Layne Staley
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Layne Staley

Layne Staley
Staley performing with Alice in Chains in Boston in 1992
Background information
Layne Rutherford Staley[1]
Born(1967-08-22)August 22, 1967
Kirkland, Washington, U.S.
DiedApril 5, 2002(2002-04-05) (aged 34)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • lyricist
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • drums

Layne Staley (born Layne Rutherford Staley,[1] August 22, 1967 - April 5, 2002)[7][8][9] was an American musician known for being the lead vocalist, occasional rhythm guitarist and co-songwriter of the rock band Alice in Chains from 1987 until 1998. The band rose to international fame in the early 1990s during Seattle's grunge movement, and became known for Staley's distinct vocal style, as well as the harmonized vocals between him and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell.[10][11]

Staley was also a member of the supergroups Mad Season and Class of '99.

From mid-1996 onwards, Staley was out of the public spotlight, never to perform live again. Staley struggled for much of his adult life with depression and drug addiction, which resulted in his death at the age of 34 on April 5, 2002.[12]


Early life

Staley was born Layne Rutherford Staley[1][13] in Kirkland, Washington on August 22, 1967.[1] His parents are Phillip Blair "Phil" Staley and Nancy Elizabeth Staley (née Layne).[1][14] Staley did not like his middle name "Rutherford" and would get angry every time someone called him by this name.[1] He legally changed his middle name to "Thomas" during his teens because he was a fan of Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee.[1][15]

When Staley was 2 years old, his favorite song was "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" by B. J. Thomas, he would sing it even though he did not know the words.[15] He joined a rhythm band in Bellevue when he was 2 or 3 years old, and was the youngest in the group.[15] At 9 years old, Staley wrote in his Dr. Seuss book, "All About Me", that he wanted to be a singer.[15]

Staley was seven years old when his parents divorced, after which he was raised by his mother and stepfather, Jim Elmer.[16] He took his stepfather's surname while enrolled in Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood, and was known for some time as Layne Elmer.[17]

Staley was raised Christian Scientist,[18] but was critical of religion in his adult life,[19] stating in a 1991 interview: "I have a fascination with how brainwashed people get with religion and how they'll give up their money, their time and their whole life for a cause that they're sure is right, but I'm sure is wrong. I think there's a lot of people who are scared of life and living and they want to make sure they get to Heaven or whatever. I try to stay away from it as much as I can. I was raised in the church until I was 16 and I've disagreed with their beliefs as long as I can remember, so when I had the choice I chose not to believe in anything apart from myself."[20] Staley also stated in a 1999 interview that the song "Get Born Again" is about "religious hypocrisy".[21]

He approached music through his parents' collection, listening to Black Sabbath (regarded by him as his first influence) and Deep Purple.[22] Other favorite bands include hard rock and metal bands like The Stooges,[23]Anthrax, Judas Priest, Saxon, Rainbow, Mercyful Fate,[24]Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and industrial/new wave acts such as Ministry,[23]the Lords of the New Church and Skinny Puppy.[22] He also cited Prince and David Bowie as two of his biggest idols.[23]

Staley began playing drums at age 12; he played in several glam bands in his early teens, but by this point, Staley had aspirations of becoming a singer.[25] In 1984, Staley joined a group of Shorewood High students in a band called Sleze,[26] which also featured future members of The Dehumanizers and Second Coming.

In 1985, Staley and his band Sleze made a cameo in Father Rock, a low-budget movie from Seattle's Public Access Channel.[27]

We were just blown away by him - he had 'star qualities' even then. He was much more timid - he looked down while he sang. But the grain of his voice was there, the soul was there.[28]

-- Johnny Bacolas describing an 18-year-old Staley

In 1986, Sleze morphed into Alice N' Chains, a band which Staley said "dressed in drag and played speed metal."[29] The new band performed around the Seattle area playing Slayer and Armored Saint covers.[30]

Alice in Chains and Mad Season

Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell performing at The Channel in Boston, MA in 1992.

Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a party in Seattle while working at Music Bank rehearsal studios in 1987.[31][32] A few months before that, Cantrell had watched Staley performing with his then-band, Alice N' Chains, in his hometown at the Tacoma Little Theatre, and was impressed by his voice.[33] Cantrell was homeless after being kicked out of his family's house,[19] so Staley invited Cantrell to live with him at the Music Bank.[25] The two fast friends lived as roommates for over a year in the dilapidated rehearsal space they shared.[25][34]

Alice N' Chains soon disbanded and Staley joined a funk band,[35] which at the time also required a guitarist.[35] He asked Cantrell to join as a sideman.[35][36] Cantrell agreed on condition that Staley join his band,[36] which at the time didn't have a name and included drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr.[35] They started auditioning terrible lead singers in front of Staley to send a hint, which made him angry.[34][36] The final straw for Staley was when they auditioned a male stripper in front of him - he decided to join the band after that.[34] Cantrell said this about Staley's voice: "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."[25] Eventually the funk project broke up, and in 1987 Staley joined Cantrell's band on a full-time basis.[34] The band had names like "Fuck"[35][34] and "Diamond Lie",[34][37] the latter being the name of Cantrell's previous band.[34]

Two weeks after the band's formation, they were playing a gig at the University of Washington, trying to fill out a 40-minute set with a couple of original songs along with Hanoi Rocks and David Bowie covers.[38] Diamond Lie gained attention in the Seattle area and eventually took the name of Staley's previous band, Alice N' Chains, then renamed Alice in Chains.[34][39][29][40] Staley contacted his former bandmates and asked for permission to use the name.[41] Nick Pollock wasn't particularly thrilled about it at the time and thought he should come up with a different name, but ultimately both he and James Bergstrom gave Staley their blessing.[41]

Staley explained the name Alice in Chains, saying, "The name came from a side project of my old group. We were going to have this band that dressed in drag and played heavy metal as a joke."[35] The name originally came from a conversation that Staley's bandmate and Sleze guitarist, Johnny Bacolas, had with Russ Klatt, the lead singer of Slaughter Haus 5,[42] about backstage passes.[43] One of the passes said "Welcome to Wonderland", and they started talking about that being a reference to Alice in Wonderland, until Klatt said, "What about Alice in Chains? Put her in bondage and stuff like that."[44] Bacolas thought the name "Alice in Chains" was cool and brought it up to his Sleze bandmates and everyone liked it, so they decided to change the name of the band.[44] Due to concerns over the reference to female bondage, the group ultimately chose to spell it differently as Alice N' Chains to allay any parental concerns.[44]

Local promoter Randy Hauser became aware of Alice in Chains at a concert and offered to pay for demo recordings. However, one day before the band was due to record at the Music Bank studio in Washington, police shut down the studio during the biggest cannabis raid in the history of the state.[29] The final demo, completed in 1988, was named The Treehouse Tapes and found its way to the music managers Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who also managed the Seattle-based band Soundgarden. Curtis and Silver passed the demo on to Columbia Records' A&R representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner.[45] Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Terzo signed Alice in Chains to Columbia in 1989.[46][29] The band also recorded another untitled demo over a three-month period in 1989. This recording can be found on the bootleg release Sweet Alice.[47]

Staley on stage with Alice in Chains in 1992.

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."[48]

Facelift has since been certified double platinum by the RIAA for sales of two million copies in the United States.[49] The band toured in support of the album for two years before releasing the acoustic EP Sap in early 1992.[50] Alice in Chains made a cameo on Cameron Crowe's 1992 film Singles, performing the songs "It Ain't Like That" and "Would?".[51]

In September 1992, Alice in Chains released Dirt.[50] The critically acclaimed album, also the band's most successful, debuted at number six on the Billboard 200, and was certified quadruple platinum.[52][53] Staley designed the sun logo on the album's inlay.[54] During the Dirt tour in Brazil in 1993, Staley saved Starr's life after he had overdosed.[55][56] Because of Staley's drug addiction, the band did not tour in support of Dirt for very long.[57]

