On Monday Night, November 25, 1991, an obituary came over the AP wire “Kiss Drummer Eric Carr has died of complications brought on by cancer. Carr joined Kiss in 1980 after the departure of original drummer Peter Criss, and recorded 8 albums with the band including last year’s ‘Hot in the Shade.’ Carr had suffered several setbacks since having a malignant tumor removed from his heart earlier this year. He was 41.”
I ended up reading this obituary 3 times to make sure it said what I thought it said. Eric Carr had passed away. You see, a few months back I had a chance to speak with Eric. At the time he had just gotten out of the hospital the day before. He had open heart surgery to remove a malignant tumor. Carr was recovering and was very cheery and optimistic about his future.
The following is my conversation with Eric in it’s entirety. We laughed, talked about what he was going through, and shared some dreams.
AM: Hey, Eric. How are you feeling? You’ve been through a lot the past few weeks haven’t you?
EC: I don’t even no where to begin. I’m feeling a lot better now. Let me see how I can explain everything. The week after Valentine’s Day (‘91) I got real sick. High fevers, coughing, the whole bit. I thought I had the flu. The following Saturday I went and had a chest x-ray because I thought I might have pneumonia. The x-ray was fine as far as my lungs were concerned, but it showed my heart cavity was enlarged. I was sent to a cardiologist and he did an echocardiogram and found that there was fluid around my heart. As it turns out, I just found out today it wasn’t fluid, it was blood. Fluid can build up in this area, due to a virus or infection, so it was assumed that was what it was. I’ll explain to you what happened. Do you really want to here this? (snickering)
AM: Yeah, believe it or not, it’s sounds…(searching for the right word)…interesting.
EC: You asked for it. It’s a good story - tales from the dark side. He treated me for the fluid around my heart. I started taking some medicine and little by little I was getting better. After about 3 weeks I felt great. Still a little short of breath and I was still coughing up some blood every now and then. I went back for another echo. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything that I was going to have to tell the rest of the band about before we started recording the album. When I had the echo the fluid was almost gone at that point so the picture was really clear. The doctor was able to see what he thought he had seen on the first echo, but didn’t tell me about because he wasn’t sure. There was a tumor inside the right atrium of my heart. The part of it we were able to see at this point was about the size and shape of a person's pinky finger. It was flipping back and forth, in and out of the tricustis valve as it was opening and closing. For the next week or so it was test after test. We found out there were spots all over my lungs which we assumed were pieces of this thing breaking off. Finally we set up a date for surgery there was no way around it. The guys wanted me to come out to L.A. and do it so that they could be near me, but I went through so much shit trying to get everything together here in N.Y. that there was no way I could do it in L.A. When I went in to surgery I knew that there was more to it than just the pinky sized portion, that there was a larger mass that it was attached to. When I saw my surgeon again Sunday night, he told me that most of the atrium wall on that side was infected with this tumor including one of my coronary arteries. So all of that had to be cut away. They had to then resect with a piece of pericardium around the heart. So they got rid of everything and slapped me back together. I had the surgery Tuesday morning and I was out till Thursday on life support. By Thursday afternoon I was up walking around and Friday I felt great. I was just sore from the incision.
AM: That’s great. I’m glad you are doing so well.
EC: I am doing well. I should have went home Monday. But I had to finish up some paper work and stuff so I got home from the hospital yesterday. Barring any other complications, any other findings in my lungs, it’s all out, I feel fine, I should be able to play soon. In about three weeks or so I’m going to start practicing again and just ease myself back into it.
AM: It sounds like you got a real lesson in cardiology through all of this.
EC: I really learned a lot. I hope I didn’t confuse you to much (laughing). This is cool, I just found out today that they can’t figure out what this tumor is. In the past week they’ve sent pieces of it all over the country and they can’t figure out what it is. They are still trying to analyze it a week later. It gets better. I also just found out that it’s rare that this was on the right side of my heart rather than the left. If this same tumor was on the left side, with pieces of it breaking off it would have gone straight to my brain, rather than my lungs, and probably killed me and at least paralyzed me. So I’m really lucky that it was on the side it was. It all sounds pretty nasty, but here I am. I’ve got an 11 inch scar on my chest. I’m ready to get laid, I want to go out. I really do (laughing).
AM: At least you haven’t forgotten how to have a good time (laughing).
EC: I actually had a party in my hospital room Friday night. We had wine and stuff. I got permission from the doctor first of course. (laughing) I’m no idiot, but I wanted to party.
