The title of Alice Cooper's 2003 recording Hell Is could be a reference to his conversion to Christianity (without losing any of the shocking, musical edge, thank goodness), but the title song "Hell Is Living Without You" is actually a rocker, co-written with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. This disc kept Cooper a viable force in the new millennium, and Rhino Records' 2002 release of a remastered The Essentials and vintage Welcome to My Nightmare ensured that a new generation would come to appreciate the music of the "master of shock rock."
Detroit-born, Phoenix-raised Vincent Furnier formed a group in the early 60s called the Earwigs. By 1965 their name had changed to the Spiders and then the Nazz (no relation to Todd Rundgren's band of the same name). Both the Spiders and Nazz played at local dances and recorded singles that were moderately popular regionally. In 1968, the Nazz changed its name to Alice Cooper, reportedly due to Furnier's belief that he was the reincarnation of a seventeenth-century witch of that name.
The name Alice Cooper was also attached to Furnier, who invented an androgynous, outrageously attired persona to attract attention. Drawing equally from horror movies, vaudeville, heavy metal, and garage rock with a touch of psychedelia, the group created a stage show that featured electric chairs, guillotines, fake blood, and huge boa constrictors, all coordinated by the heavily made-up Furnier. In 1969, the Alice Cooper Band found a kindred spirit in Frank Zappa, who signed them to his new Straight Records label. They recorded two albums, Pretties For You and Easy Action, before switching to Straight's parent label, Warner Brothers Records, in 1970.
In 1971, "Eighteen" was their first single to reach the US charts, at number 21. Cooper's commercial breakthrough came the following year with the rebellious "School's Out" single and album, both of which made the US Top 10. A streak of bestselling albums followed: the US and UK chart-topping Billion Dollar Babies, then Muscle Of Love, Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits and Welcome To My Nightmare, all of which reached the US Top 10. The last was his first true solo album following the dissolution of the band, and Cooper officially adopted the Alice Cooper name as his own.
He became a media darling, playing golf and appearing on television talk shows, as well as developing a strong friendship with Groucho Marx, with whom he planned a television series. The late 70s saw him appearing in movies such as Sextette and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In 1978, Cooper admitted to chronic alcoholism and entered a New York hospital for treatment. From The Inside, with songs co-written by Bernie Taupin, reflected on the experience.
After Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, his career began to slip, but he made a successful comeback in the late 80s due to his appearances in horror films and the emergence of pop-metal bands who paid homage to his early music. His 1989 recording Trash, featuring members of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, went platinum. Cooper's iconic stature as a heavy metal pioneer was immortalized by his appearance in Wayne's World, where Wayne and Garth kneel before him, proclaiming "We're Not Worthy." His duet with Rob Zombie on "Hands Of Death (Burn Baby Burn)' from 1996's Songs In The Key Of X album was nominated for a Grammy award.