Cantrell wrote almost all of the music and lyrics for Alice in Chains, but as time went on, Staley contributed more lyrics. Eventually, Staley would receive credit for about half the lyrics from the entire Alice in Chains catalog prior to the release of Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009.[58] He also wrote the music and the lyrics to "Hate to Feel", "Angry Chair" and "Head Creeps", and melodies to other songs. Staley's lyrics are largely viewed as having dealt with his personal troubles, such as drug use and depression.[25] Staley also played guitar on "Angry Chair"[59][60] and "Hate to Feel".[61]Jerry Cantrell said of "Angry Chair" on the liner notes of the 1999 Music Bank box set:

Such a brilliant song. I'm very proud of Layne for writing it. When I've stepped up vocally in the past he's been so supportive, and here was a fine example of him stepping up with the guitar and writing a masterpiece.[62]

In 1994, Alice in Chains released their second EP, Jar of Flies. It debuted at number one, making it the first Alice in Chains release--and the first-ever EP--to do so.[53] The other members of Alice in Chains, seeing Staley's deteriorating condition, opted not to tour in support of Jar of Flies.[25] Following the album's release, Staley entered a rehabilitation clinic and began to work on a side project with several Seattle musicians, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and John Baker Saunders of The Walkabouts.[63] The band worked on material for several months and played their first show at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle under the name "The Gacy Bunch" on October 12, 1994.[64][65] Within a few weeks, the band changed its name to Mad Season.[66] In January 1995, Mad Season performed two songs on Pearl Jam's Self-Pollution satellite radio broadcast, "Lifeless Dead" and "I Don't Know Anything".[67] The band completed an album, titled Above, which was released in March 1995. The first single, "River of Deceit", became a modest success on alternative radio. A live performance filmed at the Moore Theatre in Seattle was released in August 1995 as a home video, Live at the Moore.[68]

During Alice in Chains' hiatus, reports of Staley's addiction began to gain widespread circulation in fan and media communities, in part due to changes in his physical condition brought on by prolonged heroin abuse. Referencing Staley's guest-singing appearance with Tool on the song "Opiate", the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "At KISW-FM's 'Rockstock' concert at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton in May 1994--just a month after the death of Kurt Cobain--Staley made a surprise appearance. He looked sickly and wore a wool ski mask to hide his face."[69] Some of the more persistent and unsubstantiated rumors, ranging from gangrene to missing fingers,[70] surfaced during this period. Mark Arm of Mudhoney is quoted as saying: "I remember seeing him in '95... he turned up and was totally green, and my stomach turned at that point--watching somebody on a track that they couldn't get off."[71]

Staley with Mad Season in 1995

Alice in Chains regrouped to record Alice in Chains, sometimes referred to as "Tripod", which was released in November 1995. The self-titled album debuted at the top of the U.S. charts,[72] and has since been awarded--along with Facelift and Jar of Flies--double platinum status.[52] With the exceptions of "Grind", "Heaven Beside You", and "Over Now", the lyrics were all written by Staley,[73] making this album his greatest lyrical contribution to the band's catalogue. To accompany the album, the band released a home video, The Nona Tapes,[74] but the band lapsed again, failing to complete tours planned in support of the album. When asked about the frustration of not touring to support the record, Cantrell provided some insight into how Staley's addictions led to repercussive tensions within the band: "Very frustrating, but we stuck it out. We rode the good times together, and we stuck together through the hard times. We never stabbed each other in the back and spilled our guts and [did] that kind of bullshit that you see happen a lot."[75] "Drugs worked for me for years," Staley told Rolling Stone in February 1996, "and now they're turning against me, now I'm walking through hell and this sucks. I didn't want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I've had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they're high. That's exactly what I didn't want to happen."[19]

One of Staley's last shows with Alice in Chains was the MTV Unplugged performance in New York on April 10, 1996.[76] The recording of Unplugged came after a long period of inactivity for the band; it was their first concert in two-and-a-half years.[77] Staley made his last performance on July 3, 1996, in Kansas City, Missouri, while Alice in Chains were touring with Kiss.[25]

