The Day Ace Frehley Played His Last Kiss Show
Ace Frehley's second stint with Kiss started with a reunion tour, so it's fitting it also ended on the road. On April 13, 2001, after the conclusion of the Kiss Farewell Tour, the group's original guitarist once again left the band.
That show, held at the Carrara Stadium on Australia's Gold Coast, bookended what once seemed like a promising chapter of renewal in the band's history, bringing Frehley and drummer Peter Criss back into the fold after acrimonious departures. But, as Frehley later claimed, leaving Kiss in the early '80s might have saved his life.
"I quit because I started abusing substances and alcohol, and I also wasn’t agreeing with the direction of the way the band was going," said Frehley. "I just felt like I was on a collision course with — I just thought I was gonna end up being a statistic."
The 1996 reunion initially seemed like a success, spawning a series of sold-out shows as well as a hit record, 1998's Psycho Circus. But as the years wore on and the dates piled up, it became clear to everyone involved that the quartet's personal dynamic remained as problematic as ever. By 2000, as Kiss made their way through what was being billed as the band's farewell tour, both Frehley and Criss had at least one foot out the door.
Singer and guitarist Paul Stanley later accused the prodigal duo of being "disrespectful toward everything we had accomplished and everything the fans were giving us" during the entirety of the Farewell Tour, and claimed that the final straw with Frehley came before an August 2000 gig in Irvine, which took place after an open week on the band's calendar and found him showing up at the last minute — after the band had already asked his eventual replacement, employee Tommy Thayer, to suit up in Frehley's makeup.
"Ace walked into the dressing room about 20 minutes before the show was scheduled to start," recalled Stanley. "He looked at Tommy — fully dressed and made up, with his guitar on, ready to go — and just said, ‘Oh, hey Tommy, how you doin’?'"
The Farewell Tour had already been a bumpy ride — Criss marked his own departure with an onstage meltdown earlier in the itinerary — but whatever happened backstage, there were divisions between the founding members of Kiss long before the group hit the road together again. And they were compounded by further slights, whether real or perceived, that took place after the reunion. One such problem occurred during the making of Detroit Rock City, the 1999 film that made heavy use of Kiss and their music for its plot and soundtrack. According to Frehley, his daughter Monique was supposed to be in a scene, but was edited out — something he attributed to bassist Gene Simmons.
"I knew it wasn’t an accident," Frehley later insisted. “Gene had been involved in the editing process on a daily basis. I even remember getting tapes from him, early on, with alternate scenes and endings, but Monique’s scene was always included. I knew Gene was probably pissed at me for something I had done, but to get back at me by hurting my daughter? It was his idea in the first place, so what the f— was he doing? ... I never felt the same about Gene after that. He had reached an all-time low with me, and this particular snub contributed greatly to my second departure from Kiss."
In the end, neither Frehley nor Criss departing could stop Kiss from carrying on. Although the band's decision to perform with other musicians wearing the absent co-founders' signature makeup has prompted no small amount of debate in the fan community, Stanley has shrugged it off, pointing out that both departed players decided to sell the rights to their Kiss image — and hinted that they didn't do a very good job of negotiating the sale, either.
"The guys basically sold it off for, you know, not a whole lot, because they didn’t think it was worth anything. Quite honestly, I’ve always thought our image and what we represent is priceless. It didn’t matter to some people — it truly matters to me," said Stanley. "I don’t think that when you go to see your favorite team, you’re yelling that you want to see somebody who was in the team 20 years ago. Time moves on, but the team lives on. … I didn’t invent the wheel. Somebody is out there who can come in and take my place. … I don’t see a reason for the band to fold, any more than I can see a reason for a team to fold.'"
While Frehley might have been willing to sell a part of his past, it was Simmons and Stanley who were, in his eyes, the "dirty rotten whores" in Kiss — and after his second departure, he said he realized "their lust for money outweighed any sense of fairness or logic on their part." Still, all's well that ends well, and he's consistently maintained that he's better off out of the band.
"They wanted to tour constantly and record constantly, over-merchandise the brand, and that made me crazy. I’m not a kid anymore," said Frehley. "Touring constantly can be very exhausting. I don’t want to put myself in that position, so I’m happier with what I’m doing now."
And although Frehley and Criss have definitely tossed some barbs back and forth with Simmons and Stanley over the years — including the period leading up to the group's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — things have mellowed considerably in recent years.
Stanley even guested on Frehley's Origins Vol. 1 covers album in 2016, and Simmons co-wrote a song for Frehley's 2018 album Spaceman. But even though there's an occasional flare-up of tensions between them, the idea of another Kiss reunion is no longer something Frehley's willing to rule out entirely. "I've always said that, you know, I always leave the door open. ... There have been rumors and stuff, but there hasn't been any talk of us getting back together," said Frehley. "Whatever happens in the future, it happens, or if it doesn't, it doesn't."