On April 19, 2002 the body of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, 34, was found in his Seattle apartment. Staley reportedly died of a drug overdose, but that has not been confirmed at this time. Staley had struggled most of his brief life with a heroin addiction that ultimately ended the life of this very talented person.
Staley was the lead singer of one of the most popular and influential bands of the 90s. Along with other Seattle bands Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Alice in Chains helped change the landscape of the modern music scene.
Staley formed Alice in Chains in 1987 with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in Seattle, Washington. By 1990, Alice in Chains had signed with Columbia Records and recorded their first album, Facelift. The album was not an immediate hit but it eventually went platinum largely with the success of singles “We Die Young” and “Man in the Box.” “Man in the Box,” was an immediate favorite with MTV viewers.
Before Nirvana made alternative rock the mainstream, Columbia Records tried to market Alice in Chains as a metal group, by having them tour with Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Van Halen and Iggy Pop. In September of 1992 Alice in Chains released the album Dirt, which only made the band more popular.
The album Dirt did stir up some controversy over its obvious drug references. There were at least six songs that were referred specifically to Staley’s heroin abuse. The most obvious of these was a song called “Junkhead” in which Staley sang the eerie lyrics, “What’s my drug of choice? Well, what have you got? I don’t go broke, and I do it a lot.”As the band got bigger, the more the public wanted to know about Staley’s drug abuse. Staley admitted that he once was a heroin user, but he never could bring himself to say he was still addicted.
In February of 1994, Alice in Chains released the album “Jar of Flies” which debuted on the billboard charts at number one, being the first EP to ever do so. By November of the next year Alice in Chains would release their last studio album. This self-titled album also debuted at number one, but it was more obvious that Staley’s drug problem was not behind him. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell almost wrote the entire album and took on a significantly greater vocal part. Many fans began to believe that Staley was in poor health or was even dead. There were rumors that the band recorded their parts alone and then literally dragged Staley to the microphone so he could record the vocals. It was also believed that Staley did so much heroin that he was forced to inject it into his hands causing his fingers to fall off.
In April of 1996 the band tried to put a end to the rumors that Staley was dead by performing on MTV’s Unplugged. But this only caused the rumors to continue when Staley, who sounded great, looked to be in very poor health. He had lost a lot of weight and was almost unrecognizable.
In 1998 guitarist Jerry Cantrell decided to record a solo album, and rumors began to fly when he decided to invite all the members of Alice In Chains on his album except Staley. Fans were confused and left wondering if Alice was breaking up and Staley was dead. Even though the band never officially broke up, the groups was pretty much coming apart.
After Cantrell’s solo album, Alice In Chains recorded “Get Born Again,” for their Anthology album “Nothing’s Safe.” Fans hoped that this would lead to a reunion of the band. But that was not to be. Staley went further into a downward spiral of drug abuse. His friends and family were worried about his well being and feared that he would eventually kill himself. Staley himself even feared his own self-destructive behavior. In one of his last interviews, Staley revealed this fear to Rolling Stone magazine in 1996. “I’m gonna be here for a long…time,” Staley asserted. “I’m scared of death, especially death by my own hand. I’m scared of where I would go. Not that I ever consider that, because I don’t.” But on April 19, 2002 everyone’s fear came true when Layne Staley was found dead.
Some people feel that we shouldn’t feel sorry for Staley because he did it to himself. Perhaps they shouldn’t feel sorry for Elvis or Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin or even Kurt Cobain either. The fact of the matter is Layne Staley was a very talented man with a limitless future but drugs ultimately did him in.
After Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994, many people asked, “Why would a person with all that talent and potential want to end his life?” Some of Staley’s closest friends said that in the end he didn’t want any help and he was happy were he was. Even though Staley has passed on, you can still hear his influence in acts like Creed, Days of the New, Tantric, Edema and Stained. Hopefully, Staley’s influence is not confined to the world of popular music. We can hope that his story will encourage people, young and old, not to adopt self-destructive lifestyles. His life is the strongest argument against taking heroin, methane-amphetamine, and ecstasy.