Other projects

Staley shared lead vocals with Ann Wilson for a cover of Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells", featured on Heart's 1993 album Desire Walks On.[78]

The song "It's Coming After" from Second Coming's 1994 debut album L.O.V.Evil features Staley on lead vocals.[79][80] Second Coming features Staley's bandmates from Alice N' Chains, his band prior to Alice in Chains.[81]

One of the last songs that Staley recorded was a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" with the supergroup Class of '99, featuring guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, bassist Martyn LeNoble, drummer Stephen Perkins, both from Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros, and keyboardist Matt Serletic.[82][83] In November 1998, the group recorded the song for the soundtrack to Robert Rodriguez's 1998 horror/sci-fi film, The Faculty.[82] A music video was also released.[84] While the other members of the band were filmed specifically for the video, Staley's appearance consisted of footage pulled from Mad Season's 1995 Live at the Moore video.[85]

A song titled "Things You Do" featuring Staley on vocals was part of the soundtrack to the 2012 film Grassroots.[81] In the film, the song was credited to "The Bondage Boys featuring Layne Staley",[86] but the song had been credited to "Layne Staley and The Aftervibes" and "Layne Staley and Second Coming" when it leaked on the internet years before.[81]

Personal life

In the early 1990s, Staley enrolled in several rehab programs, but he failed to stay clean for long.[25] At one point, the other members of Alice in Chains flew to Los Angeles for weekly therapy at Staley's rehab, drummer Sean Kinney recalled; "We would have done anything he wanted to have helped him. Sadly, I felt that what he wanted was for us to leave him alone."[25] During the Dirt tour, Alice in Chains manager, Susan Silver, hired bodyguards to keep Staley away from people who might try to pass him drugs,[87] but he ended up relapsing on alcohol and drugs during the tour.[88]Kurt Cobain's death in April 1994 scared Staley into temporary sobriety, but soon he was back into his addiction. "Everyone around him tried over and over again to help him get clean. In the end there was little else anyone could do", said Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis.[25] Alice in Chains' managers turned down lucrative touring possibilities and kept the band off the road, hoping that would help Staley.[25] Pearl Jam lead guitarist, Mike McCready, also tried to help Staley by inviting him to his side project Mad Season.[89][90] McCready had hoped that playing with sober musicians would encourage Staley. "I was under the mistaken theory I could help him out. I wanted to lead by example", McCready told Rolling Stone in 2002.[25]

In a 1996 interview conducted by journalist Don Kaye,[91] Staley stated that he wanted to write a book that he had been working on for five years. As of 2018, there is no news about this book.[92]

In October 1996, Staley's former fiancée, Demri Lara Parrott, died of a drug overdose.[93][94] Staley was reported to have been placed on a 24-hour suicide watch[25] according to NME, which quoted a friend saying Layne was taking Parrott's death 'extremely badly' and had fallen into a deep depression.[95] Mark Lanegan told Rolling Stone in 2002, "He never recovered from Demri's death. After that, I don't think he wanted to go on."[25]

Final years: 1997-2002

On February 26, 1997, Staley and the other members of Alice in Chains attended the Grammy Awards after the song "Again" (from the self-titled album) was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance.[96]

Shortly after the Grammy Awards, in April of that same year, Staley purchased a 1,500 square foot (140 m²), three-bedroom condominium in Seattle's University District via "The Larusta Trust". Larusta was a reference to 'John Larusta', which, according to Layne's step-brother Ken Elmer, was an alias that Layne was using during this period. Elmer also stated that this moniker was used so that Staley's name was kept off of official public records on the transaction of the condo. Toby Wright, the producer of Alice in Chains' self-titled third album, had set up a home recording system for him at his new home. Wright recalled that, "I think he had some [Alesis Digital Audio Tapes] up there, a small console. I set up guitar paths, I set up a couple of vocal paths, and I think I had a keyboard path as well, and some multiple things where he could just go in, hit a button and record... He had a little drum machine and that kind of thing, he used to do demos."[97]

