BILL AUCOIN, 66

Bill Aucoin | Kiss manager took guys in jeans and makeup to hard-rocking fame

 

The former TV producer took four guys in jeans and makeup from musical obscurity to acclaim and fortune.

ebrecher@MiamiHerald.com

In a PBS interview last year, Bill Aucoin talked about leaving his behind-the-scenes career in network television to manage one of the most recognizable rock bands in history: Kiss.

``I don't have a fear of doing something everyone doesn't believe in,'' Aucoin said. ``With Kiss, people I worked with in TV said, `Don't worry; Bill will get past this. Just let him do his little thing with this makeup band. He'll come back and start directing again.' ''

He didn't.

Starting in 1973, Aucoin managed Kiss into stardom, not just as an act but as a brand. In 1978 alone, the band made $121 million, according to Aucoin's business partner, Michael Weinflash -- and $55 million from Kiss-related merchandise.

Aucoin, of Hallandale Beach, died Monday at Aventura Hospital. He was 66.

Roman Fernandez, his companion of 15 years, said Aucoin suffered from prostate cancer, and succumbed to surgical complications.

Hours later, original Kiss band mates Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had flown in from Belgium to console Fernandez at the couple's ``second home'': Le Tub, the burgers-and-beer joint on the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood.

``We always sat at Water 1, the first table on the water,'' Fernandez said. ``Bill liked to smoke his cigars.''

By the time they got there, Sea Breeze cocktails and margaritas were on the table.

``They were like part of the staff,'' said manager John Quinn.

``We've caused some damage at Le Tub,'' Fernandez acknowledged. ``Food fights, nudity, mayhem. We just happen to be in the circle of people who do things like that.''

They'd ride around in an open convertible, he said, and wonder aloud if they weren't ``the luckiest people alive.''

THE BAND'S TRIBUTE

On Tuesday, Kiss' website featured a tribute to Aucoin, who couldn't have looked less like the ``crazy rock 'n' roll guy'' Fernandez says he was: a balding redhead with a trimmed mustache in a pinstripe dress shirt and wire-rim glasses.

Simmons and Stanley called him ``our irreplaceable original manager, mentor and dear friend [who] was instrumental in guiding us from the beginning, and without his vision, leadership and unending dedication, we could never have scaled the heights we have reached.''

Former Kiss drummer Peter Criss called Aucoin ``the fifth Kiss'' in an interview with the Associated Press. ``If it wasn't for Bill, there would be no Kiss. He was a genius. Anything you could do, he could do bigger.''

William Martin Aucoin grew up in Ayer, Mass., where his father ran a restaurant.

Fascinated by broadcasting, he built a radio station in the basement when he was 14. It had a range of two miles, and carried ads from local merchants according to a newspaper account of the station's demise.

``He was chased down by the [Federal Communications Commission],'' Fernandez said. In lieu of a $100,000 fine and/or three years in jail, ``he had to take down the antenna.''

While working toward a bachelor's degree in business administration at Northeastern University, Aucoin apprenticed at WGBH, Boston's PBS affiliate.

He stayed on after graduation before going to New York, where his work as a director/cinematographer ran the sublime-to-ridiculous gamut from a Barbra Streisand special, a documentary on President John F. Kennedy, and Julia Child's The French Chef -- to Supermarket Sweep, which featured contestants racing the aisles of a grocery store, flinging items into their carts.

Aucoin also created a short-lived NBC show called Flipside, which followed pop stars like Stevie Wonder and John Lennon into the studio.

ENTER GENE SIMMONS

Simmons, then an unknown New York rocker, loved it, and pestered Aucoin into checking out his band. The musicians wore studded black jeans and black-and-white makeup: an early version of their famous Kiss faces.

A week later, Aucoin signed on as the band's manager.

He said in the interview that he told the band: `` `If I can't get you a deal in 30 days, you can decide to leave me or you can stay and we'll work together.' Well, I got the Casablanca [record label] deal in 30 days, and that was kind of the beginning of it.''

He financed the band's first tour with his American Express card. Three years later, Kiss hit it big with Rock and Roll All Nite.

Criss told the AP that Aucoin had an eye for what was visually striking, and was quick to recognize the band's merchandising potential, which extended to belt buckles, Halloween costumes, makeup kits, action figurines, vitamins and a Kiss pinball machine.

Aucoin and Kiss parted ways in 1982, amicably, over ``creative differences,'' said Weinflash, a partner in Aucoin Globe Entertainment in New York. ``He didn't want them to take off their makeup. He'd spent years getting their faces trademarked in the Library of Congress.''

Aucoin went on to manage Billy Idol, Billy Squier, Lordi, Crossbreed, Nothing Rhymes with Orange, Evan Russell Saffer, The Early Strike, and Dreaming in Stereo, and Tantric.

``He had enormous success in the '70s and '80s, and he really enjoyed his fortune and his life,'' Weinflash said. He took a break in the '90s, then returned ``a couple of years ago when the music industry was in shambles. He decided he was the one to go for it,'' and launched Aucoin Globe in 2007.

Fernandez and Aucoin met in 1994, when Fernandez, then a Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School graduate in his 20s, was playing bass with the Derek Cintron Band.

Within a year, they were a couple.

In addition to Fernandez, Aucoin is survived by sisters Betty Britton, of Rhode Island, and Janet Bankowski, of Virginia.

Loved ones are planning a private celebration of his life. He was cremated.

Read more Obituaries - Broward stories from the Miami Herald

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