Alice in Chains’ vocalist (frontman) Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle home on a Friday evening, the 19th of April 2002; he was 34. The worst part being that Staley had been deceased since the 5th in his Seattle condo. Staley avoided the media and rarely left his home. He was found dead exactly 14 days (2 weeks) after overdosing. His mother and stepfather had become alarmed when they were notified that Staley had stopped withdrawing money from his bank account. They called the police, who broke into his home and discovered his corpse on the couch, decomposed beyond immediate recognition. Heroin-related paraphernalia was found with the body, strongly suggesting death by overdose and crime scenes analysis proved it was the case and that, ultimately, didn’t suprise anyone. All his close friends and relatives were aware of his crippling addiction but found themselves helpless to help him fight it. In other words, he was completely, totally, absolutely strung out. The fact that he had become pretty much a recluse in itself pretty much explains everything, in particular how come it took 14 days before anyone realised that Staley was MIA.
Coincidentally, two grunge pioneers died on April 5 — Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in 1994, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley in 2002, from a mix of heroin and cocaine.
Staley’s fiancee Demri Parrott died In October of 1996 as a result of bacterial endocarditis, as she was also a heroin addict. Her death is considered to have pushed Layne over the final edge, as he then became a recluse in his own condominium. A picture made into painting of Demri and Layne was featured on the cover of the Mad Season album.
With Staley as their scowling, tortured frontman, Alice in Chains claimed a spot as the darkest and hardest band of the early ’90s grunge movement, bringing a healthy dose of metal to the new movement. Born in Kirkland, Washington, in 1967, Staley formed Alice in Chains while still a high school student in the mid-’80s. The singer soon formed a friendship with guitarist Jerry Cantrell, who joined the band in 1987 and provided the other half of the group’s creative core. Drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr (replaced in 1992 by Mike Inez) soon followed, and the band landed a deal with Columbia Records in 1989.
The band’s 1990 debut, Facelift, found a home at both college rock and classic rock radio outlets, chiefly on the strength of the single “Man in the Box.” The album soon went gold, and the band followed it with an appearance on the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s Seattle love letter, “Singles .” With anticipation high, the band delivered Dirt in 1992, pushing AIC to triple platinum status with caustic tracks such as “Angry Chair,” “Rooster” and “Them Bones.” A prime spot on Lollapalooza soon followed, but the trek would be the band’s last major tour and Alice in Chains would be hard pressed to maintain their momentum.
Alice in Chains released the EP Jar of Flies in 1994 and a self-titled album in 1995, but they did not tour to support either offering. During this relatively quiet time, Staley provided vocals for the 1995 debut album from Mad Season, which also featured Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and the Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin. While rumors swirled about Staley’s declining health and drug dependency, the group surfaced in 1996 to perform on MTV’s “Unplugged” series. Save for a series of compilations cobbled together by Columbia, it would be the last music Alice in Chains would release.
Staley became even more reclusive after this appearance, barely leaving his Seattle condo from 1997 until his death. Staley’s mother owns the last photo of Staley, taken on February 14, 2002, which features him holding his new-born nephew, Oscar. That photo has never been published.
Alice in Chains fans were undeniably upset about Staley’s death, yet despite his immense contributions to grunge music, the media paid only a fraction of the attention to Staley’s death as that of Cobain. Some viewed it as a self-fulfilling prophecy, others say he burned out and faded away. Strangely Cobain, too, was a drug addict, yet many of those who considered Kurt a victim, or at the very least a tragic figure, called Staley a hopeless junkie.
“When Kurt died, he was young, beautiful, and at the height of his celebrity,” explains Mark Yarm, author of the book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. “It was really shocking at the time — I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. Whereas I couldn’t tell you how I heard that Layne had died. By that point, Layne had been out of the public eye for about six years, and basically dismissed as a junkie and a hermit. So, sadly, the way he went wasn’t a surprise — it was really a matter of when, not if. And by the time he passed, grunge’s heyday was long over. His surviving bandmates will tell you that Layne was totally written off — he didn’t even get a mention during the Grammys In Memoriam segment.”
July 3, 1996 was Alice in Chains final performance with Layne at a show in Kansas City, Missouri. Here’s a clip from that final show.
While Staley’s output had greatly diminished in recent years, his influence hasn’t. Traces of the frontman’s distinct vocal style and Alice in Chains’ thick-as-a-brick sound can be heard in the work of Godsmack, Creed, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, Adema and a host of others. I know for sure that I will listen all my life to Nutshell, as I have since the first time I heard it. I’m so sorry Staley had to go like this and have such little recognition and have brough so much to music.