In 1998, amid rumors that Staley rarely left his apartment and spent all of his time painting or playing video games, had contracted gangrene and that he had lost the ability to ingest food and was living on a diet of Ensure,[25] Jerry Cantrell told Kerrang! that the members of Alice in Chains regularly hung out at Staley's house, "drinking beer and playing video games".[25] On June 22, 1998, Staley made a phone call to radio program Rockline and gave a rare interview while Cantrell was promoting his first solo album, Boggy Depot. Staley called the show to talk to his friend and stated that he had loved Cantrell's album.[98]

In October 1998, Staley re-emerged to record two tracks with Alice in Chains, "Get Born Again" and "Died", which were released on the Music Bank box set in 1999.[50][99] Additional reports of Staley's deteriorating condition persisted in the midst of the sessions. Dirt producer Dave Jerden--who was originally chosen by the band for the production--said, "Staley weighed 80 pounds...and was white as a ghost." Cantrell refused to comment on the singer's appearance, simply replying "I'd rather not comment on that...", and band manager Susan Silver said she hadn't seen the singer since "last year".[99]

Staley made his final public appearance on October 31, 1998, when he attended a Jerry Cantrell solo concert in Seattle.[100] However, he declined Cantrell's request to sing with him on stage.[100] A photo taken of Staley backstage at this show is the most recent photo of him that has been publicly released.[100][101]

Thereafter, Staley was thought to have left behind his "self-imposed rock & roll exile", when in November 1998 he laid down additional vocal tracks as part of a supergroup called Class of '99, featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Jane's Addiction, and Porno for Pyros.[82]

On July 19, 1999, nationally syndicated radio program Rockline was hosting Cantrell, Inez, and (via satellite) Kinney for a discussion on the release of Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, when, unexpectedly, Staley called in to participate in the discussion. This was Staley's last interview.[102]

Charles R. Cross would later say that they had Staley's obituary on stand-by at The Rocket in the late 1990s.[25] Upon the retirement of Alice in Chains' manager, Susan Silver, in 1998, The Rocket published an article asking the question, "But who's to wipe and change Alice in Chains now?", supposedly a jab at the rumors of Staley's addiction.[25] Joe Ehrbar, the editor of The Rocket at that time, said that a few days later, they received a package containing a jar of piss and a bag of shit, with a note attached saying, "Wipe and change this, motherfuckers!". "It had to be from Layne. What a classic response", Ehrbar said.[25]

From 1999 to 2002, Staley became more reclusive and depressed,[103] rarely leaving his Seattle condo; little is known about the details of his life during this period.[25] Staley was rumored to spend most of his days creating art, playing video games, or nodding off on drugs.[25] Staley's one time roommate and friend Morgen Gallagher revealed on David de Sola's 2015 book, Alice in Chains: The Untold Story, that Staley had nearly joined Audioslave around 2001. Gallagher recalled that Staley told him he had gotten a call from the old Rage Against the Machine members and they were putting together a new project, and they wanted him to audition. Staley said he was going back to rehab and then going to Los Angeles to do the audition in a couple of months. But he never made it and they ended up auditioning Chris Cornell instead.[104] However, Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello denied these allegations.[104][105]

Staley's mother told The Seattle Times in 2007 that despite his isolation, he was never far from the love of his family and friends, who filled his answering machine and mailbox with messages and letters. "Just because he was isolated doesn't mean we didn't have sweet moments with him."[17] McCallum told she saw Staley on Thanksgiving of 2001, and again just around Valentine's Day of 2002, when he visited his sister's baby.[17] That was the last time that his mother saw Staley.[17] Staley's mother also owns his last known photo, taken on February 14, 2002,[17] which features him holding his newborn nephew, Oscar,[17] although the photo has never been published. Other than this rare incident, Staley was not seen often by family or friends. Sean Kinney has commented on Staley's final years and isolation period:

It got to a point where he'd kept himself so locked up, both physically and emotionally. I kept trying to make contact...Three times a week, like clockwork, I'd call him, but he'd never answer. Every time I was in the area, I was up in front of his place yelling for him...Even if you could get in his building, he wasn't going to open the door. You'd phone and he wouldn't answer. You couldn't just kick the door in and grab him, though there were so many times I thought about doing that. But if someone won't help themselves, what, really, can anyone else do?[25][106]

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. As far as published reports are concerned, such as Blender's "We Left Him Alone",[107] close friends such as Matt Fox have said, "If no one heard from him for weeks, it wasn't unusual." Staley grew increasingly disconnected from his friends and bandmates - drummer Sean Kinney, bassist Mike Inez and guitarist Jerry Cantrell - who repeatedly tried to get him into rehab, entreaties Staley refused.[107] Further in the article, reporter Pat Kearney provides a glimpse into Staley's 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'.[107]

Staley's close friend Mark Lanegan said about 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."[108]


On April 19, 2002, Staley's accountants contacted his former manager, Susan Silver, and informed her that no money had been withdrawn from the singer's bank account in two weeks. Silver then contacted Staley's mother, Nancy McCallum, who placed a call with 911 to say she hadn't heard from him "in about two weeks."[109] The police went with McCallum and her ex-husband, Jim Elmer,[16] to Staley's home;[18] "When police kicked in the door to Layne Staley's University District apartment on April 19, there, lying on a couch, lit by a flickering TV, next to several spray-paint cans on the floor, not far from a small stash of cocaine, near two crack pipes on the coffee table reposed the remains of the rock musician." It was reported that the 6-foot (1.8 m) Staley weighed only 86 pounds (39 kg) when his body was discovered.[110] Staley's body was partially decomposed when he was found. Medical examiners had to identify the body by comparing dental records.[111] Years later, McCallum revealed that two days before Staley's body was found, she went to his apartment to let him know about the death of Demri Parrott's brother, but there was no answer. When she got the phone call to check on her son two days later, she was not surprised that there wasn't an answer. There was a little bit of mail by Staley's door, but his cat meowed and according to McCallum, she had never done that before and that alerted her. When Staley didn't answer, McCallum decided to call 911.[18]

The autopsy and toxicology report on Staley's body was released on May 6, 2002,[12] and revealed that he died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine, known as speedball.[12] The death certificate reads Staley's death resulted from "an acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiate (heroin) and cocaine."[112] The autopsy concluded that Staley died on April 5, two weeks before his body was found, and the same day that fellow grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain died by suicide in 1994.[112] Staley's death was classified as "accidental".[112]

Pearl Jam issued a collective statement on their official website after Staley's death saying, "We are heartbroken over the loss of our friend. He will be missed immensely. We feel blessed to have shared life, love and music with him."[113]Ann Wilson stated: "Layne wore his soul on the outside. He was luminous ... too tender for this world. We are all very sad to lose him, but happy that he's not sick anymore. He's free on his own journey."[71]Mark Lanegan revealed that he spoke with Staley a few months before his death at Staley's home. "I couldn't have been more sad," he said of his initial reaction to Staley's death. "I hoped this day would never come. He was such a lovely guy, like a brother to me. He was just a very smart, very funny, very mischievous guy. So anytime hangin' out with him, there was always a lot of laughter, regardless of what was going on. He was on a different plane, man. His concerns weren't so much about this world. [He was] one of a kind."[113] Staley's Alice in Chains' bandmates issued the following statement to express their loss:

It's good to be with friends and family as we struggle to deal with this immense loss... and try to celebrate this immense life. We are looking for all the usual things: comfort, purpose, answers, something to hold on to, a way to let him go in peace. Mostly, we are feeling heartbroken over the death of our beautiful friend. He was a sweet man with a keen sense of humor and a deep sense of humanity. He was an amazing musician, an inspiration, and a comfort to so many. He made great music and gifted it to the world. We are proud to have known him, to be his friend, and to create music with him. For the past decade, Layne struggled greatly -- we can only hope that he has at last found some peace. We love you, Layne. Dearly. And we will miss you... endlessly.[71]

