Layne Thomas Staley (August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002)was an American musician who served as the lead singer and co-songwriter of the rock band Alice in Chains, which he co-founded along with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in Seattle, Washington in 1987. Alice in Chains rose to international fame as part of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. The band became known for his distinct vocal style, as well as the harmonized vocals between him and Cantrell. Staley was also a member of the supergroups Mad Season and Class of ’99. By mid-1996, Staley would be out of the public spotlight, never to perform live again. Staley also struggled throughout his adult life with depression and a severe drug addiction, culminating with his death on April 5, 2002.
Layne Staley playing with Alice in Chains at The Channel in Boston, MA.
27 November 1992 –
Photo: Rex Aran Emrick
Alice in Chains released their debut album Facelift on August 21, 1990, shaping the band’s signature style. The second single, “Man in the Box”, with lyrics written by Staley, became a huge hit. “Man in the Box” is widely recognized for its distinctive “wordless opening melody, where Layne Staley’s peculiar, tensed-throat vocals are matched in unison with an effects-laden guitar” followed by “portentous lines like: ‘Jesus Christ/Deny your maker’ and ‘He who tries/Will be wasted’ with Cantrell’s drier, and less-urgent voice.”
Facelift has since been certified double platinum by the RIAA for sales of two million copies in the United States. The band toured in support of the album for two years before releasing the acoustic EP Sap in early 1992. In September 1992, Alice in Chains released Dirt. The critically acclaimed album, also the band’s most successful, debuted at number six on the Billboard 200, and was certified quadruple platinum. During the Dirt tour (in 1992), Layne saved Mike’s life after he had overdosed. The band did not tour in support of Dirt for very long, because of Staley’s drug addiction. While touring, Starr left the band for personal reasons and was replaced by Mike Inez.
In his last interview, given on December 20, 2001 roughly four months before his death, Staley admitted, “I know I’m near death, I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way.” Staley’s physical appearance had become even worse than before: he had lost several teeth, his skin was sickly pale, and he was severely emaciated. In the same interview Staley spoke of the damage caused by his heroin addiction:
“I’m not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this shit. It’s a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning, and I’m throwing up all the time and shitting my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It’s the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body.”
As far as published reports are concerned, such as Blender’s “We Left Him Alone”, close friends such as Matt Fox have said, “If no one heard from him for weeks, it wasn’t unusual.” Further in the article, reporter Pat Kearney provides a glimpse into Staley’s daily life and public routine:
“It appears that Staley’s last few weeks were typically empty. According to an employee of the Rainbow, a neighborhood bar close to Staley’s condo, the singer was a frequent patron, stopping by at least once a week. ‘He minded his own business,’ said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous. Staley would never buy anything to drink, the employee said, but would simply sit at a small table in the back corner of the bar and ‘nod off. We just left him alone’.”
Staley’s close friend Mark Lanegan had much of the same to say with respect to Staley’s isolation: “He didn’t speak to anybody as of late… It’s been a few months since I talked to him. But for us to not talk for a few months is par for the course.”
Cold’s song “The Day Seattle Died” (from the 2003 album, Year of the Spider) was an ode to Staley, as well as Kurt Cobain, who were both figureheads of the grunge movement. In addition, Staind featured a song called “Layne” in memory to the singer on the 2003 album, 14 Shades of Grey. Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, also recorded a song eulogizing Staley, titled “4/20/02” (the day Vedder heard the news and subsequently wrote the song). The song featured only Vedder singing and playing the guitar in a ukulele-inspired tuning, and was released as a hidden track on Pearl Jam’s 2003 B-sides and rarities album, Lost Dogs, roughly four minutes and twenty seconds after the conclusion of the final listed song, “Bee Girl”. Eddie Vedder’s tone in the song “4/20/02” was very dark and heartbreaking considering that he was among one of Layne’s friends (as stated within the song for “lonesome friend”); One can hear how he truly felt about Layne Staley’s death in this song, not only aiming to other listeners to avoid ever “using” drugs, but he had also aimed this song to all of those “who sing just like [Layne]” (during the time when a lot of vocalists were aiming to imitate Layne Staley’s singing style) ending the song with the lines: “So sing just like him/f—ers/It won’t offend him/just me/Because he’s dead.”