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Alice Cooper on 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and His Bad Past

At 70, the Christian shock rocker plays Herod in NBC's live musical and recalls his wilder days

Alice Cooper As King Herod

NBC

Alice Cooper says that before taking the role as King Herod in "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert," he prayed about it — because in the show, he would be persecuting the man he worships.

Where to Watch: NBC

Premiere: April 1, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT

Stars: Sara Bareilles, Alice Cooper, John Legend

Alice Cooper, 70, plays Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert on Easter Sunday, with John Legend as Jesus and millions watching to ridicule any flubs. He tells AARP he feels zero fear, and that his eighth decade is the best time of his life.

You survived a head-on car crash in January without a scratch. How are you feeling?

It's unbelievable how much energy I have at 70 and how healthy I am.

You’re probably the No. 1 Christian rock star. Is it weird to play Herod, who hates Jesus?

I’m going to be persecuting Jesus Christ, whom I worship. I actually I prayed about it, and I realized it was absolutely no problem. It does really glorify Christ. And I have the funniest song in the whole show.

Herod taunts Jesus: “Prove to me that you’re no fool/Walk across my swimming pool.”

I play that character very arrogantly and with some authority. I patterned it after Alan Rickman, a good role model. Herod is so cynical, trying to embarrass Jesus. I always play the bad guy. The whole idea of this Alice Cooper character was that rock needed a villain. There were all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hook. Alice needed to be played with a sense of humor, like Vincent Price — a little bit creepy, a little bit Edgar Allan Poe. But you walk out of a show going, “Well, that was a lot of fun.”

You’re perfect for a Broadway-style show, because your rock tours were always the most theatrical.

We sang “The Jet Song” from West Side Story. Groucho Marx came and saw our show, and he saw it as vaudeville, so he would bring Jack Benny, George Burns and Fred Astaire to see us. 

Alice Cooper performs at Wembley Arena

Brian Rasic/WireImage

Alice Cooper performs in London on Nov. 16, 2017.

NBC’s live musicals are as hugely risky as they are popular, and sometimes cruelly panned. Are you scared?

The producers said, “Does it bother you that it’s a live audience?” And I go, “What do you think I do? Every night I’m in front of 15,000 people.” I'm going to be the only one there who’s comfortable.

I love the Mary Magdalene character that Sara Bareilles plays, singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” But since you actually know the Bible, doesn’t it drive you nuts that she’s falsely portrayed as a prostitute?

Yeah, Mary’s like an urban legend. The Bible doesn’t say anything about her being like that at all. It's like a lot of things that people swear happened, like Alice Cooper biting the head off a bat or killing a chicken on stage. Never happened! But there were lots of prostitutes that Jesus probably saved. He was there for the sinners; his problem was the Sadducees. Basically, the church was his biggest trouble.

You were the chief of sinners in the 1970s. At the Rainbow nightclub on the Sunset Strip in L.A., there’s a plaque honoring you as a leader of “The Hollywood Vampires.”

Yeah, that was just a bunch of guys who got drunk every night: John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin, Mickey Dolenz [of the Monkees]. The people who owned the bar started calling us the Hollywood Vampires because they only saw us at night.

A friend of mine was there when Lennon and the Vampires recorded golden oldies, but they were too drunk to play “Chain Gang” in tune or in time or remember the words. Stevie Wonder, recording a masterpiece in the same studio, was invited to sit in, but he bawled out his engineer: “Those guys are terrible! It’s embarrassing! Get me out of this!”

Yeah, I might have been the bartender. It was definitely a lost weekend. Harry, Keith, T. Rex, Ringo Starr and a bunch of guys helped on my Billion Dollar Babies album, and we got absolutely nothing done.

And yet now you’re recording and touring with a new Hollywood Vampires club.

The original Vampires were just a bunch of drinking guys. This Hollywood Vampires band is awfully good — Johnny Depp and Joe Perry [of Aerosmith] on guitar, and Joe Perry sometimes takes guitar lessons from Johnny. We decided to do a tribute to our dead drunk friends: Harry, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, all those people who died from excess. Johnny and Joe Perry are sober, and I've been sober 37 years. Those days were great, but you know, some guys just took it too far.

Last year you released your 27th album, Paranormal, which went Top 20 in 30 countries. But do you have a future?

You should not even do an album if you don't think your next production is going to be the best ever. You really should retire. If you ask Paul McCartney, “Are you going to make another album?” He’s gonna say, “Yes, because I haven't written my best song yet.” It’s the same with me.

So when can fans see you onstage in a show where you’re not taunting Jesus?

After Jesus Christ Superstar, the Hollywood Vampires will tour Eastern Europe this summer. So if anybody’s in Prague or Budapest or some of these countries I can't even pronounce, come see us!

The first Alice Cooper concert was almost exactly 50 years ago. How on earth do you have the stamina for another tour? Somebody up there must like you.

I'm probably in better shape than I was when I was 30.

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