Paul Stanley, from ‘chunky’ kid to fit KISS rocker

Paul Stanley of KISS, in his home gym, calls his workout "sport-specific training" for his tours.
Paul Stanley of KISS, in his home gym, calls his workout “sport-specific training” for his tours.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The “Starchild” outfit Paul Stanley wears as frontman for KISS is a revealing one. That’s why I chose it for Halloween a couple of years back. I wanted to showcase the efforts of my diet and exercise regimen. I got the hair wrong.

And at 61 years of age, Stanley can’t let himself go and still rock out to arenas full of screaming fans. As one of the hardest working bands in rock ‘n’ roll, he has a reputation to maintain — one he won’t let age tarnish. I’ve seen how lively KISS performances are up close and understand his dedication to fitness to keep the fans on their feet for the band’s Monster world tour.

Were you always such a fit guy?


The only exercise I got as a kid was fork to mouth. Food was equated with love in my household. I thought you left the table when the zipper was down and you’d explode if you took another bite. I’d eat my plate and then everyone else’s leftovers.

I was a chubby boy. My pants used to wear out in the middle, and it was because my legs used to rub together. I wasn’t obese, just chunky.

That doesn’t sound at all like the Paul Stanley we’ve seen on stage. What changed?

Even when the band started, I was chunkier, and the wide belt I used to wear on stage was a bit of a corset. Over the years that became unnecessary. I couldn’t do what I started doing onstage without “leaning out” because the physicality of it was akin to an aerobic workout. This was coupled with a mystery virus in the early ‘70s that laid me up for a month and I barely ate. When that was over, I looked in the mirror and was pretty lean, and it had been a life dream of mine. And I decided to hang on to it.

With your revealing stage attire, I assume vanity plays a role in your fitness motivation.

I had heard some women make comments about my chest, so why not show it off? Nobody wants to see a fat guy in tights. That wouldn’t be fair to the fans. It’s not vanity as much as common sense. I think vanity in some degree is a great incentive. Taking pride in oneself shouldn’t be seen as detrimental. We should try to look our best, because the road to looking our best is one that involves being healthy. When I look my best I’m also feeling my best.

So what is the Paul Stanley workout?

Core strengthening is key to everything. It’s not just about the way I look but about stabilizing my body so I can perform better on stage. My workout is exhausting; I do a lot of hill climbing, a lot of abdominal work and crunches, upper-body weights, but light with high reps — I never wanted to bulk up. I also do jumping jacks and jump rope 500 times, and if I missed one make myself start over. It’s sport-specific training for jumping around on stage. You have to prepare. You don’t want to find out you’re out of shape when you’re about to get into the ring with the champ.

But when I’m on tour, the tour is the workout. My boots weigh 30 pounds. I’m running around and kicking with 15 pounds on each leg. We do at least four shows a week, and the days off are recuperation time.

And those stage performances have done some damage, haven’t they?

What I do has taken its toll. I’ve had both my rotator cuffs surgically repaired. They’re all similar to sport injuries. I’ve torn my meniscus in both knees and had a hip replacement. This is all from on-stage performances. It’s like doing a triathlon with a guitar around my neck. You have to jump, sing, swing your arm and play the right chord. With that combination, anything can go wrong. I used to jump up in the air and land on my knees. It didn’t hurt then, but it does now.