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The Long Kiss Goodbye: The Search for Vinnie Vincent

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Due to waning general interest in hair-metal, Vincent left Los Angeles in the mid-Nineties, following the shifting stylistic winds to Nashville, where he hoped to land songwriting work and session gigs. At around the same time, Vincent began participating in Kiss Expo fan conventions as a way to earn some money. He'd sign autographs, pose for photographs and sell merchandise. The re-connection with the Kiss universe also paid-off personally: At a Chicago convention in 1995, Vincent met Diane Kero, a longtime fan of the band and one of Frehley's ex-girlfriends. The two married the following year.

According to veteran Kiss expo organizer Phil Elliott, he and two European promoters fronted Vincent more than $20,000 in early 1996 to headline a series of conventions in Atlanta and throughout Europe. The guitarist used that cash to re-launch his career. He readied Euphoria, a four-song EP that he self-released on his own label, Metaluna Records, that spring. The effort, he told fans, offered a preview of the impending full-length, Guitarmageddon, which he described in a fanzine as "the definitive guitar record."

Photos of Kiss' Long Road to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Vincent began telling convention goers that Guitarmageddon would be available in late 1996. Both Elliott and multiple fan reports on message boards suggest he also started taking pre-orders — charging between $120 and $300 each — for a career-spanning cassette box set dubbed The Vinnie Vincent Archives. It appeared that Vincent's music career was getting back on track, and he worked out another deal to ride on a bus with Kiss fans to different Expos. But things went awry. Vincent told Elliott he felt increasingly unsafe about making public appearances and feared a deranged fan might shoot him. Elliott remembers him saying, "I need an armed bodyguard. Look what happened to John Lennon." The event promoters balked at the demands. In return, Vincent threatened to renege his contract and cancel his appearances. Elliott pleaded for him not. He says he told told the guitarist, "Vinnie, if you were to leave like you're threatening to, not only will you destroy your career, but nobody will ever touch you with a ten-foot pole ever again."

Vincent's reply? "It's nothing personal."

In 1997, Vincent made one of his final public appearances in Nashville. He held a press conference to announce his latest lawsuit against his former bandmates. He claimed Simmons and Stanley had pressured him to sign an "unconscionable contract" that would have cut his salary to a mere $1,000 per week and made him stay in hotels full of "addicts and prostitutes." He also demanded additional unpaid royalties. The erstwhile Aknh Warrior began to see himself as a cautionary tale, telling reporters at the press conference: "I don't want the kids out there with dreams of becoming another Vinnie Vincent, or Kiss, or any band they idolize, to fall victim to the music business." He said, "I don't want their dreams to turn into nightmares."

Former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent poses for a police mugshot after being arrested on suspicion of assault.
RCSD/Splash News

On the evening of May 22nd, 2011, Vinnie Vincent's wife, Diane Cusano, walked into the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 15 miles from her Smyrna home. She smelled of alcohol and was covered in blood. She told the on-duty deputy that her husband had slapped her face, grabbed her hair, dragged her through shattered glass and, as she tried to escape from their property, repeatedly hurled her to the ground. According to police, the two had been arguing over a conversation Vincent had had with another woman.

Working on an arrest warrant, a fleet of squad cars arrived at Vincent's home. As a precautionary measure, Rutherford County deputies closed off the subdivision and requested SWAT backup. After refusing to answer his door for hours, Vincent was finally led away by the police. The cops charged the one-time Kiss hero with aggravated domestic assault. He spent the night in jail and was released on $10,000 bond the following morning.

Upon entering Vincent's home, authorities found four dead dogs in sealed containers. His wife told police that some of their larger, more aggressive dogs had attacked and killed these smaller ones. Vincent told local authorities the same thing, adding that he had rescued 20 dogs from abusive situations and that bad weather had delayed their burials. No animal cruelty charges were filed.

In a statement released after the arrest, Vincent urged, "Please don't believe everything you read. I would never hurt anyone - ever. What has been reported is an absolutely inaccurate depiction of the events that occurred that evening. When it's time, the truth will be known." 

Vincent agreed to attend anger management therapy and stay out of trouble, thus avoiding a potential courtroom battle and possible prison time. In return, the local judge expunged the incident from the public record.

