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Originally Published: October 19, 2001
Author: Alun Palmer
Alice Cooper is the son of a pastor, a devout Christian and devoted father of three. He boasts a golf handicap of seven and says he has never cheated on his wife in 25 years of marriage. Yet this is the same man who stabs mutant babies on stage before decapitating a Britney Spears lookalike.
This is also the man who once, so the legend goes, killed a chicken live on stage and was considered so profoundly immoral by Mary Whitehouse and Labour MP Leo Abse that they tried to ban him from Britain in the '70s.
Relaxing with nothing stronger than a cola in a Cleveland, Ohio hotel suite, the original shock rocker laughs at the contradiction.
"The two Alices are totally opposite," he smiles. "I am involved in charities, my restaurant, my family and my church. Then I really look forward to becoming the nasty Alice again for two hours every night. He is a character who is really fun to play because he is totally different to me. I always refer to him in the third person. Five or six years ago I went back to the church. But how do I equate that with being Alice Cooper? I had a lot of problems with it because I certainly didn't want to be a hypocrite. But what I do is showbusiness and I'm proud of who I am."
Part of the old Alice - when the lines of distinction between his two sides were less clearly defined - died when he gave up drinking. Born Vincent Furnier, he was inspired by The Beatles and The Yardbirds to form a '60s high school band, The Spiders, and hit the road. But, as his notoriety as the antithesis of the burgeoning Californian hippy movement grew, so did his drinking.
Alice, 53, becomes animated as, with a strange mixture of pride and revulsion, he tells me about some of his exploits. "I was the Dean Martin of rock 'n' roll," he says. "I was a really nice, happy drunk. Always on a little buzz. Never mean, never missed a show or interview. Very professional. But it stopped being fun and it became medicine. If I was still drinking I would have had several large Jack Daniel's just to get ready to meet you.
"I used to have a very large whiskey and Coke just to wake up and a bottle to get into costume and go on stage. It was stupid. It just sneaks up on you. "I realised I had a problem when I started going into the bathroom to throw up blood. It's OK to throw up fake blood on stage, but when the Holiday Inn maid is the only one seeing it, it is very tough."
In 1978, with massive worldwide hits like the classic School's Out under his belt, Alice checked into hospital to dry out. It took three months to finally rid him of his problem. Leaning forward to hold my attention, he says, "I went into hospital and felt I was made of glass for three days. It was torture. But every day it got a little better. I had to deal with it minute to minute. I came out and I was straight for a year. Then I sat down with my wife and had one sip of wine and that night I had done a bottle of whiskey. I couldn't believe how quickly it took hold. I don't even drink wine. But I had one little sip and I was back to a bottle of whiskey a day.
"My wife finally said, 'you either check in or I'm gone'. I went back in for a month and I've not had a drink since. Not even a craving." Alice is a devoted father. His 20-year-old daughter Calico plays the hapless Britney who gets beheaded in his show, taking over from her mother Sheryl in the role. Son Dash, 16, and eight-year-old daughter Sonora stay at home, awaiting the return of dad after each tour.
"It is a very interesting juxtaposition between Alice and me as a father. I'm a very good dad," he says. "They sometimes come to me and say, 'Dad, you don't understand'.
"I just turn to them and say, 'I designed your generation. Black lipstick, that's me you know'. I am not an embarrassing dad, they think I'm pretty cool."
Alice is critical of current rock music, especially Marilyn Manson who appears to have taken on much of Alice's act from make-up and hair to shocking theatrics.
"He calls himself Marilyn Manson. How close do you want to get?" he says, rising from his sofa. "Alice Cooper - Marilyn Manson! He just pushes all the buttons that parents hate. But then so did I, though I was less vicious and a bit more tongue in cheek."
Despite his increasing age and the changes in the musical landscape, Alice is happy to continue to tread his own path and has just released his 26th album, Dragontown. And he doesn't want to change.
"I think I am past writing angst songs for kids," he grins, admitting the duality of his lifestyle. "I don't have any angst. My angst is when I can't get my Porsche roof up and when I can't get my golf handicap down. I am in a very comfortable position. I'm happy and physically I'm in the best shape in my life. So I'm just going to carry on."
- Dragontown is out now on Eagle Records.