AM: You just got out of the hospital yesterday and you sound like you’re doing really well. It sounds like you want to get right back into things.
EC: I really wanted to talk to people about this right away. Hell, I figure that if a guy can fall off a stage in England and get news all over the world about it, that fucking open heart surgery would warrant me being able to get a little press out of it. Or at least letting friends and fans know about what happened. I wanted to say something before I went in, but everyone thought it would be better to wait till I was recovering. Personally, I think it would have been more interesting with everyone wondering whether or not I was going to croak (laughing). That’s more news worthy. Is Eric going to peg it or not? (laughing)
AM: You could have started a pool. (laughing)
EC: Yeah, I didn’t think of that. That would have been better than the super bowl betting. ‘I got $10 says he dies.’ (laughing)
AM: The press has talked about your situation a little before now, though, right?
EC: They did say it on MTV a few times, but that’s about it. That’s as far as it went. I really had no control over how much they were going to do on it. The band only said things about it because I wanted them to say something. If it was up to everyone else, they would have just kept it quiet. But I said “No, this is my life and I don’t want this to be a fucking secret.”
AM: So you think you’ll be able to get back behind the drums in a few weeks?
EC: They give you an exercise plan that’s the same for everybody. You walk three blocks the first day, four the second, and on and on. Even though I’m feeling great, If I do too much my body lets me know it. So I’m just going to go with their plan and give myself 2 to 3 weeks. With the way I’m feeling now, in 3 weeks I should be feeling amazing. The instead of walking or jogging, I’ll just get behind the drums. I’ll play a lot of Beatles songs for the first week. (laughing) It’ll be great. That’s the way I learned.
AM: When are you guys supposed to start recording the new record?
EC: Luckily, we’ve still got time. Nothing was ever said to me permanent, but the way I was reading it, we are talking July. This shouldn’t affect the album much, it may push my tracking back a bit, but we can still get the album out in the same amount of time. Even if we pushed it back a little it would just allow us to finish the songs more and come up with some even better material. What happens usually is that you wind up wasting a lot of time in the studio anyway. The infamous “We could have started a month later and still finished the album at the same time.” Barring any complications, I think everything is going to work out fine. We should have the album out by early next year and hit the road shortly there after. I’ll be better than before. I won’t have this fucking alien in my heart.
AM: If this had to happen, it probably happened at the best possible time. As far as being off the road goes and being able to give the medical attention it warranted.
EC: If it had happened to me on tour I might not have made it through. If that thing happened while I was playing you could forget about it. They really don’t know how long I had it, it could have been 6 months or 10 years. They don’t have the results back yet, but I’m here and I’m alive.
AM: Did the band come to New York at all while you were in the hospital?
EC: Gene and Paul came out. Bruce couldn’t make it, it was unavoidable, but he sent gifts and called so I forgive him (laughing).
AM: Some nice strippers to cheer you up (laughing).
EC: I would have hated that. What could I do stick my finger in her (laughing). That’s no fun (laughing). To be honest with you I’ve never seen the purpose of hiring a stripper for someone’s birthday. Usually it’s a fucking hag, and if it’s not a hag and she’s really hot her boyfriend comes with her and holds the beat box she’s dancing to (laughing). And if the boyfriend isn’t there she’s not going to fuck you anyway, so what’s the difference? She gets you all horny and then she leaves. The same thing goes for strip joints. A lot of my friends go to them and sometimes they’ll drag me with them. I just don’t get it. You look at a bunch of girls, half naked, they look at you like they want you when you know damn well they are looking at everyone in there the same way (laughing). So you get all horny and then you go home and jerk off. Fuck this, I don’t need it (laughing). I know I’m rambling, I do that.
AM: What was it we were talking about (laughing)?
EC: Oh, yeah. (laughing) To get back to Gene and Paul. They came out, I told them they didn’t have to, but they wanted to. Originally they wanted me to come out to L.A. just so they could be near me all the time, just for the moral support. It’s important in all operations, but especially heart surgery. I had already done so much work here in N.Y. finding a surgeon and getting everything rolling, that there was no way I was going to try and start all over out there. The surgeon I got was probably the best in the country if not one of the best in the world. He was one of the original team from Texas that perfected the open heart surgery technique way back in the 70’s. I was real lucky to have this guy. It just didn’t make any sense to try and do it in L.A. I really had to get in the hospital, time was ticking fast, with the piece breaking off into my lungs. So I had to get the fucking thing out of my body. So Paul and Gene flew to New York.
