In 1991, Star magazine published an article claiming that founding Kiss drummer Peter Criss was homeless and living on the streets of Los Angeles. The story was eye catching and alarming — it was also completely false.
Around the same time, the rocker had been tending to family matters in New York following the death of his mother. When he returned to his Southern California home, he was inundated with questions about his well being. “They say you’re totally broke and you’re sleeping in the toilets of Santa Monica,” Criss was told, as recounted in the rocker’s memoir Makeup to Breakup: My Life in and Out of Kiss.
“I was blown away,” the rocker admitted, adding that he immediately got his hands on a copy of the tabloid. “There was a photo of some bum who was claiming to be me lying in the toilets in Santa Monica, and next to it was a photo of me in my Kiss makeup. I was furious.”
At this point in his career, Criss had been out of the spotlight for some time. The drummer departed the band in 1980 – some say he quit, others say he was fired. Regardless, the rocker had spent the next decade working on solo material, guesting with other acts and spending time with his family.
When a homeless impostor claimed to be the former Kiss drummer, Criss found himself unwillingly thrust back into the limelight. The musician immediately began the process of suing Star magazine, when his manager called with an offer from The Phil Donahue Show.
“They wanted me to come on and talk about having an imposter pose as me,” Criss recalled, adding that his manager thought it would be a great way to publicly denounce the fictitious story. “I just wanted it to go away, I was so hurt.”
Despite his initial resistance, Criss agreed to appear on the program. On Feb. 5, 1991, the drummer would confront his impostor on The Phil Donahue Show.
“Why couldn’t you impersonate the Lone Ranger or Tonto, something like that?” the real Criss asked Christopher Dickinson, the homeless man who’d been posing as the musician. “You’ve really given me a rocky time.”
Dickinson apologized to Criss, explaining that his alcoholism had played a role in the lies. “Ninety percent of the time, I was out of it. Loaded. Drinking,” Dickinson admitted. “I was walking around in a haze for months and months and months.” While waiting in line at a food kitchen, Dickinson had been approached by a reporter and photographer from the Star. He gave them his fake story for $500 and a motel stay.
Things got more confusing – and confrontational – on the show when Criss came face-to-face with Cheryl Ann Thompson, an aspiring actress who claimed to have formerly been in a relationship with the rocker. When Thompson read the Star article, she flew Dickinson to her Boston home and gave him a place to stay before realizing he was a fraud. Criss insisted she too was fabricating stories for attention.
“You just want to be on TV,” Criss declared to Thompson. “Here’s your Andy Warhol time. Fifteen minutes of fame.”
By comparison, Criss’ on-air time with Dickinson was civil, the drummer at one point even saying he “felt bad” for the homeless man and his situation. Still, words were much more heated off the air. “Are you happy about what you did to my life, you fuck?” the former Kiss drummer asked his impostor after the taping was done.
Criss later found out that Dickinson had been impersonating him for quite some time, “booking time at A&M studios (and) ordering limos under my name.”
Star magazine eventually printed a follow-up story, somewhat admitting their mistake by publishing an article about how “the world” was fooled by a homeless man claiming to be Criss. Though the drummer was clearly angry at all parties involved in the scandal, he reserved the majority of his rage for the magazine. Criss would sue the tabloid, eventually settling out of court for a “substantial amount of money.”
Watch Peter Criss Confront His Imposter on ‘The Phil Donahue Show’