KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons, who has been open about his poverty-stricken childhood in Israel, spoke to American Songwriter about the immense wealth he has accumulated in the five decades since the band's formation.
"We're not supposed to revel in our riches," he said. "But that's bullshit. That's bullshit because everybody — if I walk around and I walk into a room and said I'm worth a couple hundred million dollars, or a billion, or whatever they say, I don't keep track, people would go, 'Listen to that guy. What an asshole.' But if I just won the lottery and didn't work a day in my life for it, everybody goes, 'Fantastic! You won a shitload of money and you didn't work at all for it.' I've worked for every penny I got. I should be the one that should be able to say, 'Look at all the money I got.' But nope, can't do that.
"So, I don't know how to say this, but it's better to be rich than poor," he continued. "It is. You can create jobs if you're rich. You can give money to philanthropy if you're rich. A poor person never gave me a job. And the person who came up with the phrase, 'Money is the root of all evil' is a moron. Money is not the root of all evil. Lack of money is the root of all evil. The reason people hold up 7-11 is they don't have money. Why would I ever hold up a 7-11 when I could just buy the block?
"The reason for crime is people don't have enough money," Simmons added. "One of the cures for lowering crime is give people jobs, give them something to do so they can feed their families, so they don't have to go out and steal. That's the way out. And don't get me started on drug addicts; that's another thing. There are a lot of rich white boys who are on opioids and crack. That's another story and I'm not qualified to comment."
Simmons lived in Israel until the age of eight, when he emigrated to the U.S. with his mother, a Holocaust survivor.
In a 2011 interview with CNN, Simmons recalled how his family had plunged into poverty after his father left. The family was "dirt poor," scraping by on meager bread and milk rations available in what was then an underdeveloped country.
"My father left us when I was about six or seven and one day a box came in," Gene said. "A cardboard box. Later on I figured out it was a care package. I picked up my first can of food — it was a can of peaches. I had never seen canned food before, we didn't even have a toilet when I was growing up. [My mother] opened it up with a knife and I remember tasting... This gets a little emotional for me... So I remember tasting those canned peaches. [It was the] sweetest thing I ever had. And all of a sudden, I had the idea that somebody cared, and once I grew up, I promised myself that I would make a difference."
Simmons has been recognized for his efforts to give back through various charitable endeavors, including Mending Kids International, which provides surgical care to children in developing countries.