Bill Aucoin: Manager who masterminded the rise of KISS and made Billy Idol a solo star

For all the braggadocio the KISS bassist and motormouth Gene Simmons exudes in interviews, he always acknowledges the role Bill Aucoin played in the emergence and the rise of the glam stadium-rockers.

Described by Simmons and singer, guitarist and co-founder Paul Stanley as their "irreplaceable original manager, mentor and dear friend", Aucoin saw the band play a showcase gig at New York's Diplomat Hotel in the summer of 1973 and secured them a record deal with Neil Bogart's Casablanca label in November that year.

However, despite their striking use of make-up and the look of the characters created by Simmons – the blood-spitting, fire-breathing "Demon" (Stanley), the guitar-smashing "Starchild" and the other two original members, Ace Frehley (the "Spaceman" whose guitar burst into flames) and Peter Criss (the "Catman" with the revolving drum kit) – at first, their ham-fisted attempt at hard rock failed to set the world alight. Their eponymous 1974 debut only sold 75,000 copies in the US. A determined Aucoin backed his hunch, maxed up his credit card to the tune of $25,000 a month and kept the group going over the next 18 months and two more studio albums. His belief and investment were rewarded in autumn 1975 when the double in-concert set Alive! and the single "Rock and Roll All Nite (live edit)" made the US charts, inaugurating a run of success which has seen KISS sell 100 million albums over the last 35 years.

However, Aucoin and KISS parted ways in 1982, citing creative and directional differences. The impresario was unhappy at the musicians' desire to abandon the make-up and the image that had proved central in establishing them as one of rock's most lucrative brands, with all the attendant merchandising opportunities (belt buckles, Halloween costumes, make-up kits, action figurines, vitamins, a pinball machine and even a KISS coffin).

Simmons had started to question Aucoin and Bogart's drug use – and their manager's business methods, in particular the 25 per cent gross commission he was receiving from tour, recording and merchandising.

"Let's just say he was earning too much for the work he was doing. We were new, we didn't know. Bill, as it turned out, was a terrific ideas guy, but he didn't seem to know how to make the best use of the money," Simmons wrote in KISS and Make-Up, his autobiography. "When you plan a tour, maybe you don't need four security guards. Maybe you just need two. And if every security guy is getting $1,500 a week, then if you cut out two guys, you're saving $3,000 a week for say, 20 weeks. Every dollar saved could be a dollar in our pockets. But these kinds of cost-cutting measures were not really his strong suit."

In 1977, Aucoin famously proclaimed that Van Halen – whose demo tape Simmons had financed in New York – "had no chance" and turned down the opportunity to manage them. But, after breaking away from KISS, he masterminded Billy Idol's transformation from has-been singer of British punk also-rans Generation X into a snarling, pouting, peroxide Elvis Presley and one of the biggest stars of the Eighties, with hits like "White Wedding", "Rebel Yell" and "Eyes Without a Face". In recent years, Aucoin served as international artistic manager to Lordi, the 2006 Eurovision-winning Finnish rock group whose use of masks and pyrotechnics owes a huge debt to KISS.

Aucoin grew up in Ayer, Massachusetts, where his father ran a restaurant. He was fascinated by radio and, in the late 1950s, aged 14, set up a small station that was soon closed down by the Federal Communications Commission. He avoided a hefty fine and a jail sentence because of his age and his promise to take the antenna down.

His interest in broadcasting continued and, while studying film and business administration he did casual shifts at WGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston. After graduating he moved to New York, where he proved a versatile cinematographer and director, working on a Barbra Streisand special one week and a documentary on John F Kennedy the next. He helped develop the much-exported format of Supermarket Sweep and for NBC devised a show called Flipside, which went behind the scenes and into the studio with superstars Stevie Wonder and John Lennon. This attracted the attention of the members of KISS, who invited him to their early gigs in New York. Aucoin was impressed and chucked in his TV job.

Aucoin promised Simmons and his bandmates he would get them a deal within a month of becoming their manager and was true to his word. Indeed, the success of KISS helped turn Casablanca's fortunes around and enabled Bogart to sign Donna Summer and Village People and turn the label into a disco powerhouse. KISS reached a higher level of international popularity in 1979 with their disco-flavoured stormer "I Was Made for Lovin' You", but were ridiculed for such ill-advised ventures as the simultaneous release of solo albums by all four band members and the TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park in 1978.

KISS were reported to be making over $100m a year but seemed to be spending huge amounts. The jettisoning of Aucoin was an attempt to put business on firmer footing, though they shot themselves in the foot by ditching their make-up in 1983. While managing KISS, Aucoin had taken on Starz, Manowar and Billy Squier, and helped Chrysalis Records launch Billy Idol in the US. As Chrysalis chairman Chris Wright recalls, "We flew into the Isle of Man where Billy was doing a festival. Bill thought it was a real hoot that there was a place by that name. He fell in love with Billy and moved him to America, where he guided the next stage of his career. Bill became family, the rest is history."

After taking a break in the 1990s and moving to Florida, Aucoin became a consultant to acts such as Crossbreed, Tantric and Dreaming in Stereo. He also appeared in several KISS-related documentaries. He died of surgical complications from prostate cancer.

Simmons and Stanley paid the following tribute. "Bill was instrumental in guiding us from the beginning. Without his vision, leadership and unending dedication, we could never have scaled the heights we have reached. Bill loved life and lived it to the fullest. Over the years, he never missed an opportunity to be with us at our shows near his home or fly in for special concertsWe loved him, told him, and have peace that he knew it."

William Martin Aucoin, rock manager: born Ayer, Massachusetts 29 December 1943; died Aventura, Florida 28 June 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower