BOSTON (CBS) – The only reality show I have any solid time for is my own, the Jordan Rich experience that plays out daily in what else but real life. While interesting at times to me and two or three others perhaps, I thankfully don’t possess the starved ego nor would I ever have the guts to have a camera crew follow me around. Alas, there are many who have taken up the mantel happy to share their meaningless celebrity lives with the rest of us. And those who put themselves on display – The Paris Hiltons, David Hasselhoffs, the Kardashians (which I more closely associate with an alien humanoid race from Star Trek) are puerile and often downright disturbing.
None fits the bill more than the longest running of these programs, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. For those who don’t know (and if he finds out you don’t know Simmons is likely to take legal action) Gene is the front man for the super successful rock group known as Kiss. The group is comprised of 60-something year olds in spandex, 6-inch platform heals and scary clown makeup. Outside of the goof factor and Mr. Simmons’ massive reptilian-like tongue, I have never seen the appeal musically or aesthetically. But I’m happy to congratulate Kiss on making hundreds of millions of dollars over the decades, selling more merchandise than Communist China, and going on the road for hundreds of concerts a year. Family Jewels chronicles Gene’s life with common law wife and former Playboy centerfold Shannon Tweed and their two rather likable teenage children. Likeable indeed because both the girl and boy don’t take their overbearing, egomaniacal father as seriously as some in the rest of the world do. It’s a refreshing part of a show I know very little about. (I get reports from my wife who is a fan and from regular web updates, most of them generated by the PR machine that is Gene Simmons). He is a media hound, not to mention a scoundrel of the first order who has boasted of sleeping with thousands of women over the years.
Insert disclaimer at this point—-those who constantly talk about their conquests tend to do more of just that—talk about them.
So, you’re thinking, here’s an easy target and my chance to pile on to yet another overbearing celebrity. While he’s an easy mark and it is so tempting, I need to reveal now that through the all of the nonsense, the Gene Simmons PR promotion machine had a moment. A touching moment, one that I didn’t see coming.
It’s quite possible that the star of the show didn’t either.
How did I happen to find myself in front of a TV in the first place watching Family Jewels? When one shares a hotel room on vacation with wife and son and wife has the remote, one is in an untenable hostage situation.
As the show revealed, Simmons was born in Israel in 1949, a frantic time for that nation, with it’s formation as an independent state and a nasty war a year earlier. When he was a young child, his father abandoned the family and Gene lost contact with him. We find out that the father remarried (Gene’s mother never did) and the father went on to have several more children, none of whom Gene had relations with. Until now. Gene’s partner Shannon, as we are led to believe, arranged for a family meeting in Israel. The famous rock star would meet his half brother and sisters and a score of nieces and nephews for the first time in Haifa. He would also travel to the grave of his late father to find closure.
The cynic would suggest that all of this was well choreographed for a TV audience. And the cynic would be partially correct. But there was an element of reality that no scripted event could ever capture. Gene Simmons, the often obnoxious center of his own universe was visibly moved, often going quiet (totally out of character) throughout the program. Trust me; the tears and emotion exhibited were real from all of the participants. Gene wasn’t surrounded by rabid teenage fans, paid hacks or fawning sycophants this time. He found himself on a trip to his homeland with his own children greeting a new wing of a grown family, touring his boyhood home, encountering a slew of childhood memories and fighting through tears to forgive his late father for events over a half century ago.
I won’t be joining the Kiss fan club anytime soon and it’s doubtful I’ll watch a full episode of Family Jewels again. But it was refreshing for a brief moment to see a celebrity of the first order reduced to that which we can all identify. The most human of experiences are the most meaningful and so often lie beneath the lights, the hype and the makeup.