30 Years Ago: Gene Simmons Plays a Hermaphrodite Super-Villain in ‘Never Too Young to Die’
Many actors struggle through years of bit parts before finally earning the opportunity to step into the spotlight. Gene Simmons, on the other hand, had made only a couple of films before he was handed the role of a lifetime.
That role came in 1986's Never Too Young to Die, which found Simmons starring opposite future Beach Boy and Full House legend John Stamos in a would-be action thriller pitting a teenage gymnast against the homicidal hermaphrodite responsible for the death of his secret agent father. Simmons played the villain, Velvet von Ragnar, and neither the character's description nor his name truly do justice to the film's towering feats of low-budget wonder.
For those with the time and inclination, Never Too Young to Die is available in its entirety above — and even if you can't or don't want to watch the whole thing, it's worth tuning in for the first minute or so, which includes Simmons making a grand entrance by addressing a crowd of minions as "my little turdballs." It really is the sort of spectacle that has to be seen to be believed (though whether it's worth the effort is another question entirely).
Never Too Young to Die came and went with barely a whimper in 1986, but it's accrued something of an incredulous cult following over the years, and both Stamos and Simmons looked back fondly (if a little regretfully) on the production in a Hollywood Reporter feature published in 2015. Of his appearance as Ragnar, which included a surreal musical number titled "It Takes a Man Like Me to Be a Woman Like Me," Simmons recalled, "I was offered two parts in Never Too Young to Die: the role of Marine commander and a hermaphrodite. ... That'll teach me to read scripts before accepting roles."
"It was scary," added Stamos. "I guess it was supposed to be like a Rocky Horror 'Sweet Transvestite' thing. I think I had nightmares about it, because it was Gene's big face with all that makeup and stuff. It was a trip."
"A trip" is about the best way of describing Never Too Young to Die, which Stamos has — with Simmons' encouragement — attempted buying back from the rights holders in the hopes of putting it on the midnight movie circuit. Calling it the "best worst thing you will ever see," he shared his hopes for the early effort he laughingly referred to as a "piece of s---."
"I’m at the point in my career where I can look back at things that were really f---ing stupid and go, 'Oh my God, I’m so glad I did that!'" Stamos pointed out. "I can really have a laugh about it, and this is certainly one of the biggest. I would love more people to see it."
As for Simmons, he seems mostly to remember the hours of behind-the-scenes preparation it took for him to transform from Gene to Velvet — and the sarcastic catcalls he heard from the crew after stepping out of his trailer. "I had to shave and wax my chest, wear a prosthetic set of boobs and all sorts of other indignities," he said. "Respectfully, to those that enjoy that sort of thing."
Sadly, Never Too Young to Die never led to a career in spy-movie villainy for Simmons. But it stands as a testament to what people can do when they have enough cameras and something like a screenplay, and it's inspired all sorts of priceless commentary over the years (including a comically enraged and painstakingly detailed recap courtesy of the public servants at The Agony Booth). Love it or hate it, you've definitely never seen a movie quite like it — and it proved Simmons was willing to try just about anything in pursuit of his big Hollywood break.
Gene Simmons, Movie Star: Exploring the Demon's Film Career