"Wrestling Declassified" is a series from WrestlingINC.com in which we draw together lesser-known details regarding some of the most noteworthy matches, angles, and stories in pro wrestling history. We'll also include commentary and new information from the men and women of pro wrestling who generously share their reflections for this series. This week, we're looking at one of WCW's most infamous attempts at bringing pop culture into the squared circle: the curious case of the Kiss Demon.
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To hear Gene Simmons tell the story (or rather, to read him tell the story), one gets the distinct impression that the whole darn thing was his idea. By 1999, the commercial appeal of "reunion-era" Kiss was on the decline. They'd seen new, dizzying heights of success since the original quartet reunited earlier in the decade but Kiss was more than simply a band by this point; they were a capitalistic enterprise of monumental proportions. And with Gene Simmons at the helm, they were still looking for a market share in just about everything… including professional wrestling.
In his 2002 autobiography Kiss and Make-Up, Simmons recalls that he first pitched the idea to the McMahons around the time that the band played the halftime show at Superbowl XXXIII, laying out his vision for not just one but a whole host Kiss-themed grapplers.
While we were at the Superbowl, I arranged to meet with Linda and Vince McMahon, the owners and creators of the World Wrestling Federation. I pitched them the idea of a KISS wrestler called the Demon ("I've been to hell and back"). I told them that we could follow it up with the Starchild, who was too pretty for his own good but could kick butt, and so on. Then we could introduce female versions of KISS, Lady Demon, Wildchild, and so on, and then KISS kids. While I was negotiating the licensing and merchandising slices we wanted on the back end, I was also talking to World Championship Wrestling, the rival wrestling outfit. In the end I took the better of the two deals and went with WCW. It was a win-win situation for us because KISS retained all licensing and merchandising rights: WCW did all the work and we reaped all the rewards.
Indeed, the Kiss Demon made his debut in WCW later the same year On August 23, 1999. Originally portrayed by Brian "Crush" Adams, the Demon emerged from a bulbous iron maiden in the midst of a live performance of "God of Thunder" by Kiss. The Demon won a squash match shortly thereafter and, according to Simmons, Kiss enjoyed a big payday to boot. But that was the only consolation for Simmons that night, as tensions between the band members were bubbling over.
The debut event for the Demon came as we were at our wits' end by the end of the tour and about to call it quits. We flew to Las Vegas to play one song, "God of Thunder," at the MGM Grand for the debut and made an enormous amount of money. It seemed like it should have been the easiest thing in the world, but with Ace and Peter nothing was ever easy. The misery of it was like pulling teeth.
The guys from Kiss weren't the only ones who experienced a bit of consternation following that night's big unveiling. According to WWE.com, the Kiss segment aired after the night's main event, subsequently costing WCW scads of viewers. In fact, the segment ended up garnering the lowest ratings in Nitro history. As per WWE's official account of things (which many wrestling fans often describe as "revisionist," for better or for worse), Eric Bischoff got the blame for the segment's poor timing and the very concept of the character was panned amidst a rising tide of backstage politics.
Adam Smith, co-host of the raucous, cult-favorite podcast Kisstory Science Theater, spoke with WrestlingINC.com for "Wrestling Declassified," and shared his memories about the Kiss Demon's debut.
"I was into wrestling when The Demon debuted, but I was pretty much strictly a WWF guy. I did watch the Nitro when Kiss introduced him. It was actually [KST co-host] Des and I watching that night, over at his place. We were obviously interested to see what it would be like, but we were both pretty sure it would be garbage."
WCW fans didn't exactly embrace the concept, either. After two matches Adams was replaced by former minor league baseball player Dale Torborg who went on to portray The Demon for three years, both in WCW and at independent shows. In the "Where Are They Now" feature on Torborg, WWE.com provided an unforgiving assessment The Demon's in-ring exploits, including a list of his most noteworthy defeats.
Although he was excited for the opportunity, Torborg knew he was stepping into The Demon's platform boots at a disadvantage. The persona was unjustly labeled a bust before ever competing in a match, but executives were contractually obligated to feature the Kiss creation on television and in pay-per-view events. So he suffered. Terry Funk smashed him in his debut. Vampiro locked him in a coffin and set it on fire. The legendary Sting once beat him in less than a minute.
Reflecting on The Kiss Demon's run with hindsight, KST's Adam Smith maintains that any chances of the project succeeding were slim, at best.
"I think it was a doomed concept, to be honest," said Smith. "I can see why they did it; there's a lot of crossover between Kiss and wrestling fans. But it was just too silly at a time that wrestling (WWE, anyway) was moving away from silliness and "characters". As a fan, I saw this as no better than the Robocop or Chucky segments. As much as I wanted to want a Kiss wrestler, it wasn't the right time. One thing I remember from that whole thing was how well Kiss played "God of Thunder" on Nitro. If nothing else, they brought the rock that night."
The Demon's body of work in WCW ultimately amounted to a string of relatively forgettable roles alongside the likes of Vampiro and the Insane Clown Posse. After WCW's demise in 2001, Dale Torborg returned to baseball as a strength coach. The same year, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley declined to renew Peter Criss' contract and shortly thereafter, Ace Frehley lost his spot with the band.
To this day, the original members of Kiss take shots at one another through the media on a fairly regular basis. The rivalry, featuring Gene and Paul on one side and Ace and Peter on the other,climaxed in 2014 when the members could not agree to perform together at their own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Given the festering animosity amongst the founding members of the band, it's a safe bet we'll see The Kiss Demon in the squared circle again before we ever see the original Kiss back on stage.