At the 2001 licensing show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, among the wandering Pokémon and Sesame Street characters, something of an anomaly lurked, right in plain sight. KISS bassist Gene Simmons was there to plug the latest in a long line of authorized and licensed merchandise from the band. Not a toy, not a set of bedsheets, but the first-ever fully endorsed coffin.
The waterproof, deceased human storage unit was officially dubbed the KISS Kasket. According to Simmons, it could double as a drink cooler until the owner departed from this mortal plane.
“It serves two purposes,” Simmons said. “You can have your last ride with your favorite band. But while you’re living, you can have a cold one.”
KISS and Make-Up
It’s no stretch to state KISS may be the most commoditized rock band in the history of music. Not even The Beatles and their myriad of box sets can compete with the sheer tonnage of KISS merchandise out there, much of it using their on-stage iconography to great effect.
It’s quite a feat when you realize the band could barely give their early albums away. Formed in 1973, KISS was originally comprised of lead singer Paul Stanley, bassist Simmons, guitarist Ace Frehley, and drummer Peter Criss. (Simmons and Stanley had tried forming earlier groups like Wicked Lester to no apparent effect.) Their first three albums (Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill) were underwhelming, failing to crack the top of the sales charts.
The problem was that KISS was first and foremost a live experience. Clad in kabuki-style make-up and outfits considered outlandish even by rock standards, the band literally breathed fire and spat stage blood; Criss rode a harness 10 feet in the air during drum solos. The energy in concert was hard to replicate on a studio album, which is why Neil Bogart, CEO of the band’s label Casablanca Records, had the idea to record a live album, complete with screaming fans and banter between songs.
It worked. Recorded and released in 1975, KISS Alive! spent 110 weeks on the Billboard chart, ultimately selling over 9 million copies. The KISS Army, as fans were known, enlisted in massive numbers. And thanks to their distinctive comic book look, KISS seized the opportunity to market more than just records.
A Marvel comic—printed with a few drops of their blood—was a smash success. So were the KISS make-up kits, toys, and apparel. In the ‘70s, KISS’s licensing program was second only to Star Wars. At one point, Simmons figured KISS merchandise had brought in about $500 million.
Not all of the band’s ideas worked. A 1978 made-for-television movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, was a critical flop. A 1999 feature film, Detroit Rock City, didn’t fare much better. But KISS die-hards could always be relied upon to scoop up whatever licensing efforts the band pursued.
Then someone had the idea to pursue a new KISS demographic: dead people.
Dead in Concert
Simmons debuted the coffin at the Licensing 2001 International trade show in New York City. And while he was forever the KISS salesman, even Simmons agreed this was a step beyond. “The idea was a little bit morbid,” he told MTV in 2001. “Obviously, caskets are all about death, and they’re not reusable. It’s a no-deposit, no-return policy. So I came up with the bright notion that if death was so awful, why not celebrate life? In other words, why not have a daily use for the caskets? Why not watch your favorite ball game on TV, invite your friends over and open the Kasket to get a drink?”
The KISS Kasket, with a suggested price of $4700, launched in 2001 via the band’s official website. “The KISS Kasket is completely covered with a specially laminated photomural that features the KISS logo and the images of the band members,” the ad copy read. “The words ‘KISS Forever’ are imprinted on the side of the casket. In addition, KISS Kasket can also be used as a Giant KISS Cooler, enabling fans and their friends to enjoy ice-cold sodas and beer served directly from the ice-filled, completely waterproof KISS Kasket. The KISS Kasket is autographed and signed.” (Unsigned, the coffin ran between $3300 to $3900.)
Naturally, the KISS Kasket was targeted at those looking for the ultimate novelty item for their collections, though it appeared to be perfectly suitable for submerging in dirt. Nor were “fun” coffins unheard of: A casket for golfers emblazoned with the slogan “Fairway to Heaven” sold 800 units nationally as of 2001. Whitelight, maker of the KISS coffin, also made a box for NASCAR fans. Another casket was designed to resemble the interior of a Cadillac. KISS even issued an urn for those preferring cremation.
But did anyone actually buy a KISS Kasket? Sort of. In 2004, onetime Pantera co-founder “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was murdered by a disturbed fan during a show in Columbus, Ohio. A devout KISS fan, Abbott had requested in his will that he be buried in a KISS Kasket. (Pantera had once opened for KISS in 1997.) Simmons donated the prototype to Abbott’s family.
In 2018, Abbott’s brother, musician Vinnie Paul Abbott, died at age of 54 of natural causes. At the family’s request, he was also laid to rest in a KISS Kasket, once again donated by Simmons and Paul Stanley. By this point, the coffin was being made by Nashville Casket Sales, who had picked up the license. (Another company, Eternal Image, had produced two KISS coffins in 2011.)
Ace Frehley was asked about the Vinnie Paul funeral on The Cassius Morris Show in 2020. After admitting the KISS Kasket was a product that had made him cringe a bit, Frehley said the service felt slightly odd. “Vinnie Paul was buried in a KISS coffin, and I had to make a little speech outside at the cemetery, and it was weird,” he said. “Vinnie was inside this box and my face was on it.”
Not every decedent looking for the KISS experience opts for the fully licensed version. In 2017, KISS fan Kenny Miller of Newfoundland asked to be buried in a KISS-themed coffin, which was customized with a KISS Army logo and flames on the exterior. Miller also received a call from Simmons, as per one of his final wishes.
Nashville Casket Sales recently produced a Ghostbusters casket designed to resemble the Ecto-1, complete with the Ghostbusters logo and the Eco-1 license plate. Inside, the visages of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson smile down upon the occupant for eternity. Made to promote Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it’s still available on eBay for $5000.
They still offer the KISS Kasket too, which is said to be made from 20-gauge steel with a “bad ass” interior adorned in black velvet.