Prior to the blowout, Cusano kept to himself and — aside from the occasional pear-tree dispute — lived in relative seclusion. One neighbor, speaking only under conditions of anonymity, said that "I thought originally it was just two women [living at Vincent's home] because of the way he dressed. It was very incognito." When the resident found out his neighbor was not, in fact, a woman but a solitude-seeking rock god, he remeberings thinking, "I was like, 'Really?!'"

Aside from the rare, futile fan pilgrimage, there were few clues that the man living beyond the tall walls and padlocked gates had a noteworthy past.

"He made a complete life change," says the Rascals' Cavaliere, a fellow Connecticut-to-Tennessee transplant. "I maybe saw him once, if at all. He just kind of disappeared."

Not quite. While Vincent aggressively avoided public contact of the flesh-and-blood variety, he still loosely maintained an online lifeline to his intensely devoted fan base, intermittently interacting with them via multiple activated, then deactivated, Facebook accounts and in the "Description" field of the videos on his YouTube account. He's also participated in conversations on Vinnie Vincent fan forums, and allegedly created fake user names and online personas to steer the discussion about him in different, more flattering directions. 

"To all of the 'truly genuine' friends and fans," Vincent wrote in 2011, "who sent me their heartfelt messages of support and love during my hurting time, I will answer each of you. I ask that you give me some time. I will see u all on the board." (Vincent launched an "authorized" "Double V" fan forum. An annual membership costs $500.)

Promoter Elliott says Diane Cusano largely supported Vincent through her work for a Nashville realtor. Vincent also tried to earn money through merchandise sales on his website. He hired two different guitar luthiers to build an "Official Vinnie Vincent Model Guitar," offering them for as much as $12,000 through guitar reps at the 2011 National Association of Music Merchants show in Anaheim, California. Additionally, throughout the last decade, Vincent continued to engage in legal skirmishes with Kiss over royalties and the use of his image. His claims grew so frivolous that one judge reprimanded Vincent for pursuing them at a trial and ordered him to pay the band $81,000 in damages and legal expenses. At the 2013 Kiss Expo, Gene Simmons told Kiss fans that Vincent had recently brought forward his 15th lawsuit against him and Stanley.

"It's a shame," lamented Simmons, still being asked about Vincent all these years later. "He's talented beyond most people that you'd meet, but you get to sleep in the bed you make." 

In January 2014, Diane Cusano passed away due to conditions stemming from chronic alcoholism. She was 47-years-old. Not long after, several neighbors report seeing movers pack up boxes on Vincent's property.

Standing in his driveway, Drew Waldron, a longtime neighbor, pointed to the nearby house, once surrounded by floodlights. "Those aren't on anymore," he says. Vincent is gone.

Max Blau

Vinnie Vincent's fans and former bandmates have different theories about his current whereabouts: He might be in Nashville, with family in Connecticut, or with some sympathetic female Kiss fan. Wherever he's gone, believes Phil Elliott, Vincent will make his presence known once the bills start to pile up. 

"I don't know how he's going to stay afloat," Elliott says. "When he's desperate enough, he'll come out of the woodwork." 

It's hard to imagine a situation in which Vincent would not choose to keep his connection to the music world and his fans strictly online, mostly one-way and entirely out of sight, if never truly out of mind. As Robert Fleischman — like so many alienated by Vincent long ago — puts it: "If he wants to be left alone we should leave him alone. I just don't think he really wants to be left alone."

If Vincent does resurface, digitally or otherwise, what kind of reception he'll receive when he does is anyone's guess. He drew the ire of some fans when he failed to issue refunds for pre-orders from his website. Some customers even threatened him with a lawsuit for alleged fraud for selling a product, The Vinnie Vincent Archives, which he never intended to deliver. As a sop, they received letters from Vincent's Metaluna Records, likely a one-man operation at this point, apologizing for the lengthy delay in sending out the compilation. Those apology letters came with a sales offer for a guitar pick used by Vincent on the "Creatures of the Night" tour. The asking price was $1,000.

On VVForums.com, rumors still swirl that Vincent will take part in celebrating the Kiss legacy he helped create, whether by acknowledging the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony or through some other, more idiosyncratic means. That idea that he might show up is certainly delusional, but it's also sweetly optimistic — the Kiss Army still loves the Ankh Warrior, and as anyone who knows anything about Vinnie Vincent can tell you, stranger things have happened. 

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