News : Alice Cooper - The day I almost shot Elvis Presley
HELLRAISER Alice Cooper loved to outrage gig goers with mock impalings and beheadings but his meeting with Elvis Presley nearly became a real horror story.
Alice and the King were in the same Las Vegas hotel when they had their astonishing encounter.
Alice says: “He had the penthouse – this was when he was at the top of his game. I had always been a fan as a kid, so I jumped at the chance to go upstairs and meet him. When I got to the lift I found it was me, Liza Minnelli and the porn actress Linda Lovelace.”
Arriving at Presley’s suite, the unlikely group were frisked for guns by the King’s security team.
“I don’t know why they bothered – when we got inside the place was full of guns,” Alice recalls.
“Elvis took me into the kitchen, opened a drawer, and pulled out a loaded pistol, telling me to put it to his head. I recognised it straight away, a snub .32. I didn’t know what to do.
“I had this gun in my hand and was expecting one of his security to come in any second, see me holding a weapon and shoot me dead.
“A little voice in my left ear was telling me, ‘Go on, this is history, kill him, you’ll always be the guy who killed Elvis’. In my other ear was another voice saying, ‘You can’t kill him, it’s Elvis Presley – wound him instead, you’ll only get a few years!’.
“A fraction of a second later Elvis did a flying kick on the gun, and sent it flying, before tripping me and pinning me to the ground by my neck, announcing, ‘that’s how you stop a man with a gun’.”
The amazing 1971 meeting is just one episode from a remarkable life that has seen Alice match hellraisers The Who’s Keith Moon and The Doors’ Jim Morrison drink for drink (he survived, they didn’t) and date some of the world’s most beautiful women, including Raquel Welch.
He also infuriated morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse so much she tried to have him barred from Britain.
Along the way he has also been accused of killing a woman on a plane, become a born-again Christian, pro-standard golfer and property tycoon. Oh, and he’s the man responsible for inspiring Lady Gaga’s outlandish live shows.
We are in a hotel room to discuss his new box set and forthcoming live shows in Britain, but the conversation quickly returns to his wild days in the Hollywood Vampires, a notorious drinking club which saw him join John Lennon and Keith Moon to drink whisky until they each collapsed.
“There was only one rule at our club”, he says, switching off the Jackie Chan film he has been watching. “Out-drink the other members and be the last man standing – which wasn’t easy with Keith Moon around.” He adds: “We had an alcove at the Rainbow Bar in Los Angeles. Me, Keith Moon, Micky Dolenz, Ringo Starr and John Lennon whenever he’d had a fight with Yoko.
“Those guys could drink. When you party with Keith Moon your body really knows about it – one time he stayed with me for a week, and I literally wasn’t allowed to sleep for seven days.
“Keith was like a battery that never ran out. It got to the stage with Keith where I’d hear he was in town and hide somewhere because I couldn’t face another bender. That was the pace in Los Angeles at the time with all those guys.
“You’re so deeply entrenched in the rock and roll situation – you have hit records, and all the money you could ever need for your life, and people expect you to be in rehab, or hospital, or partying, or in jail.
“But I watched on as my friends, one at a time, died as a result of it. Some of these guys never stopped, every day was an adventure. I started to realise that either I had to stop eventually, or I would die. It was as simple as that.
“I was trying to keep up with people like Jim Morrison, who was like a professional drinker, along with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and I suddenly realised that each one of them collapsed and went down at 27.
“Your body just cannot keep up with that lifestyle. Those of us who survived were the slightly younger generation, who were lucky enough to work out what was going on. People like me and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith who are still working now, because we stopped just in time.”
It finally took a major health scare for Alice, born Vincent Furnier, to realise how close he had come to being “a dead legend”, and finally tackle his alcoholism head on in 1979.
He has not had a drink since, a decision that saved his life – these days he is a born-again Christian, happily married to Sheryl and his only addiction is golf.
“I woke up one morning vomiting blood. Literally throwing up blood. The doctor said to me ‘You’ve got about two weeks or you’re going to be dead. You’re gonna be gone’. And he wasn’t kidding either.
“I had to go to a hospital and get better before the rehab place would even take me in, because of the physical state that I was in. Rehab wouldn’t even take me in.”
Despite his phenomenal drinking, Alice was an international superstar, and in 1972 his chart-topping anthem School’s Out prompted a tour to the UK.
Alice, 63, went on to sell more than 50 million albums worldwide and had hit singles Elected, Poison and No More Mr Nice Guy.
But his hellraiser reputation preceded him and when he arrived in London there was a campaign to have him immediately deported, led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse and MP Leo Abse. The MP claimed Alice’s gruesome stage show, which over the years has featured snakes, impalings, beheadings and executions, was “peddling the culture of the concentration camp”.
Though Alice says: “There was a lot less blood in our show than there is in Macbeth. We were on a flight, first class, heading to London – by that time our reputation was pretty big. The British music fans seemed to really get us, they saw the humour in what we were doing.
“I had no criminal record, I wasn’t doing drugs, but Mary Whitehouse had made her mind up we weren’t coming in.
“It didn’t help that on the way over I’d been sat next a 90-year-old woman who had fallen asleep, and when we landed I tried to wake her up – only to find she was dead. The rumours back home started pretty fast, ‘did you hear, Alice killed a woman’, but eventually we managed to argue our way into Britain.
“Actually the notoriety did us the world of good – our album, Billion Dollar Babies, went straight to number one, and we sent flowers to Mary Whitehouse every day for weeks as our way of saying thank you.”
Alice’s brand of theatrical rock continues to spark fierce debate even today. When pop icon Lady Gaga imitated his trademark “hanging” ritual at the end of a recent performance, it prompted hundreds of horrified viewers to complain to broadcasters and the regulator Ofcom.
“Everyone was horrified when Lady Gaga hung herself on stage at the MTV awards,” he says. “I’ve been doing that move for 30 years.
“I’ve met Gaga and she’s an incredibly intelligent girl, very creative, even if her music isn’t my sort of thing I admire her hugely.
“She wrote to me once, and it said: ‘Dear Alice, thank you for letting me steal your show.’ It’s just nice to see something with an edge to it.
“Bands these days are so boring – the business is being ruined by reality TV. They’re looking for a pretty pop star to make a quick buck. Artists like Bob Dylan and U2 wouldn’t even get past the first round.”
Father-of-three Alice’s own influence was recognised this year, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. On Thursday he picks up the Kerrang Icon Award, and headlines the Download festival this Saturday.
by Simon Boyle
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