Alice Cooper boards a business jet
(Photo: Kyler Clark - CerealKyler Photography)

Q&A: Alice Cooper

This “shock rock" pioneer, who spent many years touring via private jet, still performs and records regularly, but his biggest passion is golf.

In the 1970s, rock ’n’ roll superstar Alice Cooper, known for such hits as “I’m 18” and “School’s Out,” pioneered “shock rock” by performing in Clockwork Orange-style eye makeup, using a prop guillotine to cut off a bloody head, and letting a boa constrictor slither up his torso.

It was quite a reversal for this Detroit kid, born Vincent Fournier, whose father and grandfather were pastors and expected young Vince to follow in their footsteps. Now 74, Cooper (who took the band’s name as his own) records albums and tours with the same dark horror-themed theatrics he has successfully used for more than half a century. 

Alice Cooper boards a business jet
(Photo: Kyler Clark - CerealKyler Photography)

As a teen, Fournier had asthma, so his family left the cold Detroit climate and moved to Phoenix. In high school, he formed a Beatles parody band, the Earwigs. They subsequently changed their name to the Spiders and then to the Nazz, but when they learned that rocker Todd Rundgren led a group by that name, they used a Ouija board to come up with Alice Cooper. 

Hoping to break into the California music scene, they drove to L.A. and met the members of the band GTO (Girls Together Outrageously), who gave them costumes and introduced them to Frank Zappa. He signed them to his record label, and within a few years after that, they were flying around on a private jet whose exterior was emblazoned with their group’s name and a huge snake.

Today Cooper and his band tour six months annually (by July, he will have played 66 concerts in 2022), and they are completing two new albums. Cooper hosts a syndicated radio show, Nights with Alice Cooper. He starred in a 2014 shock-doc, Super Duper Alice Cooper, and in the feature, Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper. He has appeared on TV in The Muppet Show and in such films as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Wayne’s World. In 2011, the Alice Cooper band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Sober since 1983, this recovering alcoholic is now addicted to golf. (In addition to an autobiography called Me, Alice, he has issued a memoir titled Alice Cooper, Golf Monster.) He lives with his wife, Sheryl, in Phoenix, where we caught up with him by video.

Why did you want to be a musician?

[I was] 15 years old and looking for an identity. All of a sudden, here's the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I wanted to make the Rolling Stones look like choir boys compared to what we were going to do. Rock needed a villain. There were all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hook. I would gladly be Captain Hook as long as it had the sense of humor behind it and as long as the music is great.

You changed your own name to the band’s. Why?

I was the lead singer in Alice Cooper and everybody said, "That must be Alice." It was easier to put that name on one person than the whole band. So I said, "OK, I'll be Alice." It took sobriety before I understood how to separate myself from Alice and leave Alice onstage.

And who are you offstage? 

I'm a dad. I have three kids, four grandkids. I've been very happily married 46 years to Sheryl. I found my place with God. It was very important to me to come back to that. I was a prodigal son. 

How have you and Sheryl stayed happily married for so long?

Never marry the person you love. Marry the person you’re in love with, which means they’re as much in love with you as you are with them. Every once in a while, I’ll whisk her off to a cheap motel on a Tuesday afternoon.

How did it feel to be so hated as a band? Did you love that part?

I did. I miss it. Even other bands hated us because we were the future. Other bands had to start doing it. David Bowie came along, and Kiss. Elton John certainly became much more theatrical. Everybody was exploring their personalities and bringing out all these characters.

Jimi Hendrix suggested that Shep Gordon become your manager, even though he had no managing experience. Is it true that your relationship with Shep after more than 50 years is still just based on a handshake?

Yes. We have absolutely no contract. I said to him, "Look, I don't want to know anything about business. I don't want to know what we pay the band. I don't want to know what we make a night. At the end of the year, just tell me how we did." And that was all based on just faith in each other.

Bob Ezrin was really young when he first produced you. What has he contributed most to your music?

When we did Love It to Death [1971], Bob did to us what George Martin did with the Beatles. All of a sudden, we were on the radio. We never expected to have hit records. Very unusual for a band as notorious as we were.

Alice Cooper's private jet for touring
(Photo: Lynn Goldsmith/Getty Images)

Are your show tactics simply a way to drive the audience into a frenzy?

My job is to entertain the audience. If it's a ballad, I want to break their hearts. If it's a scary song, I want to scare the hell out of them. If it's funny, I want them laughing like crazy. I like to keep the audience a little off balance. 

Your first album was Pretties for You

I look at Love It to Death as really being the first Alice Cooper album. Pretties for You [1969] and Easy Action [1970] were written when we were the Nazz. The songs had no direction, which was kind of cool. Frank Zappa loved the fact that we were almost undefinable. 

What's the most frightening experience you've ever had on stage?

I tripped over a wire and fell 12 feet off the stage in Vancouver. I hit my head on the cement and broke six ribs but did six more songs. I had a concussion and was starting to see double, so we had to stop the show. I had to have 28 stitches, but I would have done the rest of the show because adrenaline is much stronger than anything that's wrong. 

You went to rehab twice when you were drinking a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey a day. Why didn't rehab stick the first time?

For a year, I absolutely had no urge to drink. Then one night somebody had a glass of white wine, and I took one sip. By that night, I had two bottles hidden around the house. I had no idea that was a trigger for me.

And the second time?

I was totally cured. I never had another drink or drug. It was a spiritual experience. I was healed, not cured. I really believe God took it away from me.

So many great rock artists have died as a result of substance abuse. What do you think they were all chasing?

