"Big" John Harte, legendary bodyguard for Kiss, Iron Maiden and more, dead at 70

Kiss with "Big" John Harte
Kiss with "Big" John Harte in 1981 (Image credit: Waring Abbott)

"Big" John Harte, who provided security for Kiss, Iron Maiden and more, has died art the age of 70. The news was conformed by Harte's publicity agent, Michael Brandvol.

Born in New Jersey, Harte wanted to be a professional musician, but a new career presented itself after he was spotted outside a Grateful Dead show.

“I was noticed at that show because I was big, dressed in denim and black, looked tough with my biker’s moustache and could handle a rowdy crowd,” Harte recalled while working on his memoir. “I soon found myself handling security at Passaic’s Capitol Theater, Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium and New York’s Fillmore East for musicians ranging from Gregg Allman to Lou Reed to the New York Dolls

"I learned all aspects of the music business ‘ground up’ by ushering guests, tuning instruments for performers and doing whatever was needed to ensure a concert ran smoothly.”

In late 1975 he was offered a job with Kiss and spent the next eight years working full time for the band, but left to work with Iron Maiden in 1983 after Kiss's management refused to pay him a retainer. He worked with Maiden again in 1985 and 1986.

"I had a great time with them, " he told Michael Cavacini. "The first year I worked with them, I didn’t understand what they were saying half the time. Two of them spoke very low and when you add in their accents, I didn’t know what the hell they were saying. It took me a while to pick up on it, but they were fun. 

"My favourite experience with them was going behind the Iron Curtain. We got to see and speak with fans that struggled to stay in touch with the western world. It was fascinating."


Kiss outside the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, February 1976

Kiss with "Big" John Harte (right) and fan outside the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, shortly after he started working for the band (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Harte also toured with Prince, on 1987's Lovesexy tour, and with Billy Idol around the time of Whiplash Smile

"I’d get to talk to Prince every night, briefly, after his shows," said Harte. "He was an exceptional musician. He really loved what he did. He never wanted to stop. I remember seeing him in the studio with the band; and when they were done, he kept playing. He wasn’t aloof the way people said. You could look him in the eyes and talk to him like a normal person, which is what I did."

Harte would retire from the road after thew 2003 Kiss/Aerosmith tour, but remained on good terms with the band and was a guest on the 2017 Kiss Kruise, where he came to learn that he had a following of his own. 

"That was mind-boggling and humbling." said Harte. "I had no idea the fans thought anything of me."

Harte started work on an autobiography, Untold Stories From Kiss & Iron Maiden, and in early 2018 launched a PledgeMusic campaign to support the project. It fell victim to the collapse of the crowd-funding platform the following year, but will be published posthumously in 2023.

In the foreword to the book, Kiss man Paul Stanley writes, "John was a formidable presence and was rough around the edges for sure, but that never overshadowed the dedication and conscience he would show while babysitting and coddling four spoiled and needy rockstars who were always vying for attention and affirmation that they were his favourite."

Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain has paid how own tribute to Harte, saying, "John had worked with us for several years and I recently had a great visit with him, laughing and sharing stories together. A great guy and valued member of the family who will be sadly missed!"

In the Kiss camp, Gene Simmons tweeted, "Rest In Peace, John Harte. A wonderful man. He was our security guy in the 70s. Our prayers and condolences to his family." And Paul Stanley posted, "How very sad. “Big John” Harte was with us from the beginning and has always been family."

No cause of death has been confirmed. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.