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Layne Staley 4/2002

Layne StaleyApril 5, 2002 – Layne Staley (Alice n’ Chains) was born on August 22, 1967 in Kirkland, WA. Staley showed musical talent at an early age, and took up the drums at age 12. Staley approached music through his parents’ collection, listening to Black Sabbath (regarded by him as his first influence) and Deep Purple. But upon joining garage bands and discovering rock music as a teenager Staley switched his interest in drumming to singing.

In 1984, Staley joined a group of Shorewood High students in a band called Sleze, which also featured future members of The Dehumanizers and Second Coming. In 1986, as Sleze morphed into Alice N’ Chains, a band which Staley said “dressed in drag and played speed metal,” they performed around the Seattle area playing Slayer and Armored Saint covers.

Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell while working at Music Bank rehearsal studios, and the two fast friends lived as roommates for over a year in the dilapidated rehearsal space they shared. Alice N’ Chains soon disbanded and Staley joined a funk band who at the time also required a guitarist. He asked Cantrell to join as a sideman. Cantrell agreed on condition that Staley join Cantrell’s band, which at the time included drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr. Eventually the funk project broke up and in 1987 Staley joined Cantrell on a full-time basis. The band eventually took the name of Alice in Chains.

Few rock vocalists created such a dark and eerie body of work as Alice n’ Chains’ Layne Staley.

Staley was quickly creating an original vocal style — borrowing the creepiness of such metal vocalists as Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper, and merging it with the such classic rockers as Jim Morrison, as the group’s sound slowed down to a Sabbath-like crawl. Signed to Columbia Records in the late ’80s, AIC issued their first album, Facelift, in 1990. Hardcore touring built a fan base, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1991 that the single/video “Man in the Box” became a hit and broke the band to the big-time. Further releases (the hard rock full-lengths Dirt and Alice in Chains, as well as the acoustic EPs Sap and Jar of Flies) garnered more attention and huge sales, solidifying the group as one of Seattle’s finest and earning Staley the respect as one of rock’s most original frontmen. Indeed, Staley’s influence permeated much of the late-’90s alt metal landscape, as such singers as Scott Stapp (Creed), Travis Meeks (Days of the New), and Sully Erna (Godsmack), clearly contained elements of the Alice in Chains frontman’s vocal style in their delivery.

Despite all the success, things were going wrong behind the scenes. Rumors that Staley had developed into a hardcore drug user began spreading by the mid-’90s, and the speculation only grew louder when the band refused to mount any substantial tours after an appearance on Lollapalooza 1993. By the late ’90s, the group was on hiatus, as a best of (Nothing Safe), a box set (Music Bank), and an in-concert set (Live) appeared, but no new album was planned. Staley had appeared as part of the one-off Seattle supergroup Mad Season (1995’s Above), as well as on the motion picture soundtrack for The Faculty (a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall – Part 2”).

But the sporadic work eventually ground to a halt, as Staley seemed more interested in feeding his drug habit than pursuing music. His life took a turn for the worst in 1996 when his fiancée died from drugs, which friends say made the former Alice in Chains frontman blot out the pain with further drug abuse.

By mid-1996, Staley was out of the public spotlight, never to perform live again. He struggled throughout his career with severe drug addiction. During the last few years of his life, Staley rarely left his Seattle condominium, and refused to answer the door or phone when former bandmates or friends came around to check on the singer’s condition (which had supposedly deteriorated to the point that he had lost most of his teeth and had abscesses all over his arms).

Although it shouldn’t have come as quite a surprise, the rock music world was shocked when Staley’s dead body was found on a sofa in his condo, the victim of a lethal overdose of heroin and cocaine. Since the body had been in the apartment for two weeks and had begun to decompose, it was hard to determine at first the exact date of Staley’s passing.

Eventually, a date was determined, which proved to be eerie — April 5, 2002 — exactly eight years to the day that another leading figure of the early ’90s Seattle rock scene also took his life, Kurt Cobain.

He was 34.

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