Watch Peter Criss Destroy His Drum Kit at Last Original-Lineup Kiss Show
Peter Criss' first stint with Kiss ended in a private whimper; he made sure his second departure was loud and public.
Angered after learning he was getting paid $10,000 a show less than his fellow returning salaried bandmate, guitarist Ace Frehley, Criss threatened to leave the temporarily reunited original lineup's 2000 tour early. He agreed to stay for the last handful of dates after getting a matching salary bump, but began adding a teardrop to his Catman makeup in protest of what he deemed as unfair treatment.
"In prison, a teardrop signifies that you're tough because you had killed someone," he explained in his 2012 biography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss. "But to me, it meant that they had fucked me over."
"I thought it made him look like Emmett Kelly's famous Weary Willie character," countered bandmate Paul Stanley in his own 2014 book, Face the Music: A Life Exposed. The guitarist noted that Criss' behavior -- constantly posting signs counting down the number of days left on tour, poorly putting on his makeup and playing songs too slowly in concert -- made the rest of the band miserable.
"For the last seven dates, we'd put on our makeup and nobody talked to one another anymore," Criss concurred. "Nobody laughed, there was no music playing in the room -- it was all about just getting through those shows."
"Peter, you're playing too slow!," Stanley recalled band manager Doc McGhee yelling at the drummer during one show. "Well, so are they!" Criss shouted back. "What are you talking about? You're the fucking drummer!"
Everything came to a head at the last show of the North American leg of what was intended to be the band's farewell tour, which took place on Oct. 7, 2000, in North Charleston, S.C. While Stanley was performing his usual end-of-show guitar-smashing ritual, Criss decided to do him one better.
"I got up, and while the riser was still high up in the air, I started kicking my drums off it," he recalled. "Everyone stood up and cheered, and Paul thought the cheers were for him until he turned around and saw a huge floor tom-tom coming down at him. So he took his guitar, threw it down on the stage and walked off. He must have kept walking, because I didn't see him or Ace of Gene when I went in to take my makeup off."
Watch Peter Criss Destroy His Drum Kit
All told, it was much a much more dramatic day than the one that ended Criss' first Kiss tenure. As part of the legal agreement for his 1980 departure from the group, he agreed to make it look like he was still in the band by appearing in the video for the song "Shandi," taken from Unmasked, an album on which he did not actually perform.
"Ace and Paul walked out of the room without even saying goodbye to me," Criss said of the shoot. "As Gene [Simmons] was getting ready to leave, I saw that his bass guitar was propped up against the wall. 'Hey, Gene, can I have your bass? I'd like to have something to remember the band with,' I said. 'You really want it?' he said. I nodded yes. 'Yeah, you can have it,' he said softly."
After the more contentious final 2000 show, Criss reportedly turned down a $1 million payday for an eight-show 2001 tour of Japan, a move Stanley sarcastically called a "brilliant business decision." He was replaced by Eric Singer, who had previously played in the non-makeup version of Kiss from 1991-96.
Frehley departed the group for a second time when the farewell tour ended in April 2001, making the Oct. 7, 2000, show the last time the original lineup performed together. Instead of breaking up, group mainstays Stanley and Simmons recruited Tommy Thayer to take over lead guitar. "For a while, honestly, we lost sight that we didn't have to stop," Stanley later said of the decision to forgo retirement and carry on without Criss and Frehley. "We had to get rid of them.”
In a controversial move, Singer and Thayer performed onstage wearing the same makeup designs made famous by their predecessors. This didn't go over well with the band's founding drummer. "I am the original Catman, there'll never be another one," Criss told radio host Eddie Trunk during a 2013 interview. "Eric and Tommy, to them, it's a job. He's playing Ace Frehley's licks to the T, Eric's playing my drum licks to a T. There's a whole generation of kids that are clueless as to what Kiss is about. They go to see them now and they think that's Kiss."
Despite this objection, Criss wound up rejoining a Frehley-less version of Kiss for another series of tours in 2003. "All of a sudden they bring Peter back, and you got Tommy Thayer playing guitar wearing the Ace makeup, and all of a sudden no one minded it was Ace’s makeup design," Singer noted. "Peter had no problem, did he?"
However hypocritical he felt about performing with Thayer in makeup, Criss found his third stint in the band thoroughly miserable. "You started this thing like GM, and you were a CEO, and now you’re washing floors," he said in 2012. "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.”
Still, he didn't quit. Instead, Simmons and Stanley opted not to renew Criss' contract when it ended in 2004, and Singer returned to what has become the longest-running lineup in Kiss history.
Simmons, Stanley, Frehley and Criss shared the stage but did not perform together during the band's 2014 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Criss retired from live performances after a handful of solo farewell dates in 2017. The following year, Kiss announced plans for their own final tour.
“I’m proud of the guys and what we did, all that was great," Criss told the Courier Mail at the time of his retirement. "But now it’s time to forgive, forget and move on with your life.”