AM: That’s great that they could be with you. Did you get to see them much while you were in the hospital?
EC: I checked in Monday and they were there Monday evening. They came right from the airport straight to the hospital. I saw them everyday for a couple of hours it was great. We made each other laugh and made fun of what was going to happen to me. Joked around about the next tour, it was great. This is my idea, nobody would fucking top this. Let’s see Tommy Lee top this. I do my solo and when I jump up on my drums and raise my fist in the air my heart explodes through my jump suit everywhere. Nobody’s ever gonna top that one. (Noticing I’m not really laughing, but kind of wondering where he came up with that one.) All right it was supposed to be funny. It was funny at the time. I guess it’s one of those things where you had to be there (laughing). All in all, we had a good time and I was really grateful that they came.
AM: Were they out in L.A. writing at the time this happened?
EC: Yeah, they were. You know those guys, they’re doing a bunch of other things too, always getting their hands in a lot of different things. But everybody’s working on the album. That’s what we’re doing now. Bob Ezrin is going to be producing unless something changes, that’s the plan. Which will be great. As you know what is probably Kiss’ greatest album ever, ‘Destroyer’, was produced by him. I personally haven’t worked with him since the ‘Elder’ so I’d love to work with him again.
AM: A lot of people had their doubts about Kiss before ‘Hot in the Shade’, but I think you guys knocked those critics out this past year and a half with the album and tour.
EC: Yeah, this album is going to be even heavier. Part of the reason I think we want Ezrin to be there is to try and recapture some of that magic of the ‘Destroyer’ album. He’s not just a producer and a great engineer, but he’s a musician and a composer. Some of the musical stuff on ‘Destroyer’ was his creation, part of what he added to the album is what made it so special.
AM: Have you heard any of their ideas yet?
EC: No, I haven’t heard anybody’s stuff yet and they haven’t heard mine. I’ve got a couple of good things too. As soon as I can get a G-String for my acoustic guitar I’ll be able to start playing again. I broke a string last week and I couldn’t go to the store be- cause I was in the hospital (laughing).
AM: I hate it when that happens (laughing).
EC: Me too, it slows everything down (laughing).
AM: What were you doing before all this happened? Since you got off the road that is?
EC: Writing, basically. No vacations. I don’t go out that often clubbing and stuff. I just don’t like to do that. I just try to write, I keep pushing myself to come up with ideas. When things don’t come up I’ll watch a movie, everything from Spinal Tap to the Little Mermaid, whatever. I see my folks and my friends.
AM: What, no women (laughing)?
EC; (laughing) No, not now. There was one and we kind of broke up before the last tour ended. The during the last few months it’s been, maybe on, maybe off again. It kind of didn’t work out, but we’re still good friends and love each other very much. So there is always the possibility that something could change in the future, but who knows.
AM: It’s a relief to hear you really excited about the future and to hear that you’ve got everything going in the right direction.
EC: I’m really fine. Us Kiss guys you can’t keep us down. They tried to carve me up, but that didn’t work either.
AM: You guys are going to be here forever (laughing).
EC: We may not have all our bits (laughing), but we’ll be here. Little by little each year they cut pieces of us off (laughing). In all seriousness, say thanks from me to anyone who is concerned and is worried about me. I’m really grateful for their concern. And I’ll be back as good as new as soon as I can.
After his open heart surgery Carr talked to a mere handful of press people and I feel extremely privileged to have been one of them. Looking back it makes me sad to think he’s gone. Listening to Eric’s voice on my tape and transcribing his words is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a journalist.
Shortly after I said goodbye to Carr that day, his condition got worse rather than improve. Over the next 4 months it was test after test, setback after setback.
Then finally the cancer Carr thought he had beaten came back to haunt him. Carr spent the last two months of his life unconscious in a New York hospital bed after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in his brain.
Just when I would hear things were getting better, I’d find out he was back in the hospital. About October the official word came that Eric Singer had replaced Eric Carr as drummer for Kiss. After 12 years Eric Carr was out of the band just like that.
To Eric Carr, Kiss was his life. He was a part of Kiss and Kiss was a part of him. The details of his departure from the group are both rumor-filled and sketchy. Kiss will go on, but so will the spirit of Eric Carr. In the hearts of Kiss fans everywhere Eric Carr will not be forgotten. To this journalist Carr was always a pleasure to talk with and he will surely be missed by all those who knew him. The music world has suffered a big loss.