20 years ago today, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains died

Layne Staley had been in big trouble long before he died. He got deep into heroin addiction, interrupted only briefly after Kurt Cobain died in April 1994. Things got worse after October 29, 1996, when his former fiancée, Demri Lara Parrott, died of an overdose. He was put on a suicide watch and fell into a deep depression.

By 1997, he’d become so heavy into drugs–heroin, mostly, but alcohol was a problem, too–that he wasn’t able to do anything with Alice in Chains. He’d been through rehab a couple of times–13 times, apparently–but he always relapsed. The band lost out on millions of touring revenue.

In April 1997, he bought himself a 1,500 square-foot three-bedroom condo in the University District of Seattle. A modest studio was set up in one of the bedrooms in hopes that he would distract himself by working on music. That didn’t work, either. Instead, he spent his time painting, playing video games, and doing drugs.

He didn’t leave the condo much for the rest of his life, having his drugs delivered to the door. Dirty needles apparently resulted in a case of gangrene. Meals consisted of endless cans of Ensure. His teeth began to fall out, he became emaciated, and he looked pale. Family and friends tried to visit, but he refused to answer the door, even when his mom came by. The last time she saw him was in February 2001. Layne would go months without talking to anyone.

On April 19, 2002, Susan Silver, Layne’s one-time manager, got a call from his accountants. They noticed that he hadn’t withdrawn any money from his bank account for two weeks. She contacted Layne’s mom who then called 911. They found a pile of mail by his door and hear Layne’s cat, Sadie, meowing in distress.

They found Layne on the couch. His six-foot body was partially decomposed and weighed just 86 pounds. A syringe was still stuck in his arm.

The coroner identified Layne by dental records. He determined that Layne had died on April 5, 2002, which meant he’d been lying there for two weeks. If that date sounds family, it’s the same date on which Kurt Cobain died. The cause of death was determined to be a speedball, a powerful mix of heroin and cocaine.

The last person to see him alive was apparently AIC bandmate Mike Starr on April 4. He said that Layne was very sick but refused to call for a doctor. Starr later regretted not calling 911 at the time, but in retrospect, there was probably no saving Layne at this point.

Layne’s body was cremated and there was a private ceremony on April 28. His mother and father created the Layne Staley Memorial Fund which helps other heroin addicts in and around Seattle.

And Sadie? She lived with guitarist Jerry Cantrell until she died in 2010 at the age of 18.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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