The broad strokes of the relationship between producer-manager Kim Fowley and former Runaways frontwoman Cherie Currie are the sort that are just ripe for VH1 “Behind the Music” treatment. Fowley created the band that launched Currie’s music career, but their relationship soured and turned downright venomous over the usual music industry wedges: royalties, drugs, and Fowley’s odd, unorthodox treatment — some would say exploitation — of a band of five teenage girls.
Currie once called Fowley, who created The Runaways, a “beast who should not be allowed near young girls,” but it was she who took in the aging Fowley when he was battling bladder cancer. The two reconciled in 2008, much to the surprise of journalists who had covered both individuals for years, after Currie learned about Fowley’s condition. Last August, she moved him into her home to care for him.
Thursday, Fowley died at age 75. Currie confirmed the news in a post on her Facebook page:
Just before 8 am this morning, January 15, 2015, Kim Fowley passed away at his home with his wife, Kara Wright by his side after a long battle with cancer. He was 75 years old.
I am so blessed that I had the chance to know you again Kim.. really get to know you on a personal level and that we became friends. Mostly that you spent time here at my home. It’s a time I will never forget.
The last record you made is in good hands and I am so glad that record is mine. It was a pleasure.
Thank you for starting my career when I was a just a child. You were instrumental in so many getting started in this crazy world of music. You are a genius… you are loved. You will be so missed.
Rest in Peace my friend.
In an interview with Billboard last year, Currie revealed that she was working on an album with Fowley and former Runaways member Lita Ford. It’s likely the album she’s referring to in her Facebook post. There’s no “Behind the Music” episode, but the drama between Fowley, The Runaways, and their parents was well-illustrated in the documentary “Edgeplay.” Fowley was also heavily featured in the 2003 documentary “Mayor of Sunset Strip.”
“I love Kim. I really do,” Currie said last year. “After everything I went through as a kid with him, I ended up becoming a mom and realized it was difficult for a man in his 30s to deal with five teenage girls. He’s a friend I admire who needed help, and I could be there for him.”
The Runaways, heavily influenced by David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and other 70’s rock gods, were the anti-good girls: five teenage girls, playing their own instruments, and terrorizing the nation singing openly about sex and all manner of bad-girl subjects. Currie’s husky, low voice and risque stagewear (fishnets and lingerie) cemented their status as jailbait pinups. Fowley orchestrated it all, bringing together Joan Jett, Currie, Ford, Jackie Fox and Sandy West. When the band was formed, Jett was 16. Currie was 15. Fowley produced and co-wrote their first two albums, “The Runaways” and “Queens of Noise.”
By the time she was 18, she had a serious addiction to Quaaludes, cocaine, and eventually crack. “Our management, our booking agent – they were all feeding us drugs,” she told The Guardian. “The thing was, back in the 70s, if you didn’t do drugs there was something wrong with you.”
Currie lasted two years before she left the band in 1977. Her relationship with Fowley was a complicated one to say the least. Legend has it that Fowley used to throw jars of peanut butter at the band. His explanation was that it would prepare them for the rough-and-tumble atmospheres of their shows.
But though Fowley was instrumental in crafting the Runaways’ sound, his eccentricities sometimes bordered on the perverse; it’s nearly impossible to encounter a profile in which Fowley isn’t described as a Svengali and architect of his own outsize mythology. In her memoir “Neon Angel,” which served as the source material for the 2010 “Runaways” movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, Currie wrote of how Fowley had sex with a woman in front of the band to “teach you dogs how to f—.”
“It’s like battered-wife syndrome,” Currie said in a 2010 interview with Spin magazine. “Some women love the abusive men they’re with and that’s kind of the way I was with Kim. I really wanted his approval. And he apologized to me on the phone a year ago, saying if he had to do it over again he wouldn’t have treated us that way. He didn’t know how to handle 15-year-old girls. In his own crazy way, he loved us.”
Fowley published the first volume of his autobiography in 2013. The second and third volumes are reportedly finished, but not yet published. Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin wrote that it ” may be the weirdest rock ’n’ roll autobiography since … well, I can’t think of what.”
A prolific producer who worked with Berry Gordy, DJ Alan Freed, Alice Cooper, KISS, and Ariel Pink, Fowley was said to have continued working from his hospital bed on Steven Van Zandt’s Sirius XM Radio Underground Garage Channel. “Kim Fowley is a big loss to me,” Van Zandt said in a statement via the L.A. Times. “A good friend. One of a kind. He’d been everywhere, done everything, knew everybody. He was working in the Underground Garage until last week. We should all have as full a life. I wanted DJs that could tell stories first person. He was the ultimate realization of that concept. Rock Gypsy DNA. Reinventing himself whenever he felt restless. Which was always. One of the great characters of all time. Irreplaceable.”
Below, The Runaways performing “Cherry Bomb,” written by Fowley and Jett: