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Layne Staley: The Self-Destructive Genius Of The Alice In Chains Frontman

by Craig Campbell
31 March 2014 44 Comments

The Alice In Chains frontman's tale is a tragic one, but the warning signs were always there in his music...

There’s an age old saying that goes – give a self-destructive man enough power and eventually he’ll destroy himself. Such an individual was Layne Staley. As the lead singer for Alice in Chains he came up with arguably the most intelligent and literate songs of the entire genre. Drug abuse, depression and self-harm were all regular topics in Chains’ songs. For Staley, however, they were no works of fiction. Like reels from a creepy home movie, he was actually describing the demons in his own life.

Forming the band in 1987, Staley had quickly rose to prominence by the early nineties by hitching a ride on the grunge movement. His authentic lyrics and distinctive singing style made Alice in Chains stand out from other metal bands. There was a sadness to him too. He came from a broken home and his father had been a drug addict. Staley’s openness in interviews about the subject were brutally frank. Much like another grunge hero, Kurt Cobain, he had been deeply affected by his parents’ divorce too. It haunted him. His only outlet for anger was in his words.

Despite the fact that guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote virtually all of Alice In Chains music, Staley was as much an equal songwriting partner. It was a thrilling combination of sonics and a sonnet. Ignoring the pantomime nihilism of heavy metal, their debut album ‘facelift’ sold two million copies. It was a huge return for a band that were actually breached between the two barriers of alternative rock and heavy metal, although such a blurred line seemed to help not hinder them.

In 1992 however, the band were to release a masterpiece. From its harrowing cover art it was obvious ‘Dirt’ was not happy record, but just how tortured a soul Staley had become by then was obvious to see. Heavily using Heroin by now, it was one long anguished howl of a record about the pain of drug addiction. It resonated both with critics and fans and went on to sell 4 million copies. It spawned five top thirty hits and put Alice In Chains in the superstar status of rock and roll bands. Successful tours followed.

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At this time Staley seemed able to still operate despite his habits. For the next three years in fact he was pretty much a working addict. With his band he went on to record a highly acclaimed acoustic EP (‘Jar of Flies’) and on his own formed a super group with members of a Pearl Jam and the Screaming Trees (Mad Season). The Chains also toured extensively, although Staley’s addiction sometimes clashed with the odd date – at this time they were able to carry out their contractual obligations.

Following the release and subsequent success of their eponymous third album however and a critically acclaimed performance on MTV’s unplugged series things began to go terribly wrong for Layne Staley. His habits were kicking him hard. Following the death of his ex-girlfriend Demri Parrot from bacterial endocarditis, Staley, at the time talked frankly about the hell he was going through.

“Drugs worked for me for years and now they’re turning against me. Taking me to hell.”

After this Rolling Stone interview in fact, Layne Staley became an almost recluse. For almost two years no one saw him, although after this period he did appear sporadically to lay down tracks with the band, and record a track for the movie the Faculty. At lot of people however were shocked by his deteriorating appearance, he was translucent almost. So bad in fact that it was rumoured at least one music magazine had his obituary already written on stand-by.

This was now Staley’s cue to disappear from the public eye completely and for the next three years what occurred was the longest and most harrowing demise in rock history. Locking himself away from everybody it was rumoured he would spend his days shooting up and playing video games. Horrible rumours would spring up in the media talking about gangrene and missing digits. In his final interview of 2001 he painted a horrible picture of his lifestyle.

“I know I’m near death. I did crack and heroin for years. I didn’t want it to end this way.”

It was to prove prophetic. In April 2002, Staley’s accountants contacted Staley’s mother telling her that no money had been drawn out of his account in 7 days. (Strange for him). She immediately phoned police who arrived at his door and broke it down. There they found the singers lifeless body surrounded by two crack pipes and a small of Cocaine. When he died he weighed an astonishing 86 pounds.

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Billy Morrison 11:26 am, 13-Jan-2014

Layne Staley, surely?

chris 10:59 pm, 10-Feb-2014

Layne Staley is an incredibly fascinating artist to read about, in part because of that very charisma and the fact that his music was just that damn good. However, if the writer of this essay did his homework, he'd find that the authenticity of that final interview (which appeared in Adriana Rubio's "biography" of Staley) has been seriously called into question. I've heard first-hand accounts from people who ran into Staley in a comic book store and once on the street who said that from what they gathered, he just wanted to live peacefully and anonymously, and although he was friendly when recognized, he was not as broken-down as some rumors and media depictions painted him. A little bedraggled and scruffy, yeah, but not a barely functioning 80-something-pound wraith.

