Paul Stanley Teases Upcoming KISS Documentary Shows the 'Heart and Soul' of the Band
In a wide-ranging interview with PEOPLE, the KISS frontman discusses the band's upcoming A&E documentary, the resume of their farewell tour and how he found true happiness
Paul Stanley is ready to show fans a new side of KISS.
In the upcoming A&E documentary, Biography: KISStory, the rocker, 69, appears alongside KISS co-founder Gene Simmons to reflect on the iconic band's five decades in the business.
"I think the thing that I like the most about the documentary is that it's less about selling the band and more about the heart and soul of the band," Stanley tells PEOPLE. "The two guys who have been there from the very beginning are still here now towards the end, and our chemistry and our love for each other and our respect for each other is something a lot of people don't see. That's really the core of this."
Along with Stanley and Simmons, the documentary also features current band members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, as well as original lead guitarist Ace Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss, who both parted ways with the band in the early '80s after some long-simmering tension over their partying and disagreements about artistic direction.
"Unfortunately, the foundation of the band turned out to be faulted, and we had to do some major construction and rebuilding and rethinking," Stanley says. "From the time KISS got together, I always saw it as all for one and one for all. The problem is when everybody isn't all for one, and you go, 'Okay, what do we do now? Do we just call it quits?'"
"That was a moment of contemplation where we went, 'Well, we should be bigger than any member, and KISS should be bigger than any member,'" he continues. "That was really the start of the idea that the band goes on regardless - like soldiers. When somebody's no longer committed or their intent is gone, then does it matter that it's the original guy? I don't think so."
As to the reason why he was always able to avoid the draw of drugs and partying during the hard-rocking '70s and '80s, Stanley credits his upbringing. Born with the birth defect microtia - which left his right ear misshapen - in Queens, New York, to a mother who fled Nazi Germany and Jewish father, Stanley says he was a "survivor" from the very beginning.
"I just grew up with certain values," he says. "Now, that's not to say that some people aren't predisposed to addiction. But in my case, I saw people who were doing drugs and it clouded their musical ability or their ability to tell the quality of what the music was or what they were doing. It never led anyplace good. I saw friends who died. I saw friends who were committed. So, if you see somebody jump off a building, you should know that you shouldn't jump off buildings."
Through the years, Stanley says he's had to avoid falling into the trappings of the stereotypes that "if you're a real rock-and-roller, you have tattoos all over your arms. Or if you're a real rock-and-roller, you do drugs. If you're a real rock-and-roller, you don't care about money."
"To me, those things all sound like you're a dead rock-and-roller who's broke," he says.
Though he always exhibited confidence while dressed up as his stage persona the Starchild, Stanley says for a long time, "it was just a picture I was holding up."
"I was a chubby, insecure kid who was deaf on one side and had a badly misshapen ear, and I created this Starchild guy who was loved and sought after," he says. "That was really a creation over time, and there was a real dichotomy and a split between who I was and my persona. But over time they integrated, and in a healthy way, I have to say."
Until he had reconstructive surgery on his ear when he was 30, Stanley kept his birth defect a secret from everyone, including Simmons, 71.
"Gene, up until I had my first surgery, had no idea that I couldn't hear or that I had a birth defect," he says. "Quite honestly, had he known and had other people known, life would have been easier, but I wasn't ready to let down that guard. Instead, at times I made myself pretty impossible and made myself not be the most accessible or likable person."
Through the documentary, Stanley says he's learned that "secrets make us weak."
"We become strong when we let go of them," he says. "We could avoid so many problems, personal problems, interactions with people, if we just lay the cards on the table. I couldn't tell you how many times I wish I had said to somebody, 'Hey, I can't hear you.' Instead of having no idea and just praying that they didn't ask me a question."
He's also been able to see how his definition of success has changed over time.
