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50 years ago today: KISS' Gene Simmons breathe fire on stage for the 1st time

Gene breathing fire


Today December 21st 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the great moments in rock'n'roll, the very first time Gene Simmons of KISS breathed fire on stage.


It took place at the small club the Coventry in New York City, where KISS performed a double nighter at the end of December 1973, their final performances at that small club (capacity 300 people).


But how did the idea first come about?


It all started in the fall of 1973, when KISS manager Bill Aucion came up with the idea. Bill thought it would be a great 
on-stage stunt for the band's singer & rhythm guitarist  Paul Stanley. But when he brought it up to the band and asked them, "Which one of you guys don't want to do it," every hand went up except for that of singer/bassist Gene Simmons.


"I thought he said, 'Which one of you guys wants to breathe fire?" Simmons is quoted of saying in the oral history of the band's early years. "I thought, f-, I don't wanna breathe fire. It was a negative question and I forgot to raise my hand, so I was stuck."


The story has been told in different ways over the years and Gene has been quoted as saying he learned how to eat and breathe fire from the magician 'Amaze-O.', and in 1980 in a TV interview on 'the Kids Are People Too' show when the subject came up, Gene said he was taught by famous magician whose name he wouldn't divulge.


But in fact the magician that was hired to train Gene was in fact called Earl "Presto" Johnson.


Earl "Presto" Johnson, born in 1932, was primarily known for his unique manipulation routines with cigarettes, coins, cards, and balls.

He began his long career at Hubert's Dime Museum on Times Square in the 1940s, then went on to tour in carnivals and sideshows. He later got into the cruise ships, resorts field, and night clubs all over the United States. Earl passed away in 2009.



Watch a mini-documentary with all the details of Gene's firebreathing here:



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