Rob 12:06 am, 25-Feb-2014

No offense meant, but was this a cut and paste from his wikipedia page? I'm just trying to figure out what is new about this article? He was quite arguably one of the greatest artists of all time that happened to succumb to his heroin addiction and ...? Don't get me wrong, I love ANY Layne news, but there was nothing new about it.

JOHNNY B 10:17 pm, 14-Mar-2014

fuck all of you who agree with this piece of shit article its bang out i love alice and chains and im sick of people bashing layne. No need he never slagged any one off and was a amazing artist ,singer .and his sisters son doted on him .remember the good not the bad .

Justin Case 2:32 am, 19-Mar-2014

Incredible singer/songwriter. There's only one Layne Staley and unfortunately we lost him too early. Anyone who knows anything about addiction knows there's a thin line between life and death and once you cross that line entirely, your living on borrowed time and unfortunately welcome death to put you out of your misery. He was tortured beyond what anyone could ever imagine and probably begged to leave this world to end his pain. He left his mark on this world and a huge mark on my world. Fortunately for me, I made it out alive but I know addiction would welcome me back with open arms. Everyday is a struggle and I could be the next dead addict tomorrow and I haven't made a mark on this world yet. RIP LAYNE STALEY

Sharleen 1:46 am, 31-Mar-2014

Hear, hear @ Justin Case. My Dad was an alcoholic and addict and, although he took amazing care of all his loved ones, he didn't know how to take care of himself; he was the light in my universe and I have never forgiven myself for not knowing how to heal him of the pain that kept leading him down those dark paths. There's no romance in addiction. It's just soul sucking. I hope you make your mark here and know that you've at least made one on me. All the best from here forward

Charity 4:19 am, 31-Mar-2014

RIP Layne.

Mike 7:35 am, 31-Mar-2014

"There’s an age old saying that goes – give a self-destructive man enough power and eventually he’ll destroy himself." No there isn't.

Damon 7:38 am, 31-Mar-2014

He was very talented, and arguably one of the greatest vocalists of the 90's. RIP, he was, and will be missed terribly.

Mark 6:09 pm, 31-Mar-2014

Layne will always be remembered in a good light. For the mark he left on the music world by his unique and talented singing voice.

Laura 10:07 am, 1-Apr-2014

This is just all the same blah, blah, blah about a man who was human , who created art & who was loved by friends, family & fans all around the world for just being himself. It is SO ANNOYING to see " new articles " written about Layne only to read the first couple paragraphs and all that is really highlighted, is his drug habit. WHEN will you writers finally give Layne the respect he deserves? How about writing an article that has no mention of drugs ? Trust when I say, he had a MILIION other great things that you people could be writing about. Respect for Layne. XOXO

Suzanne 6:52 pm, 1-Apr-2014

Layne was so uniquely talented - no one will ever match him in the vocals department. His delivery and phrasing were just incredible. Anyway, I agree with what others have said -- the article is based at least in part on faulty information. Layne was so much more than his drug use. He was a good guy and a talented musician. His loss is deeply felt by many, myself included. Sleep well, Layne.

annie 5:01 am, 2-Apr-2014

i love layne,i love his music,i love his voice,everything! i hate addiction, i know addiction, it wants you dead! i've lived through addiction,R.I.P. LAYNE, LOVE AND LIGHT

annie 5:10 am, 2-Apr-2014

i love layne, i love his music, i love hid voice. i hate addiction and what it does to people (did to me)it wants you dead...R.I,P.LAYNE, LOTS OF LOVE

stephanie hobbs 5:06 am, 3-Apr-2014

Layne along with Kurt was a highly talented genius! So sad we had to lose them! R.I.P. Layne and Kurt, you were loved by millions!