"To me, success in the beginning meant winning, being admired, getting adulation, and being envied," he says. "Once I had those things, I realized, well, gee, that didn't cure anything. I'm still the same person. So at some point, success gave me the opportunity to find out what would make me happy. I thought that success would make me happy, but no, success gives you the opportunity to find happiness."
Ultimately, Stanley realized that it's his relationships and his family that make him happiest.
"That's the core," he says. "You can build on that, but without that, it's all pretty hollow. That's why you see certain bands that are always touring, because they have nothing to go home to. Without that, they have nothing."
Stanley would know - after all, he was that guy at one point in his life.
"I would come home from a tour and sit on my sofa and just count the days 'till we were supposed to hit the road again," he says. "When I was home, I was in a vacuum."
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That all changed for Stanley when he met his wife Erin Sutton at a restaurant nearly 20 years ago.
"I was out to dinner with a friend of mine, and at the next table were a bunch of women I knew," he says. "I was sitting at this table and in came this woman in the restaurant. I just looked at her, and I was captivated, not in the way where I want to go home with her and end up with her or anything like that. It was, 'I want to talk to this woman.' I was compelled."
The next day, Simmons called Sutton and invited her to have dinner at his house.
"I made dinner, and we just had a terrific, terrific time," he says. "I knew that this was something to pursue. I wasn't at a point where I wanted to give up any possible options, but this was something to really put time and care into. Over time, Erin always showed me consistency and selflessness, but she didn't give up any sense of her own worth. She never compromised who she was, but she was secure enough to reach out to me the times that I needed it, and it went on for years. At one point I just thought, 'I can't imagine my life without her.'"
Nearly 16 years of marriage and three kids later, Stanley - who also has a son from his previous marriage to Pamela Bowen - says he's "really blessed." He also considers Simmons and his family a part of his own.
"We started off as kids living at home, and now we have families and wives and amazing lives that I'm sure neither of us could have ever imagined," he continues. "We get to look at each other and go, 'Wow, we did it.' So, I like where things are at now, and I think it's great to see Gene and I at this point where we really get to appreciate each other in a different way."
In August, Stanley is looking forward to getting back out on stage with Simmons as they resume the final leg of their farewell End of the Road Tour, which was delayed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have unfinished business, so to speak," he says. "We are in the midst of this farewell tour, which really is the culmination of almost 50 years of playing and realizing that we can't do this forever. That's sobering in itself, the idea that you can't necessarily do tomorrow what you're doing today. If we were a band in t-shirts and jeans, we could do this into our 80s, 90s, but if you strap on 40 or 50 lbs. of gear and 8-inch heels and run around smiling, you find yourself going, 'Well, how many more years can I smile?'"
"The idea of us in full makeup, sitting on chairs on stage, spinning sparklers, that's not going to happen," he adds with a laugh.
Through the years, the heels and gear have indeed taken a toll on Stanley's body.
"Have I torn both rotator cuffs in my shoulder? Yes. Have I popped the bicep tendon in the right arm? Yes. Have I had both of my knees go for torn cartilage? Yes. Have I had a hip replacement? Yes. The list goes on," he says. "The good news is they can do such amazing things now that I'm good for another 50,000 miles. I'm tuned and ready to go."
Stanley says that the best way for him to keep in shape now is to "never be out of shape."
"It's a lot easier to just make being in shape part of your regimen, part of your mindset," he says. "I try to ride my bike three times a week, 25 miles, and then I also do other things: weights and sit-ups and push-ups and things like that. The older you get, the less your body remembers. So, the best way to make sure it doesn't forget is to keep doing it."
When he does get back on stage this summer, Stanley says KISS fans can expect "the ultimate show."
"We want to put together the greatest show we've ever done," he says. "We've never been happier, and we've never been more determined to be our best. We couldn't be more grateful for the support not only from die-hard long-term fans, but from new fans. I don't care when you come to the party, I'm just happy you're there."
Biography: KISStory will air as a four-hour, two-night event on Sunday, June 27 and Monday, June 28 from 9 to 11 p.m. EST on A&E.
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