In 2010, in an interview on VH1's Celebrity Rehab[114] with Staley's mother, Nancy McCallum, former Alice in Chains bass player Mike Starr said that he spent time with Staley the day before he died, as Starr's birthday was on April 4, 2002.[115] Starr claimed that Staley was very sick but would not call 911. The ex-bandmates briefly argued, which ended with Starr storming out. Starr stated that Staley called after him as he left: "Not like this, don't leave like this".[115][116] Since Staley is believed to have died a day later, on April 5, Starr expressed regret that he did not call 911 to save his friend's life; Starr reported that Staley had threatened to sever their friendship if he did. Starr was the last known person to see Staley alive.[115] "I wish I hadn't been high on benzodiazepine [that night], I wouldn't have just walked out the door", Starr said.[117][118] The interview ended with Starr apologizing to McCallum for not calling 911, but McCallum was insistent that neither she nor anyone in her family blamed Starr for Staley's death. She also told Starr: "Layne would forgive you. He'd say, 'Hey, I did this. Not you.'" With that said, Starr still blamed himself for the death of Staley.[115] Starr kept this story a secret until his appearance on Celebrity Rehab in February 2010.[119] During this same interview, McCallum also claimed that Staley had attempted rehab 13 times, although it is not clear whether any of these attempts were during his reclusive years.[115] Starr was found dead on March 8, 2011 as a result of prescription drug overdose.[120]


An informal memorial was held for Staley on the night of April 20, 2002 at the Seattle Center, which was attended by at least 100 fans and friends, including Alice in Chains bandmates Cantrell, Starr, Inez, Kinney and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.[121][122] Staley's body was cremated and a private memorial service was held for him on April 28, 2002 on Bainbridge Island in Washington's Puget Sound.[123][124] It was attended by Staley's family and friends, along with his Alice in Chains bandmates, the band's manager Susan Silver and her husband Chris Cornell, as well as other music personalities.[123] Chris Cornell, joined by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, sang a rendition of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" at the funeral.[123][125] They also performed The Lovemongers' song "Sand".[126] During her appearance on Celebrity Rehab in 2010, Staley's mother told that she has her son's ashes in a box.[115]

Cantrell talked about Staley's death in public for the first time during his solo concert at the Charlotte Center City Fest on April 27, 2002. He also held a t-shirt with Staley's photo on stage.[127] During his solo concert at the Key Arena in Seattle on May 18, 2002, Cantrell said to the audience: "I'd like to do something for a good friend of ours who's no longer with us", and played Alice in Chains' song "Down in a Hole". Cantrell later introduced Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart, who joined him on guitar and vocals to perform "Brother", another song that Cantrell dedicated to Staley at the concert saying "one more for Mr. Layne".[128]

Jerry Cantrell dedicated his solo album, Degradation Trip, released two months after Staley's death, to his memory.[129] Asked about Staley's death in an interview with MTV News in July 2002, Cantrell said: "It's something I'm still dealing with, and I still think like he's here. I miss him tremendously. I love him and have to move on. I'll remember him and respect the memories of what we did together and just enjoy life... and that's all I'll say about it."[130] Following his death, Cantrell adopted Staley's cat, a female siamese named Sadie. The cat appeared on Cantrell's episode of MTV Cribs, which was shot at his ranch in Oklahoma in September 2002.[131] Sadie died on October 8, 2010, aged 18.[132]

In 2002, shortly after Staley's death, his parents Nancy McCallum and Phil Staley started receiving donations from fans all over the world. Nancy and Phil worked with Seattle's Therapeutic Health Services clinic to create the Layne Staley Memorial Fund to help other heroin addicts and their families in the Seattle music community.[133][134]

