Simmons described the visit as a "homecoming." He offered a description of himself that might shock his legions of fans who know him as an American icon prone to spitting blood and sticking out his exceptionally long tongue:
"I'm Israeli. I'm a stranger in America. I'm an outsider," he said, speaking in a hotel lobby across a valley from the walls of Jerusalem's historic Old City. "I was born here and I'm proud of it."
Simmons had harsh words for musicians like Elvis Costello and the Pixies who have recently canceled concerts to protest Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. Pink Floyd's Roger Waters has gone further, joining an organized movement dedicated to boycotting Israel and its exports, though he appeared in Israel in 2006.
"The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling," he said. "People long to be free ... And they sure as hell don't want somebody who's a ruler who hasn't been elected by them."
'When you reach the top, you can rest' (Photo: AP)
Simmons, 61, is visiting Israel as part of his reality show, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," which follows the adventures and musings of the rocker, his longtime girlfriend, Shannon Tweed, and their two children.
While situations on the show are generally lighthearted, he said his stop in Israel has deep personal significance. "Coming back to Israel is a homecoming," he said.
Simmons was born Chaim Witz and spent his childhood in northern Israel before moving to America. The normally extravagant musician, known for his extended tongue, demonic makeup and stage pyrotechnics, grew subdued as he described his early life in the hardscrabble town of Tirat Carmel.
He recalled his father, a carpenter, taking his assault rifle and heading off to military service on weekends. He said his mother, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, taught him that "every day above ground is a good day."
The family was "dirt poor," scraping by on meager bread and milk rations available in what was then an underdeveloped country. He earned money by selling fruits he collected from cactuses.
Simmons moved with his mother to the United States when he was eight. Although he has climbed to the highest levels of the entertainment world and lives with a former Playboy Playmate of the Year in Beverly Hills, he said he still considers Israel his home.
Halting but serviceable Hebrew
Over the years, Simmons cultivated an extravagant personality, often boasting of his sexual conquests and his fortune and fame. While he did not hide his immigrant roots, they were never emphasized – but this appears to be changing in recent years.
Simmons, wearing dark sunglasses and black pants, shirt and blazer, laced the interview with Hebrew phrases. "Where were you born?" he asked in somewhat halting but serviceable Hebrew.
He made local headlines during Israel's 2006 war against Hebzollah by sending a televised message to a wounded Israeli soldier, calling him a "hero."
Simmons co-founded Kiss in the 1970s and became famous for wearing white and black face makeup, spitting fire and coughing up fake blood at sold-out performances. The group has sold some 100 million records, and four decades later, it remains one of the best-selling concert draws.
Simmons also presides over a business empire that includes his reality show, TV, game show and movie appearances, video games, books, comics and a Kiss credit card. His net worth is estimated to be in the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars.
Simmons insisted that his busy schedule has been the only reason he never made it back to Israel before.
"America allowed me to climb the highest levels of success, and I never wanted to stop. When you reach the top, you can rest," he said.
"I've reached the top."
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