The unhinged Alice Cooper performance that led to the death of a chicken and years of questions

Alice Cooper
(Image credit: YouTube)

When we think of the most infamous moments in rock'n'roll history, particularly those involving poor, unsuspecting, and ultimately doomed animals, it's usually Ozzy Osbourne's name that springs to mind, principally for the incident in January 1982 which saw him bite the head off a bat during a gig in Des Moines, Iowa.

Over 10 years prior to this however, this sort of unhinged behaviour had already found a footing with Alice Cooper, whose live shows were about as dizzyingly chaotic as a room full of overly-caffeinated nursery children.

In fact, in 1969, Alice Cooper, who at the time were still fairly unheard of and had only just made their way out of their hometown of Detroit, carried out a performance so wild that it was discussed decades into their career. Basically, Vincent Furnier, the time leader of the shock rockers, who was yet to go solo as Alice Cooper, got his hands on a chicken, while on stage, and erm...murdered it.

We all know Cooper has actually always been a softie at heart, and according to the story, he didn't actually kill it per se... but he was more or less responsible for its death.

Essentially, mid-way through his band's performance at Toronto's Rock & Roll Revival festival on September 13, he lobbed a chicken into an audience of 80,000 "peace-loving hippies", only for it to be torn to shreds by a crowd hyped up on the shocking antics they had already witnessed by the band on stage. Those antics included fights between bandmembers, the use of hammers as instruments, and more, quite the experience.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the incident found its way into the press the following day, in an article boasting the somewhat exaggerated headline, “Alice bites head off a chicken and drinks the blood”.

"Nobody had ever heard of us," Cooper explained in one of many later interviews, discussing the incident. "At the end of our set, we always used to take a pillow, and we'd open it up and we'd have CO2 cartridges, and we'd blow these feathers all into the audience. 

"And then somebody from the audience threw a chicken on stage" Cooper continued. "And I picked it up, I figured, you know, it's a bird, it'll fly.

"And I threw it back into the audience, figuring it'll just fly away and the audience tore it to pieces".

Speaking of the band's outlaw status amid the hippie movement at the time, he continued, "I always say that we were the dagger in the heart of the love generation. We were like the stake, right through the heart because we were right at the end of peace and love, and all of a sudden, here was this shiny new, horrible monster that was really fun to watch".

Over the years, the story has been retold with various alterations to what really happened.

An excerpt from They Call Me Supermensch: Untold Stories Of Alice Cooper reads, “We went all out to make an impression at the festival. Alice kicked a football into the crowd, chopped watermelon with a hatchet, and tossed feathers everywhere.

"In the midst of all that, he remembers, he looked down and an actual chicken was strutting across the stage. He knew nobody in the audience had come to a rock festival with their chicken. It could only have been me. And it was. It was a feral chicken that happened to be roaming around backstage. I just thought 'We’ve been doing the feathers, why not a whole chicken? So I let it loose on the stage.”

Other accounts claim that the chicken incident was a planned act. Guitarist Michael Bruce said in a 1997 interview, “The chicken incident? Do you mean throwing chicken into the audience? Which came first, the chickens or the feathers? When we first started out, we broke open feather pillows stolen from the Holiday Inns, and used them on ‘Black Juju’, spraying them on the audience and all over the stage.

"As the source of pillows at the Holiday Inns turned to foam rubber, and the club owners were reluctant to have us back before they were picking feathers out of the stage, we thought it would be clever to throw the chicken with the feathers attached.

“We didn’t do it every time, but we threw some doves, chickens, whatever, watermelon, so I guess you could say we repeated it, it’s all a blur.” 

Apparently, according to bassist Dennis Dunaway in his memoire Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group, the band kept two chickens with them on the road as pets, named Larry and Pecker. He also cited that the story of someone throwing the chicken on stage was merely fabricated to get them “off the hook with the animal protection organisations” who started attending every Alice Cooper show after the incident in Toronto hit the press.

Whether the death of the animal was planned or really just a strange accident which happened to amp up their persona as unruly shock rockers, you can see Cooper and the chicken at around the eleven minute mark in the video below to come to a decision yourself. 

We imagine, you'll also be taken aback to witness Cooper wearing an outfit made out of black masking tape, wrestling on stage with his bandmates and zooming across the stage. Meanwhile, between moments of guitar feedback, mindless drumming and disorienting screeches, Alice Cooper fire out a handful of early songs including Lay Down and Die, Goodbye, Fields of Regret and Nobody Likes Me, among others. They just don't make live shows like this anymore.

Watch it below:

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.