American rock singer Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on February 4, 1948, in Detroit. The son of a pastor, Cooper moved with his family when he was 12, first to California and later to Arizona, where the Furniers lived in a trailer park.
Cooper developed an early passion for music, and in high school he formed his first rock band. The group, first called the Earwigs and later renamed the Spiders, covered the bands—the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who—that Cooper adored.
After exhausting the local bar scene, the group moved to Los Angeles. By this time they had developed an angry, up-front and dark sound, which critics initially abhorred. However, with Cooper as its engaging front man, its music caught the attention of Frank Zappa, who inked the young musicians to a record deal.
In 1969, the group, which had changed its name to Alice Cooper—the name coming from a witch doctor who supposedly spoke to the lead singer through a Ouija board—released its first album, Pretties for You. A follow-up album, Easy Action, came out a year later.
Almost immediately, the group gained a reputation for outrageous performances. In one famous incident, a fan threw a live chicken on to the stage. Cooper responded by picking up the bird and throwing it into the air. When it landed back in the hands of the audience the chicken was torn into pieces. In an altered version of the story, Cooper killed the bird himself and then drank its blood.
Other theatrical acts included “murdering” infant dolls and using fake guillotines and electric chairs during performances. For his part, Cooper relished the shock that accompanied these performances. In 1973 the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí filmed the singer, wearing diamond necklaces and a tiara, as he bit the head off a small replica of the Venus de Milo for a holographic work.
In 1971 Warner Bros. signed Alice Cooper, the band, to a new record contract. Over the next several years the group released a succession of hits, such as Killer (1972), School’s Out (1972), Billion Dollar Babies(1973) and Muscle of Love (1974).
Solo Ups and Downs
In 1974, Alice Cooper, the musician, split off from his bandmates and took the name with him. The following year he released his first solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare, which earned him continued critical praise and commercial success, as did 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.
But Cooper’s life was also falling apart. A worn-out and strung-out Cooper eventually ended up in a New York sanatorium, where he was housed with drug addicts and criminals. This time away allowed Cooper, who became a born-again Christian and eventually discovered an obsession with golf, to regain his bearings.
His music, however, didn’t exactly bounce back. Two records, Special Forces (1981) and Zipper Catches Skin (1982), proved especially disappointing. But in 1989, Cooper returned to the charts with the popular album Trash.
Since then, Cooper has enjoyed a range of success, both in the studio and elsewhere. He made a celebrated cameo appearance in Wayne’s World (1992), and later again appeared as himself in Tim Burton‘s Dark Shadows (2012). In 2004 he launched his hugely successful syndicated radio program, Nights With Alice Cooper.
In recent years Cooper has reunited with the living members of his old band, and in 2011 the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Cooper continues to tour and record new music. In 2017 he released Paranormal, which includes contributions from old bandmates and other noted artists, like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Deep Purple’s Roger Glover.