The first person who ever handed me a joint was Jimi Hendrix. Janis [Joplin] could drink us under the table, but we had no idea she was doing heroin. Jim [Morrison] was this gentle poet with a great sense of humor, but he had this underlying death wish. Hendrix was a total accident. They should not have put him on his back but on his stomach when he choked. I didn't know Amy [Winehouse], but I knew Kurt Cobain. I think that [self-destructiveness] happens when you've had so much success you don't know where to go from there. 

Maybe they couldn't deal with failure. To me, rock ’n’ roll was a rollercoaster. You had a hit record, and then this [next] record didn't do so good. And then you had a hit record. You better be able to ride the rollercoaster and understand you're not going to always have hit records. In that generation, "live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse" was the creed. Nobody wanted to live past 30.

In the seventies, your band flew on a private jet whose exterior displayed your name in giant letters. Was that the Starship? The same Boeing 720 that Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Deep Purple, the Band, and many other groups leased?

Yeah. Every time your band would take it, it would take on your personality. I think Bob Dylan had it before us. And when we got it, it became the Alice Cooper thing. We had it painted like a snake. When it landed, all the press was there because they wanted to see it. 

You said the plane took on your personality. What was the interior like? 

We decorated it ourselves. I remember there was an awful lot of Playboy magazine foldouts on the walls. There was a poker table and every day a poker game. That poker game was the flight.

After that plane was dismantled, did you rent another one?

We leased a few for certain tours. If you saw the movie Almost Famous, [writer and director] Cameron [Crowe] was on a flight with us. It was a prop jet, and we were playing poker and I look out and one of the engines is on fire. I said, "Price of poker just went up." There's a scene in Almost Famous where everybody starts confessing to each other because they think they're going to die. And then the pilot says, "OK, we're going to land now." And everybody has to sit there and go, "Oh no, what did I say?" When I saw that in the movie, I knew it was our scene.

Would you consider buying your own airplane?

I think all of us could afford that, and that's not a problem. It's how much do you really use it? If I were flying three times a week, I’d say, "Yeah, let's go ahead and get a plane." Johnny Depp had a plane and we took it, which was great. When we got to Europe, we leased our own jet. Any of the [private] jets are really lifesavers because you can jump on, get there, do your thing, fly right back to your show, and not miss anything. It’s really convenient.

If you were going to buy a jet, what would you choose?

I'd have to buy something where the whole family could fit on it, probably a 20-seater, something like a Gulfstream. Not a little one. Get something that's going to accommodate grandkids and kids and family, because why have one if you can't get everybody on it?

Your book, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, opens with “My liver would like to dedicate this book to me for giving up drinking and taking up golf.” What did golf do for you?

I had to find an addiction that wasn't gonna kill me. I thought, How hard could golf be? I asked a pro teacher, “What do I do?" And he said, "Just take it back and hit it." I had a natural swing and hit it right down the middle. It was such a great feeling to watch that ball disappear and then land in the fairway. I was immediately addicted. I took a year off and played 36 holes a day, every single day. 

Alice Cooper
(Photo: Kyler Clark - CerealKyler Photography)

You've said that golf is the ultimate head-game sport where no shot is ever the same, and absolute mastery is impossible. So why did you choose such an impossibly difficult sport as your alternative to drugs?

Because it’s very much like drugs. If you hit a good shot, you would be OK to miss five or six more shots just to hit another good shot. And then Lord help you if you hit five good shots because you're gonna be there the next day. Those five good shots were addictive. The next day you hit six good shots, and all you think about is, "How do I hit seven good shots today?" 

What prompted you to start your nonprofit, the Solid Rock Foundation, in 1995? 

I saw a very awkward drug deal go down between two 16-year-old kids and it came to me, How does that kid not know he could be the best guitar player in town? Because he never picked up a guitar. The other kid could be the best drummer. Solid Rock provides these kids a place to change their life. One of our first success stories was Jordin Sparks, who won American Idol. She started with us when she was 14. It just shows the other kids you can start from nothing and become something really important.

It's known that you have a distaste for discussing politics. Why is that?

When I was a kid, if my parents were talking about who to vote for, I'd go in the other room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. I hate politics. I honestly believe that rock and roll is the antithesis of politics. There are people that I admire—Bono, Springsteen—who aren’t being political but are being humanitarian. I'm never going to go on stage and get political. I just don't think that's my platform at all.

Do you still collect watches

I have a bunch of them. I used to like the old wind-up watches, Hamiltons and Gruens. Then I got into the old Breitling chronographs. But I always wear Shinola because they're made in Detroit, and it's to promote Detroit. 

Do you have any other collections?

Cars. I own a '68 Bullitt Mustang from the movie Bullitt and a '63 Studebaker Avanti that belonged to a Soviet spy who was busted in this car. I've got a new Corvette; an Aston-Martin with a little plate that says, "Engineered in England for James Bond"; and a '65 [Corvette] Stingray. I like the Detroit muscle, and that's where I'm from. My next car, I think, is going to be a '34 or '33 Ford that'll be totally tricked out.

Who’s the most remarkable person you've ever met?

Salvador Dali. The Beatles were the nicest people. Same thing for the Rolling Stones, Sinatra, Elvis Presley. The bigger they were, the nicer they were. It was always the guys on their way up who were jerks because they didn't know how to handle fame. 

What do you have left to do?

I'm working on two albums right now. My mom always said, "If you retire, you expire." Retiring has never been a thought in my mind.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I think on my gravestone it's going to say, "Rock and Roll Ziegfeld," because we brought the big show to rock and roll. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.