Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier, February 4, 1948) is an American singer, songwriter, and actor whose career spans over 50 years. With a raspy voice and a stage show that features numerous props and stage illusions, including pyrotechnics, guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, reptiles, baby dolls, and dueling swords, Cooper is considered by music journalists and peers to be “The Godfather of Shock Rock“. He has drawn equally from horror films, vaudeville, and garage rock to pioneer a macabre and theatrical brand of rock designed to shock audiences.
Originating in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964, “Alice Cooper” was originally a band with roots extending back to a band called The Earwigs 1964, consisting of Furnier on vocals and harmonica, Glen Buxton on lead guitar, and Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar and background vocals. By 1966, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar joined the three and Neal Smith was added on drums in 1967. The five named the band ‘Alice Cooper’ and released their debut album in 1969 with limited chart success. The band reached their commercial peak in 1973 with their sixth studio album, Billion Dollar Babies. They broke up in 1975 and Furnier adopted the band’s name as both his legal name and his stage name, beginning his solo career with the 1975 concept albumWelcome to My Nightmare.
Cooper has experimented with a number of musical styles, including art rock, hard rock, heavy metal, new wave,glam metal, and industrial rock. He helped to shape the sound and look of heavy metal, and has been described as the artist who “first introduced horror imagery to rock and roll, and whose stagecraft and showmanship have permanently transformed the genre”. He is also known for his wit offstage, with The Rolling Stone Album Guide calling him the world’s most “beloved heavy metal entertainer”. Away from music, Cooper is a film actor, a golfing celebrity, a restaurateur, and, since 2004, a radio DJ with his classic rock show Nights with Alice Cooper.
Cooper was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Ether Moroni Furnier (1924–1987) and his wife Ella Mae (née McCart; born 1925). He was named after his uncle, Vincent Collier Furnier, and the writer Damon Runyon. His father was an evangelist in The Church of Jesus Christ, informally known as “Bickertonites”, and his paternal grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle (from 1917) in and president (1963–1965) of that church.
Cooper was active in his church at ages 11 to 12. Following a series of childhood illnesses, he moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School. In his high school yearbook, his ambition was to be “A million record seller”.
In 1964, 16-year-old Furnier was eager to participate in Cortez High School’s annual Letterman’s talent show, so he gathered four fellow cross-country teammates to form a group for the show: Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, John Tatum, and John Speer.[fn 1] They named themselves the Earwigs. They dressed up in costumes and wigs to resemble The Beatles, and performed several parodies of Beatles songs, with the lyrics modified to refer to the track team: in their rendition of “Please Please Me“, for example, the line “Last night I said these words to my girl” was replaced with “Last night I ran four laps for my coach”. Of the group, only Buxton knew how to play an instrument—the guitar—so Buxton played guitar while the rest mimed on their instruments. The group got an overwhelming response from the audience and won the talent show. As a result of their positive experience, the group decided to try to turn into a real band. They acquired musical instruments from a local pawn shop, and proceeded to learn how to play them, with Buxton doing most of the teaching, as well as much of the early songwriting. They soon renamed themselves the Spiders, featuring Furnier on vocals, Buxton on lead guitar, Tatum on rhythm guitar, Dunaway on bass guitar, and Speer on drums.
In 1966, The Spiders graduated from Cortez High School, and after North High School football player Michael Bruce replaced John Tatum on rhythm guitar, the band released their second single, “Don’t Blow Your Mind”, an original composition which became a local No. 1 hit, backed by “No Price Tag”.
By 1967, the band had begun to make regular road trips to Los Angeles to play shows. They soon renamed themselves Nazz and released the single “Wonder Who’s Lovin’ Her Now”, backed with future Alice Cooper track “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye”. Around this time, drummer John Speer was replaced by Neal Smith. By the end of the year, the band had relocated to Los Angeles.