Emotional Gene Simmons gives impromptu speech at Chuck Berry's funeral
Rocker Gene Simmons has praised Chuck Berry for "breaking down barriers" with his music at the funeral for the late singer on Sunday.
The Johnny B. Goode singer passed away in March, aged 90, and his fans were able to pay their respects at a public viewing at The Pageant club in St. Louis, Missouri, where Chuck often performed. His body lay in an open casket, which had a red Gibson guitar bolted to the inside of its lid, for the viewing, before a private funeral was held for the musician, attended by family, friends and musicians, including KISS rocker Gene.
While he wasn't scheduled to speak at the service, the 67-year-old spent most of the service standing at the back of the concert hall, until he was encouraged by organizers to give a speech, according to the St.Louis Post-Dispatch.
Taking to the podium, an emotional Gene said he was grateful for his trademark sunglasses, admitting to the audience "there are real tears behind them."
He said he "wouldn't be here today" if it wasn't for Chuck, who he praised for breaking down barriers without explicitly talking about them.
Recalling learning about the Civil Rights Movement when he was growing up, Gene said, "I saw the great (civil rights activist) Martin Luther King talk about the moral right, the justice of the movement and stuff. And although I never heard Chuck either talk about it in his lyrics or in interviews or on television, he was breaking down barriers that nobody suspected.
"Chuck, he changed more little white boys' and white girls' lives than all the politicians with their big talk and stuff just by making them move like this (bopping up and down) just by grabbing a hold of them on the outside and the inside and just changing their lives."
During the service, a message from Paul McCartney, who thanked Chuck for his contributions to music, was read out, as well as a note from Little Richard, who was originally slated to appear at the funeral. The Rolling Stones sent flowers arranged to form a guitar and a letter by former President Bill Clinton was read.
In his note, Clinton called Chuck, who performed at both of his inaugurations, "one of America’s greatest rock ’n’ roll pioneers" who "captivated audiences around the world."