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The Day Peter Criss Left Kiss

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

For the average fan, the late-’90s reunion of Kiss‘ original quartet was a dream come true. On-again, off-again drummer Peter Criss says, for him, it became a nightmare of ego and money woes.

When Criss left the first time, back in 1980, it was as an equal partner. But by the time he returned for a long-hoped for reunion in 1996, it wasn’t as a full member, but as a paid sideman. That ultimately created a rift that he never overcame. Criss quit in 2001, returned and then quit again for good in 2004.

“To have put something together, through blood, sweat and tears, and then one day to be told: ‘If you don’t do what I want, there’s the the door,’ it really blows your mind,” Criss said, in a 2012 interview. “You started this thing like GM, and you were a CEO, and now you’re washing floors. It’s that kind of feeling. It was tough, being how I am, and doing things my own way. Now, I was sort of having to walk the line. It got really uncomfortable. It wasn’t fun anymore.”

Over the course of this reunion stint, Criss would be featured in one Kiss studio effort, 1998’s Psycho Circus, as well as two new live albums, 2003’s Kiss Symphony: Alive IV and 2006’s Alive!: The Millennium Concert. But something fundamental, he insists, had changed in the interim. Remaining founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had gotten comfortable in running things as a two-man partnership, cutting out Criss and fellow departed original member Ace Frehley.

“From day one, they just loved the power of everything being their way or no way,” Criss lamented in another talk from 2012. “The almighty dollar. I was almost like a worker now. I was treated like a grip.”

Criss, meanwhile, was fighting for his own financial life. He says he only rejoined the group as his personal debts were mounting after a divorce and IRS problems. Today Criss admits that, for all of their disagreements, he emerged from this second stint with Kiss in a far more stable place.

“The reunion was a blessing for me,” says Criss, who sang lead on one of the group’s biggest hits, the 1976 ballad “Beth.” “I knew it was going to be a great ride — and it was a good 10-year ride. This time, there was a lot more clarity, because there were no drugs. I knew this was a chance to have my pension. I can enjoy my time now, and be comfortable. I worked very hard for it.”

The mention of a pension is actually appropriate, because Criss left the band for a final time at age 58. Not long after initially splitting with Kiss in 1980, he said, “Things don’t last forever. I didn’t want to be 40 years old someday and saying could I have made it on my music ability or was it just the great, grand show that Kiss throws.”

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