When Kim Fowley succumbed after a long battle with cancer Jan. 15 at age 75, the world lost a true musical legend. The writer, recording artist, producer, manager and Svengali had a five-decade-plus career in which he went from the novelty songwriter of “Alley Oop” to working with a range of successful artists including Van Halen, Cat Stevens, Kiss, Steppenwolf, Motley Crue, Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Warren Zevon, Gene Vincent, Helen Reddy, Alice Cooper and even Hanson. (Yes, that Hanson.)
His greatest creation is long thought to be the 1970s all-girl group The Runaways, including Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie.
But Kim Fowley was not without his detractors. Many viewed him as a hedonistic, abusive sociopath who trolled Hollywood’s underbelly, satisfying his own carnal needs and desires with no regard for others. In the big-screen biopic “The Runaways,” based on Miss Currie’s book, Mr. Fowley, portrayed in the film by Michael Shannon, comes across as an appalling monster.
But love him or hate him, there was no denying Mr. Fowley’s talents and abilities to create captivating music.
I didn’t meet Kim Fowley until 2013, when mutual friends suggested I interview him for a national magazine. They told me he had a terminal illness and wanted his story to be told in all its gory glory.
“This is Kim Fowley. I’m bored and dying,” he told me over the phone. “Come interview me. Don’t wait. Cancer is eating me.”
My photographer and I traveled to his dingy West Hollywood apartment. Mr. Fowley had advanced bladder cancer and was, by all accounts, on his deathbed. There in all his glory was a bedridden Kim Fowley, clothed only in a T-shirt and adult diaper with a colostomy bag in full view. After about 35 minutes of standard Q&A, I thanked Mr. Fowley for his time and planned to leave, but he was having none of it.
“You’re not leaving. Use that alleged high IQ of yours and ask me more questions. Do you realize this is your only chance? You can leave after 25 solid questions. Do it!” he barked at me.
I could have left easily, but he was charming and captivating. In the two hours that followed, he gave me the greatest interview I’ve ever had. Raw, unabashed, unfiltered. Brilliant.
I got updates from time to time on his deteriorating condition. Late last year, there was a burst of great news when he married longtime girlfriend Kara Wright. He had found true love at last — the one thing he never knew he wanted in his entire life.
On Thursday, I was among the 300 invited guests at Mr. Fowley’s memorial, held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. The crowd, which looked like something out of Central Casting, comprised a mishmash of rock ‘n’ rollers, dozens of underweight, hat-wearing hipsters, former music business associates, aging rock scenesters and a slew of goth girls. All there to pay tribute to him.
Among the rabble and Sunset Strip refugees were some bona fide stars including Kim’s greatest student, former Runaway Joan Jett, glam rock god Michael Des Barres, Mr. Des Barres’ ex-wife Pamela — the so-called “queen of the groupies” — and LA radio icon Rodney Bingenheimer.
Missing were big-name rockers Kiss, Alice Cooper and the other members of The Runaways.
Miss Jett was the first to speak about her mentor and friend, recounting their early days. “Kim and I shared a dream,” she said, “a sweaty rock ‘n’ roll dream.” She told tales of raw talent and determination harnessed and focused by Mr. Fowley.
Miss Jett ended by crediting Mr. Fowley for her solo career, saying, “My success was a vindication of not only me but Kim as well.”
“Kim made you feel like you were the most important person in the world,” Mr. Des Barres said. “And if you were willing to follow the specific discipline outlined by him, you would become a success. He was a starmaker.”
Of Mr. Fowley’s career, Mr. Des Barres added, “His greatest production was not the music he made with Kiss or Alice Cooper. It wasn’t The Runaways. Kim Fowley’s greatest production was Kim Fowley. Kim Fowley died with love in his heart. I hope you are all able to do the same.”
A video of Mr. Fowley’s impressive music career followed. Many were moved to tears. I even choked up a bit, which was odd based on the fact that I had known Kim for less than a few months total and met him just the one time. I wondered why I was attending the funeral of a man I met once and barely knew, but the answer is simple: Kim Fowley told me to be there.
The last time I spoke with him was just after our interview was published. He called me and said, in a dry, matter-of-fact tone, “Well done. Just the right amount of venom.”
I thanked him and made some uncomfortable small talk until he cut me off. “Listen, when this is over, I want you to come to my funeral.” When I asked why, he said, “to report to all my enemies that the monster is dead. Let those who hated me know that they’re finally rid of me.”
“What about those who loved you?” I asked.
He let out a long cough, followed by, “I don’t imagine there will be many people there who loved me. No one will care. No one will remember me.”
Just like that, our connection was gone. And now so is he.
As I walked from the packed chapel, joining the procession of people following the hearse carrying his casket to its final resting place — past the graves of Johnny Ramone and Cecil B. DeMille — I realized that, for the first time in his life, Kim Fowley would have to admit that he was wrong.
Sorry, Kim, you were appreciated. You will be remembered. You will be missed. And, Kim, whether you like it or not, you were loved.
R.I.P., you twisted genius.