Originally Published: October 05, 2000
Author: Ray Routhier
Alice Cooper is not always himself.
On stage, he's the same snake-thin, leather-clad, mascara-wearing rock star he was 25 years ago. And he still belts out songs that were anthems to a generation of tough-talking high schoolers, including "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out."
But off stage, Alice Cooper doesn't really exist. Sure, that's his name (legally changed from Vincent Furnier), but it's not his persona.
The off-stage Alice Cooper plays lots of golf at home in Phoenix, with Glen Campbell no less. And he owns a sports-and-rock-themed restaurant called Cooper'stown. He's also been known to do commercials, appear on the local morning TV talk shows, raise money for charity and ring the Salvation Army bell at Christmas, dressed as Santa.
For Cooper, who brings his "Brutal Planet" tour to the State Theatre on Friday, the Alice persona is like a glitzy suit he takes out of the closet and puts on to impress, shock and entertain the audience.
He even talks about Alice in the third person.
"The Alice Cooper thing is something I created, my vocation. I've loved playing this character, it's been the center of my life for so long," said Cooper, 52, from a tour stop in Oklahoma City.
Cooper said he did start out, when he was 20 years old and enjoying his first taste of success, actually trying to be the character he created. But after years of living the life of a hard-rocking, hard-drinking, anti-establishment type, Cooper decided there was no way he could be Alice all the time.
"I thought I had to be Alice all the time, which meant I'd dress all in black, go to the bar at 10 in the morning and get as drunk as I could," said Cooper. "One day (about 18 years ago) I just figured I only had about 22 hours of life left if I kept it up."
But Cooper was able to put Alice in the closet, and live on to enjoy his success and longevity in the music business.
Since his 1969 debut, "Pretties for You," Cooper has sold more than 50 million albums. He's had 11 songs make the Billboard Top 40 chart, and he continues to draw crowds wherever he goes with a gaudy andtheatrical (some would say campy) stage show.
The son of a Baptist minister, Cooper was born in Detroit and grew up in Phoenix, where he was an undefeated long-distance runner at Cortez High School. He listed "a million-record seller" as his life's ambition in his 1966 senior yearbook.
Three years later he had a record contract and an album, and was beginning to set a standard for other theatrical, hard-rock acts to come, such as KISS, Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue, among others.
By the early 1970s he was known for outrageous stage shows, which included such props as boa constrictors, mutilated baby dolls and a guillotine.
The guillotine was central to Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour in 1975, which featured an elaborate horror-movie theme. The guillotine was later retired and ended up in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Cooper has taken it out, on loan, for his current tour.
Cooper says his stage shows have always been theater productions to him. He looks at his song lyrics as the script, and as Alice Cooper as the star character.
"I start out writing trying to create a theatrical place for Alice to go to, some place he either has to escape from or deal with," Cooper said.
Cooper is proud of his stage shows, saying (and probably rightly so) that most rock stage shows in the last 25 years borrow something from him.
His current stage show is based on his latest album, "Brutal Planet," which was released in June.
"It's about the future, it's not a very nice place, it's the kind of place Alice Cooper would take you," said Cooper. "The set is basically a nuked-out city, with people melted up against toxic waste dumps."
The show will feature his big hits from the past, plus stuff from the new album, Cooper said. As part of the wild scene, the famous guillotine will chop Cooper's head off. Or so it will appear.
There's plenty of blood and gross stuff in Cooper's show, but no pyrotechnics. That's one thing he'll never do. Not creative enough, he says.
"Basically, when people can't come up with an idea," Cooper said, "they blow something up."