Simmons became involved with his first band, Lynx, then renamed The Missing Links, when he was a teenager. Eventually, he disbanded The Missing Links to form The Long Island Sounds, the name being a play on words relating to the estuary separating Long Island from Westchester County, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. While he played in these bands, he kept up odd jobs on the side to make more money, including making fanzines and trading used comic books. Simmons attended Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York. He then joined a new band, Bullfrog Bheer, and the band recorded a demo, "Leeta"; this was later included on the Kiss box set.
Simmons formed the rock band Wicked Lester in the early 1970s with Stanley Harvey Eisen (now known as Paul Stanley) and recorded one album, which was never released. Dissatisfied with Wicked Lester's sound and look, Simmons and Stanley attempted to fire their band members; they were met with resistance, and they quit Wicked Lester, walking away from their record deal with Epic Records. They decided to form the ultimate rock band, and started looking for a drummer. Simmons and Stanley found an ad placed by Peter Criss, who was playing clubs in Brooklyn at the time; they joined and started out as a trio. Paul Frehley, better known as Ace Frehley, responded to an ad they put in the Village Voice for a lead guitar player, and soon joined them. Kiss released its self-titled debut album in February 1974. Stanley quickly took on the role of lead performer on stage, while Simmons became the driving force behind what became an extensive Kiss merchandising franchise.
In 1983, while Kiss's fame was waning, the members took off their trademark make-up and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that continued into the 1990s. The band hosted their own fan conventions throughout 1995, and fan feedback about the original Kiss members reunion influenced the highly successful 1996-1997 Alive Worldwide reunion tour. In 1998, the band released Psycho Circus, the first album in almost 20 years by the original line-up. Since then, the original line-up has once again dissolved, with Tommy Thayer replacing Ace Frehley on lead guitar and Eric Singer (who performed with Kiss from 1992 up through 1996) replacing Peter Criss on drums.
Gene Simmons has used various bass guitars during his career including:
- Axe Bass (Kramer or other brands, like Jackson)
- Punisher Bass (Made by a lot of brands, as seen, B.C Rich or Jackson)
- Spector Gene Simmons Signature
- Gibson Grabber (mainly in Kiss' early years)
- Gibson Ripper ( mainly in Kiss' early years )
- Cort Guitars Signature GS-1 Bass
He uses Ampeg SVT CL Series amps with 8x10 cabinets.
Simmons, who has never been married, currently lives in Beverly Hills, California with longtime partner and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed. They have two children: a son, Nick Simmons (born January 22, 1989), and a daughter, Sophie Simmons (born 7 July 1992). He formerly has had live-in relationships with Cher and Diana Ross.
Simmons speaks four languages – English, Hungarian, Hebrew, and German – and is currently learning Japanese and Mandarin.
While a self-described liberal on social policy issues, Simmons has also described himself as a supporter of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing on his website: "I'm ashamed to be surrounded by people calling themselves liberal who are, in my opinion, spitting on the graves of brave American soldiers who gave their life to fight a war that wasn't theirs...in a country they've never been to... simply to liberate the people therein". In a follow-up, Simmons explained his position and wrote about his love and support for the United States: "I wasn't born here. But I have a love for this country and its people that knows no bounds. I will forever be grateful to America for going into World War II, when it had nothing to gain, in a country that was far away... and rescued my mother from the Nazi German Concentration Camps. She is alive and I am alive because of America. And, if you have a problem with America, you have a problem with me".
During the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, Simmons sent a televised message of support (in both English and Hebrew) to an Israeli soldier seriously wounded in fighting in Lebanon, calling him his "hero".
In a February 4, 2002 interview on the NPR radio show Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Simmons said to Gross regarding his claim to have bedded about 4,600 women: "If you want to welcome me with open arms, I'm afraid you're also going to have to welcome me with open legs" (paraphrasing The Who's hit song "You Better You Bet"). To this Gross replied, "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." Simmons refused to grant permission to NPR to make the interview available online on the network's website. However, the interview appears in print in Gross's book All I Did Was Ask (ISBN 1-4013-0010-3), and some unauthorized transcripts are also available. A part of the interview was re-broadcast on Fresh Air on Aug 31, 2007. It is noted that Kiss bandmate and co-founder Paul Stanley has frequently used the phrase "... welcomed us with open arms and open legs", and similar wording, in onstage patter through many years of Kiss concerts.
