Alice Cooper keeps a black Alexander McQueen cane with a solid silver skull in “a very special place” in his house. Of the many canes that have been signature parts of Cooper’s show for decades, it’s this one that’s become the singer’s most sentimental.
“It wasn’t just a cane, but it was a cane that he was actually using before he got into the wheelchair,” Cooper says. “So now, every time I look at that, I can’t help thinking about Kerry.”
“Kerry” is Kerry Simon, the celebrity chef adored by some of the biggest names in rock & roll who died earlier this month at age 60 to the rare neurodegenerative disease multiple system atrophy. The former Iron Chef winner was a wildly successful restaurateur with an empire stretching from South Beach to Los Angeles. In the early Nineties, Rolling Stone dubbed him “The Rock & Roll Chef,” a name that would stick for the rest of his career.
What exactly does Cooper remember about Simon when he looks at that silver cane; and what was it about the young, upstart chef who “looked like he probably played lead guitar in a band somewhere, not like a chef” that not only pulled so many rockers into his orbit, but left many of them mourning his passing?
“He was just comfortable to be with and I think that’s something that rockers look for,” says Cooper. “He just had this natural vibe to him. He seemed more like a guy that would have somehow been involved in music a lot heavier than he was, but I think that’s what appealed to everybody.”
Simon’s allure to musicians even extended to those unfamiliar with his cooking abilities.
“I actually never got to one of his restaurants,” admits Aerosmith‘s Joe Perry, a close friend of Simon’s. “[But] so much of it has to do with who you are outside of your actual talent. You can write a hit song, or your paintings can get recognized, and all the sudden you’re on that next level – but a lot of people change with that. And he did not seem to have that at all, He just seemed to be the same guy. And that’s what made him special.
“There’s a reason they called him the ‘Rock & Roll Chef’,” adds the guitarist. “Somebody like that, you feel like you’ve known him for a while, or you’ve met him before, and that’s the common thing with that rock & roll spirit – and he definitely had that through and through. I felt like I’d known him before.”
Simon forged his first friendships in rock at the end of the 1980s. After having trained as a chef under the illustrious Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Ivana Trump took an interest in him and helped to secure his place as chef of The Edwardian Room inside the glitzy Plaza Hotel. It was here that Simon set up a private chef’s table in the kitchen of the hotel, and invited the rock and roll world to dine with him.
“I put a table in the kitchen, and musicians started eating there. David Crosby, Debbie Harry, some of the Rolling Stones – they all came,” Simon told Esquire last year.
“Kerry’s place was the hangout for rockers,” says Cooper.
For years, Kerry was unstoppable. “His lifestyle was a lot like being in a rock band – always on the move, always doing his thing,” says Perry. “That’s what makes this such a tragedy. Five years ago, he was fine. He was opening restaurants and was at a great time in his career for all the work that he put in to get to that level in your profession – and this thing happened so suddenly. It was almost like a car accident.”
Last year, Simon held a benefit to raise funds and awareness to fight MSA, with rocker friends Slash, Sammy Hagar, Vince Neil and Cooper among those who performed. “The great thing about it was there he was, in the wheelchair, and he’s laughing and having fun, and you can see that he knew he didn’t have much longer, and yet he was still the host of the party – even though he could barely talk,” says Cooper. It would be the last time the two would see each other.
Simon’s death drew sad remembrances and kind words from the many musicians he befriended during his two-and-a-half decade tenure as rock and roll’s chef, including Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson and Rick Nielsen, former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil and INXS’ Jon Farriss.
“Kerry had such an amazing personality,” Farriss tells Rolling Stone. “His warm and gentle soul seemed to only enhance his insanely delicious and stunning recipes. His cool, calm demeanor, genuine kindness, and authentic humor made Kerry easy for stars to hang out with – he was an artist himself. You felt at home and at ease with Kerry. The world will never be the same without him.”