The Seattle punk and grunge movement in the 80s gave birth to many bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s, one of those bands was Alice In Chains.
However, this city’s musical movement was strangely haunted, or perhaps just a telling sign of the genre’s lack of care for its artists, as the list of tragic deaths is longer than many would like.
With Kurt Cobain being the obvious example, Mia Zapata of The Gits being another example of a tragic death of a Seattle rockstar, Layne Staley is sadly another tragic case worth looking into.
If you want to learn about his sad death, keep reading to learn how his cat potentially played a part in the discovery of his death.
Table of Contents
Layne Staley was born in Kirkland, Washington on August 22, 1967.
Layne grew up with his original parents until they divorced when he was aged 7, after which he was raised by his stepfather and mother.
By age nine, one report suggests Staley wrote in his Dr. Seuss’ book ‘All About Me’ states that he wanted to be a singer, prophesying his rise to fame in the Seattle scene some decades later.
What did seem to enter Staley’s life, after the entrance of his stepfather, was being raised under Christian Science.
Staley himself states ‘I was raised in the church until I was 16 and I’ve disagreed with their beliefs for as long as I can remember, so when I had the choice I chose not to believe in anything apart from myself’.
He later states, in a 1999 interview, that the tune ‘Get Born Again’ from his soon-to-be-formed band is about this ‘religious hypocrisy’.
While it would be unfair to assume how heavily this experience affected him, there’s no doubt this wasn’t an enjoyable experience for a young adult to be forced to adapt in a strange and unfamiliar religion.
If James Hetfield’s experience with Christian Science can provide any gauge for how Staley may have been affected by the religion, it certainly would have worsened feelings of loneliness, confusion and exile that we can all relate to as young adults.
Introduction To Music
Layne himself describes Black Sabbath as his first musical influence, getting his music taste from his parent’s collection, discovering bands such as The Stooges, Anthrax, Mercyful Fate and others.
His interest in the heavier side of the generic rock genre would be clear as Staley soon changed his given middle name ‘Rutherford’, to ‘Thomas’ after his idolizing of Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee.
Yet, Staley originally got his musical start in the world of percussion, playing drums from age 12 in multiple glam bands during his teens.
He idolized the likes of Bowie and Prince; he soon chased his aspirations to become a singer as he foresaw at an early age.
Interestingly, Staley, along with other members of his school Shorewood High, created the band Sleze which would feature prospective members of The Dehumanizers and Second Coming.
Bondage Of Brothers
In Mark Yarm’s A History Of Grunge he discloses how the name came around.
Apparently it followed a discussion between Bacolas and Slaughter Haus 5 singer Russ Klatt who glimpsed their stage pass which said ‘Welcome To Wonderland’ prompting a chat about Alice in Wonderland which led to Klatt suggesting “What about Alice in Chains?
Put her in bondage and stuff” and sooner than they realized, the Seattle figurehead was formed.
Staley liked the idea, the name does provide an apt interpretation of what Alice In Chain’s sound would eventually become – psychedelic but subdued.
Enter Jerry Cantrell, the soon to be sidekick to Staley, who met the latter in 1987.
Cantrell had watched a concert of Alice In Chains and Cantrell approached Staley after being interested in his distinctive voice that would become typical of the Seattle grunge scene.
Cantrell was homeless at the time and Staley empathized as a struggling musician leading the two to live together for a period.
The previously described initial line up of Alice N’ Chains would later disband.
Staley joined a funk band utilizing his previous experience in glam rock, while Cantrell would rustle together the lasting lineup of what would become the Alice In Chains we know, from a myriad of previous bands that Cantrell had played in.
Together it would be Cantrell’s and Staley’s close friendship and musical bond that would define the band’s gritty but intoxicating sound.
Speaking about Staley’s voice Cantrell later remarked:
‘I knew that voice was the guy I wanted to be playing with.
It sounded like it came out of a 350-pound biker rather than skinny little Layne. I considered his voice to be my voice’
Cantrell wrote a large amount of the lyrics and music for the band, with Staley as his instrument, although Staley did indeed have his share of writing credits for the band, even playing guitar on some songs becoming a big contributor in their later years.
Success Wasn’t A Cure
The debut album of AIC, Facelift would soon become double platinum, followed by the release of Dirt in 1992.
During this period it seems that Staley and Starr, and likely much of the band, had been embroiled in drug addiction, with reports of Staley, himself addicted, saving Starr’s life from an overdose in one report.
By 1994 AIC had released Jar Of Flies, their first EP to go to number one.
Despite their success Staley entered a rehab clinic soon after, apparently being scared into sobriety by the death of Cobain, which wasn’t necessarily drug related.
During this short initial hiatus, reports of Staley’s originally hidden drug use would become apparent to the media mainly due to unavoidable changes to Staley’s appearance from prolonged heroin use.
The group ended their period away from the spotlight by recording their eponymous album Alice In Chains although sometimes referred to as Tripod which would, for a second time, reach number one in the charts and the band’s third double platinum certification.
Man In A Box
Much of the hiatus periods were entered with the hope that Staley would recover.
Yet, after his initial period of sobriety in 1994 Staley seemed to return to his ways after much intervention from friends and contemporaries.
On October 29 1996 Staley’s fiancée Demri Parott died of a drug overdose – Staley took this very badly as you could imagine.
Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan suggested to Rolling Stone in 2002 that:
‘He never recovered from Demri’s death. After that, I don’t think he wanted to go on.’
From this period onwards Staley was rarely seen, even by his close friends becoming submerged in exile in his Seattle home.
While AIC hadn’t broken up officially at any point many of the band, including Staley, indulged in solo careers and side projects.
From 1996 onwards it is hard to divulge what he was doing accurately beyond his sporadic recordings on AIC songs and random interviews often on radio.
A 1999, unexpected, interview on Rockline is the last public interview with Staley.
From 1999 to 2002 Staley remained largely out of the media spotlight and not in contact with many.
However his mother suggested in a 2007 interview that while Staley was bereft and aloof, he never lost contact with his family, visiting his sister’s newborn baby and attending Thanksgiving dinner occasionally.
She reports many times when she would get into his building but fail in getting him out of his apartment.
Bassist Mike Starr would be the last person to report seeing Staley alive, spending time with him on Starr’s own birthday on April 4 2002.
He claimed Staley was very ill, both physically and mentally, and that he wanted to call 911 and help Staley out but Staley would refuse this even threatening Starr with redacting their friendship.
They briefly argued and Starr stormed out, he recalls Staley calling after him saying ‘Not like this, don’t leave like this’. Starr, high on drugs himself, regretted walking out that day.
The following day, April 5, coroner reports suggest that Staley died from an ‘accidental’ overdose of cocaine and heroin.
Yet, only on the 19 April were there reports from his accountant to his former manager that Staley hadn’t spent any of his wealth in two weeks.
His former manager contacted his mother who called 911 immediately, the police then uncovered his body, partially decomposed, weighing only 86 pounds.
Staley’s mother revealed that two days before his body was found she had been to his apartment to check on him and heard his cat meowing.
Staley lived in seclusion only with his cat Sadie, Staley’s mother suggested the cat was often quiet and well behaved so hearing it meowing was a cause for concern, which it likely was.
She called the police that day but it was another two days before his body was found.
Staley’s death was another unfortunate and tragic death of a Seattle star.
His story speaks to how no matter what level of success an artist may reach, they are never free from their own mental ailments.
It was likely quite easy for Starr and other friends of Staley to potentially ignore his isolation considering how successful he had become.
His death was no one’s fault, but Staley’s music will outlast his mortal life and hopefully his story can help others recognize the need to change in their own life.