-rock themed restaurant in Phoenix where he serves Mom’s Tuna Casserole and Megadeth Meatloaf.

In the midst of the smoke machines, strobe lights, and nightmarish backdrops, he’s now a family man living in the suburbs. It would make great TV. Imagine watching the reactions of parents as they take their sons to their very first Little League baseball practice only to discover that Alice Cooper is going to be the coach. Or where he tries to organize a carpool to his daughter’s ballet lessons (he has three kids ranging from 10 years old to 20). Or what about when he gets thrown into an unsuspecting golf foursome at the country club. It would be a hoot.

“I think I’m a pretty good dad,” Cooper told the London Sunday Times magazine. “I must be the only father that bangs on the bedroom door and says: ‘Turn that music up!’”

More shocking than his tongue-in-cheek macabre concerts is the fact that Alice Cooper faithfully attends church with his wife Sheryl. The couple first met when she was hired as a ballerina in his Welcome to My Nightmare stage show in 1975. They were married the following year. She ended up moving out and filing for divorce, however, because of his alcoholism.

Cooper was a shipwreck. “The doctors told me that if I had been drunk another week, I would have joined the guys upstairs,” he told the Observer in Australia. “When you get that close to dying, you come back looking for something more than limos and mansions.” Cooper was admitted to a mental hospital. His 1978 album “From the Inside” dealt with his three month stint and the characters he encountered as he attempted to emerge from the neck-deep hole he had found himself buried in. One of the album’s ballads grapples with his anxiety about how Sheryl would view him after he bottomed out. Dear darlin’, surprised to hear from me/ Bet you’re drinking coffee, yawning sleepily/ Just to let you know, I’m gonna be home soon/ I’m kind of awkward and afraid,/ Time has changed your point of view.”

The marriage survived and the two have been inseparable ever since. He started heading off to church with her and felt as if the sermon was piercingly directed at him every Sunday. Even at the pinnacle of his high-rolling career (which he believed was no more provocative than a horror movie musical) he still believed in God.

Alice Cooper Solid Rock Teen Center in Phoenix. Photo by Steve Beard.

The son and grandson of preachers, Cooper was sober enough to realize that his faith was crippled by the trappings of fame and the toxicity of alcoholism. Mansions, celebrity, and private jets were not enough. “I got to the end and realized there was nothing out there,” he told the Observer. “I was still hungry for something. I was the prodigal son. I left the house, achieved fame and fortune, and found out that that was not what I wanted. Now I read the Bible every day, I pray every day. That’s really what I’m about.”

The provocative Alice Cooper festooned with racoon eye make-up and grotesque stage props is the not the same man as Alice Cooper the husband and father – or Sunday school teacher. He is more like the church deacon who is cast as Judas in the church’s passion play. Within a different context, he became Captain Hook to rock and roll’s Peter Pans.

“The Alice character is a character that I play – the same way that if I were playing Dracula or if I was playing The Joker, or if I was playing [Flash Gordon’s nemesis] Ming the Merciless, or any of these characters,” he told Doug Van Pelt of HM magazine in 2002. “It’s a character that I play onstage, and when I leave the stage, he stays there. I go home and, you know, take the kids to the basketball game and take my little girl to ballet class. I always tell people, ‘I’m Fred McMurray offstage and Bela Lugosi onstage.’” (For those of a different generation, McMurray made Disney films and was the doting father on TV’s “My Three Sons” and Lugosi played Count Dracula in the 1930s.)

Although Cooper’s shows still explore the haunting and ghastly aspects of human nature, its message carries a twist. His 2000 album Brutal Planet explored the truly horrific notion of a future world devoid of grace, mercy, or love. “Let’s get a picture of the future fifty years from now when all of the systems have failed – church, family, school, politics, every system has failed, and there’s no God. Let’s say no one believes in God,” he told HM. “Well, what have we got? Now we’ve got Brutal Planet – this horrible place where nobody wants to be.” The following year, his album Dragontown perpetuated the heavy premise.

Alice Cooper exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Photo by Steve Beard.

Cooper is a theatrical prophet of doom or a rock version of a character pulled from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. “People think it’s ironic that Alice Cooper, this rock ‘n’ roll rebel, is a Christian,” he told The Times of London. “But it’s the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done. Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s real rebellion.” That’s an especially intriguing perspective coming from a man who works with a guillotine every night.

Cooper has taken the opportunity to speak to curious fellow musicians about the reality of the devil and the change in his life. “I have talked to some big stars about this, some really horrific characters … and you’d be surprised,” he told HM. “The ones that you would think are the farthest gone, are the ones that are the most apt to listen.”

On stage with gothic monsters and gallons of fake blood, Cooper is grounded by his childhood faith. In describing the importance of his Christian faith, he says, “It’s everything. It’s what I live for. If you gave me a choice between rock and roll and my faith, I’d take my faith,” he told the Observer. “Rock and roll is fun – it’s what I do for a living. But it’s not what I live on. I believe in classic Christianity. I’ve given my whole life to the Lord. But I don’t think that means you can’t be a rock and roller.”


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