Peter Criss (former Kiss Drummer) and his imposter on the Phil Donahue show 1990- A look back.
Story by contributor Mark St. Vincent
Recently, I stumbled upon some old video cassettes which were music related and as luck had it, I came across a video tape labeled Peter Criss on Phil Donahue. As a KISS fan, this was a true gem to have. In the pre-YouTube days, we didn’t have the luxury of searching videos of our favorite celebs. If we were fortunate to be in front of the television at a particular time, we’d get to see something of importance to us. Oftentimes, however, it went missed. As luck would have it, a blank video tape was at my disposal during the airing of this program, so I captured it. Unfortunately, this interview remains unavailable on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. I did, however, for the purpose of this article, take some snapshots of the segment to include. After watching the interview, and being a KISS fan who has recently read Peter Criss’ autobiography Makeup to Breakup, I wanted to discuss a few points about the entire ordeal which unfolded in front of the world as a result of the initial article written by STAR MAGAZINE.
For those unaware, back in 1990, STAR Magazine stumbled upon a homeless man in Santa Monica, California who bore a slight resemblance to KISS drummer Peter Criss, who had been out of the band, and public life for over a decade. The public was unfamiliar with Peter Criss’ identity without his trademark Catman makeup since leaving the iconic band. When STAR Magazine caught wind that a homeless guy who was identifying himself as Peter Criss from KISS on the Santa Monica Pier, they jumped all over it and ran a story about Peter Criss being broke, homeless and severely ill due to alcoholism. As it turned out, the real Peter Criss was living in Redondo Beach, CA with his then wife, Debra Jenson and daughter Jenilee. He was not homeless and was not suffering (at that time) as a result of alcoholism. before STAR Magazine could get their story straight, out comes a woman (Cheryl Ann Thompson) who claimed she had an affair with the real Peter Criss during the time he was married to his wife Debra. Added to this, upon thinking that the homeless imposter was indeed the real Peter Criss, she flew him out to her home in Boston, Massachusetts, only to quickly learn that it was not the real Peter Criss, leaving her with a sick, homeless imposter. Finally, in a bizarre fashion, opportunist Tom Arnold (formerly married to Rosanne Barr) got involved by trying to help the guy, who turned out to be the imposter, not the real Peter Criss.
Peter Criss appeared on The Phil Donahue show to clear his name in what became a scandal on steroids. He was sitting next to the man who had impersonated him (Chris Dickinson), the wannabe actress (Cheryl Ann Thompson) who claimed to have had an affair with the rock star, her mother and via satellite Tom Arnold. Also in attendance was Peter’s then wife Debra, who stood up to speak with Phil. In an odd twist of irony, Peter’s first wife Lydia Criss phoned in to voice her support for Peter, as did his former manager George Sewitt. Peter immediately cleared his reputation as far as not being homeless by appearing on the show. The matter of the affair, however, is what was intriguing to most. Of course Peter Criss denied any wrong doing by claiming he’d never seen that woman before. He was very animated in his denial and of course the audience ate every second up, supporting Peter and frowning upon Cheryl Ann Thompson, the apparent opportunist who was looking to cash in on Peter (when of course, she thought he was homeless.)
With everyone up to speed on the backstory, I’d like to detail for you, in my humble opinion, why I believe Peter Criss was lying about the alleged affair.
At the top of the show, Peter Criss is introduced to the audience and he comes out to thunderous applause. He’s all smiles and sits down next to the homeless imposter Chris Dickinson. He calmly tells him that he doesn’t blame him for the bad publicity, he blames the STAR MAGAZINE article. He discusses how the story affected him and his family. Sadly, Peter was at his mother’s funeral when he caught wind of the STAR article. He seemed rather calm and very humbled by the ordeal, until he angrily and defensively turned to the girl, Cheryl Ann Thompson and her mother and claimed he’d never seen them in his life. Ms. Thompson had some interesting facts to back her story up, unfortunately she was void of any hard evidence such as photographs or letters. Be that as it may, she did throw a zinger his way by stating that on the night she met him back in 1982, he was at a club called Privates in NYC with Jerry Shirley, the drummer from Humble Pie. Peter denied ever knowing him. That very well may have been the case, but it is possible that she got her Jerry’s mixed up and confused him with Jerry Nolan, the then drummer for the New York Dolls, whom Peter Criss had a close personal friendship with. This is speculation, but not out of the realm of possibility.
