When Alice Cooper Turned Kid-Friendly on ‘The Muppet Show’
If there's one place you wouldn't expect to find Alice Cooper in 1978, it was The Muppet Show.
Granted, everyone's favorite shock rocker had already established a Hollywood presence on Hollywood Squares and The Snoop Sisters. He was hobnobbing with the old guard of the Friars Club, most of whom recognized his onstage horror show as an update of the vaudeville they all grew up in (and some of whom coveted his golf skills). But putting Cooper — who traded in murder, mayhem and other nightmarish shenanigans — in the family-friendly environs of Jim Henson's greatest creations just seemed ... unlikely, would be the polite word.
Even Cooper thought so.
"The Muppet Show was the biggest show in the world at the time," Cooper, who was a fan of the program, tells UCR. "I watched it. I thought it was the funnest thing on TV. And [manager] Shep [Gordon] called me up and he said, 'They want you to do The Muppets.' I went, 'Wait a minute. We just spent all this time making sure I'm the scourge of rock 'n' roll. This is just gonna water it down. I don't know — can we do that?' Then I said, 'Who was on the show recently?' And they said, 'Vincent Price. Christopher Lee.'
"I went, 'I'm in!'"
Cooper's appearance in Episode 307 of The Muppet Show, which aired Nov. 2, 1978, has become legendary. Appearing as himself, Cooper was introduced by Kermit the Frog as "one of the world's most talented and frightening performers." He performed "Welcome to My Nightmare" and also acted as an agent of the devil, promising the Muppets "fabulous riches and worldwide fame" in exchange for their souls. He also performed a duet with Miss Piggy on "You and Me," the Top 10 single from his 1977 album, Lace and Whiskey.
Watch Alice Cooper Perform 'Welcome to My Nightmare' on 'The Muppet Show'
"I swear I never had so much fun in my life as that week that I worked with the Muppets," recalls Cooper, who filmed his episode in London, which was the home base for Henson and his crew at the time. "It was the original guys — Jim Henson, Frank Oz, the rest of them." But most importantly, as Cooper came to learn, his primary collaborators were the Muppets themselves.
"After awhile you start talking to them — and they talk back!" Cooper explains. "After three days you're in your dressing room and Kermit pops his head in and goes, 'Hey, you had lunch yet?' And I go, 'No. You wanna go have lunch?' He goes, 'Yeah, OK.' They become people." While setting up "You and Me," Cooper made all of his suggestions directly to Miss Piggy rather than to Oz.
"We're rehearsing a song, and I go, 'Piggy, why don't you put your head on my shoulder while we do this? It'll be funny if you just kind of lean over.' 'Oh, yeah, good idea.' I said, 'OK, let's try it,'" Cooper says, chuckling at the memory.
Watch Alice Cooper Perform 'You and Me' on 'The Muppet Show'
Cooper was part of a litany of luminaries who made guest appearances on The Muppet Show, a who's-who roster that includes other hit makers such as Elton John, Paul Simon, Liberace, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Debbie Harry and many more. John Denver even costarred with the Muppets gang in two holiday specials.
He's made many TV and film appearances since then, and he landed back in kids' land again in 2019, voicing the character of Alistair Coop De Ville for Disney's Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures and also guested on the Nickelodeon series Bubble Guppies.
UCR contributor Gary Graff's book Alice Cooper @ 75 publishes in February from Quatro Books and is currently available for preorder.