Tay 7:44 pm, 5-Apr-2014

Addiction is a bitch. I got into Alice in Chains very late. I'm an artist who bought the lie that in order to tap into my creativity, one had to be high. It worked for a while, but then the drugs took over. But its not only drugs...ANYTHING I like, I do to the extreme. The key for me is to find myself when I'm not drawing or painting. Dealing with others and being comfortable with myself is hard for me. Layne's lyrics are so relative to me. I hear the pain. But the same could be said for Anthony Kiedis. Luckily...he found himself and plugged into "the program". I'm trying to get there.

lorraine 7:48 pm, 5-Apr-2014

Few things please me more then going for a ride in my car and blaring"It Ain't Like That"...my favorite part of that song is when Layne throws in a growling"Yeah"!en route to the second verse.I like to look up at the sky during that part and give him a little glance of recognition. Also worth mentioning- and it is hard to sift through and choose examples of Layne's prowess- are his vocals on "Got Me Wrong". Jesus God, does that song give me chills- Layne's voice is seductive and sensual,wrapping around you like the warmest of blankets. These are the moments we need to remember- the beauty and passion of Layne's gifts.

lorraine 8:08 pm, 5-Apr-2014

Why has my comment been in limbo for so long? It was heartfelt and lucid...if annie got posted, why the Hell didn't I?

gil 1:27 am, 6-Apr-2014

RIP layne and kurt.

gil 1:30 am, 6-Apr-2014

RIP layne and kurt. miss them a lot, but their music is always on my mind.

Khat 6:12 am, 6-Apr-2014

Why not write an article about how Layne and Alice have impacted music into today - I recently started listening to my local rock station again and I find their legacy everywhere. Which is why Alice in Chains was able to come right back in and be successful today.

Khat 3:30 am, 7-Apr-2014

Lorraine - perfectly said for "Got Me Wrong" - one of my favorite songs for those reasons. Layne had such vocal diversity!

Lori 11:27 pm, 7-Apr-2014

I understand the pain of divorce and understand Layne Staley and his voice is still alive.

Lori 11:53 pm, 7-Apr-2014

People with great vocal talent-gifted like Layne Staley should have gotten more stabilization-help for his addiction and Layne's voice lives on forever.

Miles Lehmann 4:32 pm, 14-Apr-2014

Never heard of him! :)

Miles Lehmann 4:33 pm, 14-Apr-2014

I doubt many people have heard of him also... Sorry but I have no idea who this guy is :)

Craig Campbell 8:25 pm, 17-Apr-2014

Oh Miles. That comment is going to get them going again ha ha.

lorraine 10:37 pm, 18-Apr-2014

Miles... I can't help but wonder why you would bother reading a lengthy article about someone you are clueless of, and then continue on to post 2 comments that are irrelevant and contribute absolutely nothing to the dialogue that fans of Layne's are participating in. To each his own-I'm sure you've heard of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, though,which explains why you haven't had the time to check out REAL music and talent, i.e., Layne Staley, and the other 5 members of the band. Have fun twerking tonight!!!

Angry fan 10:09 am, 22-Apr-2014

AND A SMALL OF COCAINE??? Fix that typo. This is an article about fucking Layne Staley.

pamela devereux 10:24 pm, 24-Apr-2014

He wrote superb lyrics filtered through a hauntingly,beautiful vocal range.That's all I need to know.

eyeball 2:07 am, 27-Apr-2014

43 years old and aic is my mid life crisis. .....dont know why

mahituna 9:53 pm, 5-May-2014

Opiates, the devil's drug. People, if you are doing them or think of doing them stop. The way in is so easy, the way out is very hard. Opiates will take away your money, sex life, friends, family, job and any hobbies or interests you had. Does that really sound like fun?

Jimmy 2:46 pm, 8-May-2014

GOD IS A BULLET !! LAYNE STALEY IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE THE VOICE OF ALL GODS AND DEMONS !! LIFE IS ??

Mel 2:29 pm, 10-May-2014

Ok everyone is pissing me off.. layne was the man. Might have been the best voice i ever heard.

g 1:09 am, 14-May-2014

sucks all the good singers are dying who's next...

Vince 10:56 pm, 23-May-2014

I gotta put in my 2 cents, I'm so tired of every article about Layne that has to have a comment about his heroin use. Clearly he had a bad addiction and I unfortunately understand how screwed up it makes your life and you clearly don't make the smartest decisions while on it. Clearly he was a great singer and that isn't important but from what I've ever heard is he was a good guy and that's what he should remembered for, not for what his problems were. But I sure do wish he could have blessed us with if only a few more songs. R.I.P.

