Ken Kelly, the fantasy artist who created the iconic album covers for Kiss’ Destroyer and Love Gun, has died at the age of 76.
No cause of death was announced. Members of Kiss turned to social media Saturday to pay tribute to the veteran comic book artist who painted two of their most memorable images in the Rock Hall-inducted act’s iconography.
Gene Simmons tweeted Saturday, “Sad to find out Ken Kelly, who painted our Destroyer album cover passed away. A kind and beloved gentleman. Rest In Peace.”
Former Kiss drummer Peter Criss wrote on his website, “I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my dear friend Ken Kelly. He was an amazing man and talent. A gentle, kind, funny honorable man. A man of integrity and grace. I loved him so much. His art work graced the cover of two of our iconic albums. He brought out the super heros in us. He will live on through his incredible work.”
Kelly, the nephew of legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, learned under his uncle at Frazetta’s studio. While working as a cover artist for horror comics like Eerie and Creepy, Kelly’s art caught Kiss’ attention; as Kelly told Print in 2018, they originally sought Frazetta to make the Destroyer cover, but when he was unavailable, Kelly got the job, despite having never heard the band’s music.
Kelly’s original version of the Destroyer cover — showing the band bursting out of a destroyed city on fire — was rejected by the record label. “They thought it was too violent,” Kelly said. “It was 1975, and they didn’t want to launch such a large project with such a negative cover. I thought my career was over. That was one of the heaviest blows I’ve ever received.” However, within a month, Kelly presented a modified version of the painting, with Kiss leaping atop a pile of rubble, that ultimately became the album’s famed cover. (The 35th anniversary “Resurrected” reissue of Destroyer featured Kelly’s original artwork, and as he later note, he was paid twice for the job.)
Paul Stanley tweeted Saturday, “A moment to remember the great Ken Kelly. His fantasy art captured the larger than life image of KISS perfectly. Rest In Peace.”
Kelly was next recruited to create the cover of Kiss’ next album Love Gun — using his wife as the model for the face-painted women on the cover alongside the band — and later became a fixture at Kiss fan conventions. In addition to his countless works in the fantasy art realm with book jackets, toy packaging and video games, Kelly later made album covers for Rainbow (1976’s Rising), Ace Frehley, Coheed & Cambria and the metal band Manowar, which had a long collaboration with Kelly that spanned six LPs.
“Deeply saddened by the passing of the great Ken Kelly,” Manowar bassist Joey DeMaio said in a statement. “He was a giant and will live forever through his art and the memories he left with those who got to know him. I will never forget our years together. Condolences to his family. RIP, Ken. Valhalla awaits you.”