Hollywood Flashback: John Stamos, Gene Simmons Recall Insane 1986 Bomb 'Never Too Young to Die'
"I just thought, 'I'm done with TV — I’m going to be a movie star!' And then I did that piece of shit," says the 'Grandfathered' star of the campfest that saw him play a young James Bond against an "evil hermaphrodite" played by the Kiss bassist.
He plays a playboy grandpa on Fox’s Grandfathered, but in 1986, John Stamos was a hunky spy facing off against Gene Simmons — in drag.
The movie was Never Too Young to Die, a low-budget campfest that Stamos — then 22 and still a year away from being cast in ABC's Full House — mistakenly thought would be his ticket to movie stardom.
In it, the Kiss bassist plays “evil hermaphrodite” Velvet Von Ragner, who kills Stamos’ secret-agent father (George Lazenby, spoofing his one-off role as James Bond). Stamos’ character, prep-school senior Lance Stargrove, avenges his dad’s death with the help of secret agent Danja Deering, played by Vanity (of Prince fame).
"I had to shave and wax my chest, wear a prosthetic set of boobs and all sorts of other indignities — respectfully, to those that enjoy that sort of thing,” says Simmons, who drew “whistles and catcalls from the Teamsters” whenever he emerged from his trailer.
Simmons, 66, cites a song by the transgender punk rocker Jayne County — upon whom Hedwig and the Angry Inch was based — as his Velvet Von Ragner inspiration: "It Takes a Man Like Me, to Be a Woman Like Me."
"It was scary," says Stamos, 52, of Simmons' transformation. "I guess it was supposed to be like a Rocky Horror 'Sweet Transvestite' thing. I think I had nightmares about it, because it was Gene's big face with all that makeup and stuff. It was a trip."
Simmons, for his part, has a good sense of humor about the gender-bending turn. "Ah, the folly of youth," he muses. "I was offered two parts in Never Too Young to Die: the role of Marine commander and a hermaphrodite. ... That'll teach me to read scripts before accepting roles."
When Never Too Young came along, it had been two years since Stamos had walked away from a regular gig on General Hospital — and the young heartthrob had big dreams for his career.
"I just thought, 'This is my shot! A young James Bond!' I thought it was going to be the biggest breakthrough. 'I’m done with TV — I’m going to be a movie star!' And then I did that piece of shit," he says.
The actor threw himself into the role, taking gymnastics lessons and breaking his ankle in the process: "I worked so hard to make it great."
Stamos' first memory of Vanity, who played his onscreen love interest (she douses herself with a garden hose while he munches on an apple in one seduction scene) is a vivid one.
At the cast meet-and-greet — a dinner held at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood — the “Nasty Girl” singer “put her hand down my pants before the appetizers started coming out,” he recalls. “She completely seduced the shit out of me.”
"I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be a great movie,'" he says.
Vanity, who fronted the group Vanity 6, has turned to born-again Christian evangelism since 1994, when she nearly died from a crack-cocaine overdose. But back in 1986, there was little holding her back.
"I don’t want to say anything bad about her because I know she’s straightened out her act, but she was pretty wild," Stamos recalls, adding that the singer gravitated to any prop weaponry she found around the set. (“She was like Al Pacino in Scarface, blasting these f—ing machine guns all over the place,” he says. “We weren’t even rolling!”)
The two never ended up dating ("I was overwhelmed by it all — she was kind of a big star, I guess"), and as filming went on, some friction developed between them.
"Her real name was Denise," says Stamos of Vanity, who now goes by her given name, Denise Matthews. "I remember thinking I couldn’t put up with her anymore: 'Vanity! Call me Vanity!' I remember telling her off: 'Lighten up, Denise!'” But, he adds, "we did have fun — she was really nice to me." (Matthews did not respond to several emails requesting comment.)
The movie found a buyer at the 1985 American Film Market, but bombed upon release. “It was hard to find in theaters but was playing at a nearby drive-in. I brought a chick,” Stamos says. “Didn’t do me any good.”
The B-movie embarrassment came and went without notice, but, with a little time and distance, Stamos developed a certain fondness for the material.
"I’m at the point in my career where I can look back at things that were really f—ing stupid and go, 'Oh my God, I’m so glad I did that!,'" he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I can really have a laugh about it, and this is certainly one of the biggest. I would love more people to see it."
At the urging of Simmons, Stamos has made several attempts to buy the rights to the film over the years, with an eye toward building a cult audience. That hasn't happened yet — but Stamos is still seriously thinking about it.
"It's the perfect midnight-movie, where people can come and dress up. It’s — what’s the term I’m looking for? — the best worst thing you will ever see," he says.
But you don't have to wait for a midnight screening. A complete print of Never Too Young to Die has been uploaded to YouTube.