Donna 4:26 pm, 4-Jun-2014

Wow. I was (at first) super excited to see any new print about Layne. Then I read it. Come on, man. This is a poor attempt at anything "newsworthy" regarding Layne. Most of it is common knowledge and, worse, some "facts" are just plain wrong, including the timeline of his passing, which is public knowledge based on the coroner's report after his autopsy. If you're going to write about a dead legend, particularly Layne Thomas Staley, you'd better make it count. His fans are ride-or-die, loyal, people who revere him, and we protect his memory. Some of this nonsense came straight out of that hack, Ariana Rubio's book, which is total garbage. Most people who knew Layne well, including his own mother and sister, believe she never even interviewed him. Layne despised the press and as dope sick and reclusive as he was in his end of days, the last thing he would've done is talk to some foreign stranger about shitting his pants (written by Rubio). It's total bullshit. That's not who he was, and though he was slowly and painfully unraveling, his pride was still in tact. Wanna impress me? Write a piece on his unbridled genius as a musician and lyricist. His huge, warm heart. His kindness. His great sense of humor. His artistry. His loyalty, and the fact that anyone who knew him has not one bad word to say about Layne as a person. He was a drug addict. His life ended because he was a drug addict. These are sad, haunting facts about Layne, but they aren't who he was as a human being. I'll never stop loving Layne or defending his memory. That's a fact.

K G 6:08 am, 17-Jun-2014

Layne's voice was absolutely phenomenal. I have never ever and will probably never hear another voice so captivating..there's so much emotion so much impact and feeling that it brings to me. I've been an AIC fan for a very long time and the more I hear these songs the more I love them and I always find something, another small detail or aspect of these songs that holds my interest and attention. Undoubtedly Layne Stayley lives in my heart and I can clearly hear his voice in my head singing to all my favorite AIC songs! I can be in any type of mood and it's always an AIC mood happy or sad even angry completely satisfying!!! Only Layne Stayley can do this R.I.P to the legend!!!! Thank you Layne for blessing the world with your voice!

Summer 6:12 pm, 2-Jul-2014

Well, the minute I was born was the minute that started my love for Alice in Chains (says my dad) but over time I have really started to listen to his lyrics and his voice, he has meaning to his songs and it speaks to me in a way. I'm still only a 12 year old kid but man LAYNE STAYLEY!! Why did u have to die just a few moths before my birth???!!!?! R.I.P Layne Stayley Kurt Cobain

deanna melton brothers 11:04 pm, 5-Jul-2014

i would have given anything in this world to have been able to just sit and talk to this man...it wouldnt have mattered if he had been high or not. evidentally he was a "functioning addict" for a long time anyway. layne is to music as a sparkle is to a diamond. i cant listen to metallica AT ALL, after james hetfield and his cronies "mocked" layne and i cant stand jerry cantrell now for letting hetfield up on the stage after layne was made fun of and had died to let him even sing a word from one of the songs layne sang...where is the freaking loyalty to the mand that made AIC what it is what it was and what it will always be...i love you layne!!!

Asle Bjamer 4:33 pm, 18-Jul-2014

Alice in Chains changed my life regarding music. I am a Norwegian, but learned fast to appreciate the talent of the group. Regarding Layne, I have never before or later found a match in singing capability. What a talent! I listen to Alice everyday - particularly when I work out. Layne will always be a part in my life. However, I am so happy that Alice carries on....

Mhairi 10:17 am, 3-Aug-2014

It's so good to be a forty year old looking at all these recent great comments about a truly unique man. I loved Alice in Chains when they were 'new' and 'grunge' so it does a heart proud to see that new young fans are breaking through all the shite to find 'older' bands and appreciate the music that has been made but still lives up to today's standards. Layne was an excellent voice in a Beautifully crafted band and deserves to be remembered as such. Did he have demons - yes but don't we all, but, most of us have the opportunity of being anonymous with our demons. He didn't have such luxury and although the general consensus is that you bring it on by choosing to put yourself in the public domain, it (his demons) should not be the sole thing he is remembered for.

g rif 3:22 pm, 4-Aug-2014

He was only 86 pounds because by the time they found him he'd been dead for like at least a week, Jesus people love to think wow he was a total walking corpse, cmon now.

kevin 5:37 pm, 6-Aug-2014

I watched him on stage in 93. He was captivating. There is a sadness so great in this world that you can see it in the slow movement of a clocks hands. Even today listening to him I am as touched as I was at 19 watching him.

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