Next, Thompson claimed that she had once dated a man named Craig Getch, whom went on to marry Criss’ ex-wife Lydia Criss. Criss questioned in reference to Craig Getch “Who the hell is that?” Claiming that he’d never heard of him or met him in his life. One can only assume that Peter Criss would have been well-aware of the guy his ex-wife had re-married, especially when alimony payments are involved. Not to mention, that it is known that Lydia Criss attended the funeral of Criss’ mother just weeks prior to the taping of this episode. It’s obvious to me, that Criss had quickly stepped in it by his denial of knowing the man whom went on to marry his former wife.
In fact, later on in the program, Lydia Criss phoned in to support Peter by calling Cheryl Ann Thompson a liar. She mentioned her husband Craig Getch several times and it’s rather unbelievable that Peter would be learning about Lydia Criss’ new husband for the first time on Phil Donahue.
Cheryl Ann Thompson stated in her testimony that when she met Peter Criss back in NYC, he was staying in an apartment but she didn’t think it belonged to him. It is a known fact amongst KISS fans that while KISS bassist Gene Simmons was living in Los Angeles with Cher at the time, that he’d let Peter crash at his NYC apartment, so perhaps that was the apartment in question. She also claimed to know about certain markings on his body, to which Peter rather hastily jumped up and opened his shirt to reveal his shamrock tattoo on his chest, much to the delight to cheering audience members, and then he asked “do we all know I have a drum tattoo on my arm?” She claimed he had something else elsewhere on his body but he was dismissive to her and Phil Donahue moved on to the next question. She seemed certain that she could identify another tattoo or birthmark but she wasn’t given the chance to do so.
By this point, Peter was on the defensive, continually speaking over Thompson and her mother, never letting them complete a sentence. He made comical remarks to use the audience to his benefit as they laughed and cheered his statements on. In doing so, the court of public opinion by way of the audience seemed to dampen any chance of her credibility coming to light. At one point, Criss’ then wife, Debra, stood up and voiced her support for her husband and claimed they had never been apart in the 10 years of their marriage. When Cheryl Ann Thompson tried making more points about their alleged affair, Criss grabbed a life preserver by shouting “look at you, then look at my wife. I mean, let’s face it!” This got the audience rolling in their seats and by this point, it was well in the gutter for Ms. Thompson.
Peter’s behavior was that of a man who’s marriage would have been at stake if such an affair was revealed. He desperately tried to keep Ms. Thompson from speaking during the segment and I imagine he was on eggshells the entire interview in hopes that she wouldn’t say anything that would indeed implicate him to the affair.
She may have though, because as many know, Criss’ wife Debra soon divorced Peter and ended up marrying the attorney who represented them in the STAR Magazine lawsuit. What’s interesting, is for anyone who’s read Criss’ autobiography Makeup to Breakup, he touched very little on the situation, even though it was a pivotal point in his life where he emerged from seclusion and re-entered public life once again. He spoke slightly about the homeless man who impersonated him, but glossed over the alleged affair entirely. He did, however, talk in great detail over his wife Debra’s infidelities and drug use during the course of their marriage. The two of them appeared as though they were Ozzy and Harriet on the Donahue show, but in reality, they didn’t like one another, and she couldn’t be bothered to be with him at his mother’s funeral. This is all according to Criss’ own words in his autobiography.
So this all leads me to believe that Peter Criss had indeed cheated on his wife. Perhaps not only with this girl who unfortunately emerged as a result of the homeless imposter. He was after all, a member of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Even though he was a former member, women would be still throwing themselves at him and the opportunities were probably always there. Had he acted upon them, most of them would more than likely never come back to bite him on the ass. It was this unfortunate set of circumstances in which all the stars aligned poorly for Criss. A family funeral, an imposter who gained nationwide coverage and a former lover who tried cashing in on helping, who she thought, was her old flame Peter Criss. If the cat has nine lives, he’d better take stock, because he’s got to be running pretty low at this point. (Mark St. Vincent)