There was a time in the not-so-recent past when the biggest band in the world captivated its audience in monochromatic makeup, leather pants and pyrotechnics. This band stomped to the center of the nation’s attention in platforms that were bigger than their actual record sales. To the world, however, the music didn’t matter. They weren’t the Rolling Stones and they didn’t want to be. Instead, they were Coca Cola, Ford Motor Company, Nike and McDonalds. They were KISS.
When KISS toured the U.S during the last half of the 1970s, they went state to state recruiting teenage boys until the nation’s mothers pulled their hair out. Today, KISS doesn’t have fans —they have an army. And as it stands, the KISS Army is almost as notorious as the band itself.
Ponte Vedra local Chris Heighton first saw KISS live when he was 17 in 1978. Today, as a proud member of the KISS Army, Heighton could be said to be “decorated.”
Heighton recently purchased a $2,250 custom-made, not-including-makeup, all-leather, stud-bedazzled and precisely tailored stage costume of Catman, also known by most as KISS band member Peter Criss.
Heighton currently takes his impersonation to the next level, locally touring small venues and private parties for a two-of-a-kind performance of “Beth.” For those uninitiated, “Beth” is the warm glass of milk your grandmother hands you after you rocked and rolled all night (and partied every day).
Surprisingly, Heighton said that Catman is actually the crowd favorite for KISS fans.
“He seems to get more of the applause,” Heighton said, adding, “You know, every woman loves a drummer.”
Perhaps it’s also Peter Criss’ perceived “sensitive nature” that turns a more matured fan’s head. The character does seem to evoke something special in not only the crowd, but in Heighton as well. Something more than 7-inch platforms can conjure.
On April 12, at the Veterans Memorial Arena Farewell Tour, Heighton actually got to attend a KISS concert, his first as a full-fledged Catman-man. This was something he had fantasized about since rocking at his first KISS show.
“It was my moment to shine and I had been waiting for this day for 42 ½ years,” he said. “It was a dream come true.”
Stepping out of the limousine, Heighton took his first wobbly steps as Peter Criss.
“I was immediately greeted by fans,” Heighton said. “I think (they thought I was Peter Criss) or close to it. From the time I got there to the time I got to my seat, I must have taken about a hundred pictures — and then some. Not just adults but children, too. It was amazing. … They thanked me so much.”
One fan in particular Heighton remembers.
“This one girl, bless her heart, she came running up to me saying, ‘Peter Criss! Peter Criss! You're my favorite, I love you!’’
Heighton said he politely explained he wasn’t actually Criss, but she just didn’t care. In her mind he WAS the Catman.
“My heart just melted,” he said.
It turns out, being a celebrity is as easy as having the right digs, and most importantly, owning it in a way that other fans can love. This way not only can Heighton be Peter Criss (if only for a moment), but other fans can feel like they met Peter Criss and was he actually a really nice guy. A real hero who stopped to take pictures with every one of them, listened, and truly enjoyed them.
Maybe the real Peter Criss is actually as nice as a kitten. Only, chances are, there are more fans than moments in the day and many will never have the opportunity to meet him. But, honestly, who is KISS anyway? Criss, whose nine lives can almost be attributed to how many times he’s quit the band, was at one point replaced by Eric Singer (who played Catman since 2001). It’s no secret to their fans or otherwise that the band operates fiscally above all else. What other band will sell you bizarre merchandise such as an “official” Gene Simmons demon tongue pacifier, a leather-clad Mr. Potato Head or, even, a flame-decaled casket? Does it matter? Probably not. Because in a world according to KISS, if it looks like it, sounds like it and acts like it — who really cares?
For anyone interested in booking Chris Heighton for impersonations and performances, email him at ChrisH0459@gmail.com. In addition to his work as Peter Criss, Heighton also covers Buddy Holly and Davey Jones of the Monkees. He also sells his handcrafted Tiki Totems.