In a later Fresh Air interview, satirist and future United States Senator Al Franken related to Terry Gross his own encounter with Gene Simmons. According to Franken, he was awaiting a racquetball partner at a club when Simmons, whom Franken had not recognized, challenged him to a match, stating "I'll kick your ass", only to suffer an embarrassing loss to Franken. Simmons responded by calling for another match, and when Franken indicated that since his racquetball partner had arrived, he couldn't play Simmons again, Simmons responded by making loud "boc, boc, boc" chicken sounds. Franken then offered to play Simmons with $500 at stake, at which point Simmons walked away. Franken told Gross not to blame herself for her experience with Simmons, and that Simmons' behavior at the racquetball club made him "the most awful person I've ever met."
In 2004, during an interview in Melbourne, Australia, Simmons described Islam as a "vile culture" wherein women had fewer rights than dogs. He described Islam as a threat, claiming that Muslims wanted to leave the Middle East and supplant non-Muslims in other parts of the world by force. The Muslim community took offense, with Australian Muslim of the Year, Susan Carland, asserting that Simmons' stereotyping of Muslims was inaccurate and that she never walked behind her husband as Simmons stated all Muslim women were required to do. Simmons later said on his website that he was talking specifically about Muslim extremists.
In 2005, Simmons was sued by a former lover, Georgeann Walsh Ward, who alleged that she had been "defamed" in the VH1 documentary When Kiss Ruled the World, which she claimed portrayed her as an "unchaste woman" and implied that she had been merely a groupie rather than a committed girlfriend of Simmons. Ward insisted that she had been involved in an "exclusive monogamous relationship" with Simmons since before Kiss was formed. The suit was settled as of June 29, 2006.
In June 2008, in an interview with AOL News, Simmons blamed those who upload and download copyrighted music for the hard times that the music industry is experiencing. Simmons was quoted as saying: "The record industry is dead. It's six feet underground and unfortunately the fans have done this. They've decided to download and file share. There is no record industry around so we're going to wait until everybody settles down and becomes civilized. As soon as the record industry pops its head up we'll record new material." This is not the first time that Simmons has blamed those who upload and download copyrighted music for the falling fortunes of the music industry. In a November 2007 interview, he is quoted as saying that "Every little college kid, every freshly-scrubbed little kid's face should have been sued off the face of the earth."
In 2008, a video on the Internet surfaced which purported to be Simmons engaging in sexual activity with an unnamed woman. Simmons later stated that the tape was recorded without his consent or knowledge and that his legal team was pursuing legal options.
Simmons debated Bob Lefsetz in a heated exchange at Canadian Music Week in March 2009 about Simmons Records and the music industry generally. Both men had engaged in a controversial e-mail campaign against each other shortly before the debate.
In July 2009, Simmons allegedly made remarks about Michael Jackson following the pop icon's passing the previous month that the children who accused him of molestation should be heard as well. The Kiss frontman also reportedly referred to Jackson as "sick". Simmons' comments and accusations concerning Jackson were later confirmed as false by Jackson's former lead tour guitarist Jennifer Batten.
Simmons also contends that he has "never been high, drunk, or smoked in [his] life". (However, in Kiss: Behind the Mask, former Kiss drummer Peter Criss states, "It was dirty of us, but we just wanted to get Gene high [...] Someone made hash brownies [...] And he ate 'em." Simmons also refers to this incident (although he does not explicitly mention that the brownies contained marijuana) in his biography, KISS and Make-up.
Simmons has been the creative force behind such television projects as:
- My Dad the Rock Star, a cartoon by the Canadian animation company Nelvana, about the mild mannered son of a Gene Simmons-like rock star.
- Mr. Romance, a show created and hosted by Simmons on the Oxygen cable television channel.
- Rock School, a reality show in which Simmons tries to make a rock band out of a group of children trained in classical music in the first season, and in the second, a group of kids from a comprehensive school in Lowestoft.
- Gene Simmons Family Jewels, a reality show documenting the personal lives of Simmons and his family.
- On March 9, 2010, Simmons and Kiss co-founder Paul Stanley and E1 Entertainment announced that they have finalized a production and development deal to create an as-yet-untitled comedic half-hour kids' television series.
Simmons appeared as a psychic working at the Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice, California on the American hidden camera prank TV Series I Get That a Lot.
In 2007, he appeared alongside other celebrities, as well as regular people, in the music video for "Rockstar" by Nickelback.
Gene Simmons is a playable character in Tony Hawk's Underground, unlocked when completing the story mode on Normal difficulty, and also appears with his Kiss bandmates in the Hotter Than Hell level to play one of three songs upon collecting the four K-I-S-S letters and in some of the guitar hero series.