Born in Israel under the name Chaim Witz, Gene Simmons relocated to Brooklyn at the age of 9 with his mother, a Hungarian immigrant and the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Once in the States his name was changed to the more American-sounding Gene Klein, and he struggled to advance his understanding of English through watching television and reading comics.
During his school years, he developed an interest in horror and science fiction, for a while even publishing his own comics fanzine; but the Beatles phenomenon inspired a stronger urge to become a musician, and in 1967 he secured a second hand guitar from his mother to realize his ambitions. Participation in a series of different bands followed, amongst which were The Missing Links and The Long Island Sounds.
After high school Simmons enrolled in college and began working towards a degree in education, performing at night as a member of Bullfrog Bheer and later in the folk duo Coffee. A period was spent as a teacher in Spanish Harlem and then as a personal assistant for the editor of Vogue, but by this time he had met Paul Stanley and, after a series of unsuccessful attempts, the two founded Kiss in 1973. It was at this point that he adopted the name Gene Simmons.