Phoenix Gazette

Originally Published: 1976

Our Son's Name Is Alice

Alice Cooper just missed making an appearance at his 10-year class reunion at Cortez High School. Too bad. It would have been a sight to see.

Cooper was going to arrive on a chrome motorcycle with his friend Henry "Fonzie" Winkler.

"It would have been 'The Coop' and 'The Fonz," he said wistfully, with a laugh. He sounded a little disappointed.

But when you're a big rock star, class reunions play second fiddle to concerts and television shows. On the night of Cortez' assembly, Alice Cooper had to work.

A lot of classmates were prbably disappointed, too. Alice Cooper, musical wizard of the bizarre, is undoubtly the most famous alumna from CHS. But while the rest of the world thinks of his name and sees snakes and bloody baby dolls, Cooper's friends, teachers and parents know him better as Vincent Furnier - track star, student journalist and nice person. He just always seemed to have that knack for the extraordinary. To Alice Cooper, everyday is Halloween.

Vince Furnier's family came to Phoenix many Halloweens ago, in 1961, from Detroit via California, to begin missionary work with the Indians. Dad Mickey Furnier is now a design engineer at Goodyear and a volunteer minister with a Protestant Reformation church in the Valley.

The Furniers live in a gracious Paradise Valley home that Cooper built. A rambling ranch, it's tastefully decorated in soft yellows and orange, with Mediterranean furniture. Over the contemporary white fireplace hung two fine paintings - one in yellow of a dark woman, the other in subdued reds, a woman's face - both painted by Alice Cooper.

Over the sofa is a gold record and a blow-up photograph of Alice.

The young man in the photograph, now 28, was raised in a religious home, they said, and is normal underneath the makeup and neon theatrics. They insist he never played with snakes any more than other little boys.

But if he gave no inkling that he would grow up to earn a living from the macabre, he did exhibit signs of creativity and ambition from an early age, his parents said.

"He was an ego charger," Mrs. Furnier said. "If he wanted to be a letterman, he was a letterman...In his high school yearbook, he said his ambition was to have a million-dollar record."

Alice Cooper has sold almost 40 million records.

At Cortez High, his ingenuity was put to good use, gracing the school with some of the most unusual dance events in the Valley.

Emmet Smith, Cooper's track coach and journalism teacher at Cortez, now at Apollo High School, said school dances were all turned over to Vince Furnier, and Vince gave them back extravaganza. While other schools had crepe paper ceilings and coloured balloons, Cortez was dancing around nine-foot guillotines, stocks, ghosts and witches with lighted cauldrons.

It was during a school assembly that Cooper's stardom began, if humbly, Cooper and some of the other track stars put on an imitation Beatles production. It caught on and they became known as "The Earwigs."

None of them could play instruments, but it was fun, and they used to make up track songs like "Caterpilla Stomp," named for the fuzzy obstacles a runner might step on at the track.

Before long, they were playing at the old VIP Club in Phoenix as The Spiders. Jack Curtis, then owner of the VIP, now director of the Phoenix Civic Plaza, helped them design a giant web to perform in on stage. They dressed in black and played Rolling Stones music.

"They just had a certain magic," Curtis said. "They were super creative even at the beginning."

Vincent Furnier was no more the instigator of the theatrics than the other band members, he said, but he was the lead vocalist and "he had the most personality."

Once the band moved to Los Angeles, they found more of a market for their far-out antics than Phoenix had offered. Overnight, Vincent Furnier, preacher's son, had become Alice Cooper, rock star.

That name is a mystery to the Furniers. "It never came from our house," Mrs. Furnier laughed. "He just wanted to pick and all-American name."

Now that Alice Cooper is a haunted house-hold word, and he has friends like Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist), Groucho Marx and George Burns, his parents wish he would abandon the weirdo ways that keep him racing from concert to concert. "He anemic," his father says. Mrs. Furnier would like to see him get into something more stable, like television.

They admitted they had once nursed hopes of his going into the ministry, like his father and grandfather.

"But there's no money in that," Furnier realizes.

They're proud of his success. But his stage shenanigans?

Furnier shook his head, rubbing his gray goatee. "I don't know. The enjoyment is seeing so many people cheering for your son. We think everything he does is a lot of nonesense."

"I wouldn't pay to see him," Mrs. Furnier said, laughing.

Her husband laughed back. "In fact, if he weren't your son, you'd probably think he's a nut!"

Cooper himself likes the theatrics, but says that he's very careful to put Alice Cooper away at the end of the performance. "Alice is only a character on stage. I worked that out a long time ago with myself."

The theatrics, he said - the mock chicken choking and snake swinging - are just part of the show. A necessary, he believes.

"Theatrics to me is the most important part of a show, with a background of rock music...I put myself in the place of the audience, I go out with my choreographer and my producer and my manager. I say, 'I just spent $8, what do I want to see?' Of course you want to see a boa constrictor. Of course a cyclops!"

He chuckled. "My last show cost something like $400,000 to produce."

Asked what he'd like to be doing 10 years from now, Cooper said, "I'd like to be on the golf circuit, shooting 68s."

Conventional pasttime for a sometimes unconventional entertainer.

As another flirtation with convention, Cooper recently married Ceryl Goddard, a dancer with his show. The wedding was private and unannounced, the Furniers said, because "he wanted something of his own," away from the show biz picture window.

It was a "sacred ceremony," Furnier said, with two ministers officiating. Few details have previously been released, he said; Roba Barret revealed the news, but had misinformation.

"He didn't want it to be a publicity stunt," Furnier explained. "He wanted to keep it out of his show business life."

One of new wife's first duties was to play "victim" in a stunt Cooper performed at the Rock Music Awards show earlier a month ago. Apparently going into an insane frenzy, Cooper, dressed in a conservative tuxedo, suddenly began to thrash around, went into the audience and a grabbed a woman, ripped her dress to shreds. The show was live. The audience was numb.

Then in a cloud of smoke, the tuxedoed Cooper disappeared and returned festooned in his more familiar garb and spectoral makeup.

And no one knew the female kidnappee was Mrs. Cooper.

It may be hard someday to explain to the kids what it is Daddy does. But they no doubt will be well provided for. Cooper is a solo act now, and beginning to work on a new album he said will be "just good rock and roll." He's just finished rebuilding his home in Bel Air, a castle-like structure once owned by H.R.Halderman and which caught fire while being refurbished.

He'll soon begin work on two movies - "Sextette" with Mae West,a nd Kurt Vennegut's book-turned-film, "Breakfast of Champions."

But putting on a show is still Alice Cooper's passion. And if there will always be a boy-next-door Vince Furnier inside Alice Cooper, it's certain there always was an Alice Cooper inside Vincent Furnier.

As teacher Emmet Smith says, "Vince was destined to be this sort of individual."