Alice in Chains remained inactive following Staley's death. For the next several years, the band refused to perform together out of respect for Staley.[75][135] In 2005, Cantrell, Kinney and Inez reunited for a benefit concert for victims of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, with several vocalists filling in for Staley, including Patrick Lachman from Damageplan, Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down fame, Wes Scantlin from Puddle of Mudd, Maynard James Keenan from Tool (a friend of Staley's), and Ann Wilson from Heart, who had previously worked with Alice in Chains when she sang on the Sap EP (performing backing vocals on the songs "Brother" and "Am I Inside").[135] Following positive response, the band decided to reunite formally in 2006. On March 10, 2006, the band performed at VH1's Decades Rock Live concert, honoring fellow Seattle musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Cantrell dedicated the show to Staley and the late Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell.[136] The band followed the concert with a short United States club tour, several festival dates in Europe, and a brief tour in Japan. Comes with the Fall vocalist William DuVall, a member of Cantrell's solo touring band (who often sang Staley's parts on the Alice in Chains songs that Cantrell performed), was announced to sing Staley's part for the reunion shows.[137] In an interview with MTV News, Kinney noted that the band would use the reunion concerts to pay tribute to the songs and to Staley.[137] In the same interview, Kinney noted the reunion didn't necessarily foretell a future for Alice in Chains.[137]

The reformed Alice in Chains (with DuVall),[138] generated enough enthusiasm from fans, including Staley's mother according to DuVall, to convince the band to keep the name.[139] Cantrell stated that the band had no intention to replace Staley and that he always will be a part of the band.[140][141] He also said that DuVall brings a different element to the band and he's not trying to be Layne.[142] The band used to have an intermission to include a five-minute filmed tribute to Staley in between sets.[143]

God bless Layne. He was my favorite vocalist. I've never heard of a vocalist that had that much soul.

-- Mike Inez[144]

Legacy and influence

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins stated that Staley "had an amazing voice that had such a beautiful, sad, haunting quality about it. He was different because his heaviness was in that voice."[71] Corgan revealed that the song "Bleeding The Orchid" from The Smashing Pumpkins' 2007 album Zeitgeist was indirectly inspired by the death of Staley.[145]

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.[146] In addition, Staind featured a song called "Layne" in memory to the singer on the 2003 album, 14 Shades of Grey.[146]

Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, also wrote a song eulogizing Staley, titled "4/20/02" (the day Vedder heard the news and subsequently wrote the song).[147] 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".[147]

Jerry Cantrell said Staley gave him the self-assurance to sing.[62][33] "Layne was really responsible for giving me the confidence to become more of a singer. He'd say, 'You wrote this song, this means something to you, sing it.' He kicked my ass out of the nest. Over the years I continued to grow, and Layne started to play guitar, and we inspired each other."[141]

Cantrell had also written the song "Bargain Basement Howard Hughes", which was released a couple of months after Staley's death on the album Degradation Trip, but was actually written in 1998.[148] This song was not confirmed to be an apology or even aimed towards Staley.[146]

Since 2002, Seattle hosts an annual tribute concert for Staley on his birthday. Venues such as the Moore Theatre,[149]The Showbox[150] The Fenix,[151] and The Crocodile[152] have hosted the event. The show proceeds benefit the Layne Staley Memorial Fund.[153]

Staley's claymation doll from the "I Stay Away" music video on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.[154]

Staley ranked #27 on Hit Parader magazine's list of "Heavy Metal's All-Time Top 100 Vocalists" (published in the November 2006 issue).[155]

Staley was an inspiration for the title of Metallica's 2008 album, Death Magnetic.[146] Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett brought a photograph of Staley to the studio where Metallica was recording. "That picture was there for a long time," said Hammett, "I think it pervaded James' psyche." Metallica recorded a song in tribute to Layne, titled "Rebel of Babylon".[156]

In 2009, Alice in Chains released their first studio album in 14 years and the first without Staley, Black Gives Way to Blue, with Cantrell and DuVall sharing lead vocals.[157][158] The title track is a tribute to Staley.[159] Cantrell invited Elton John to join Alice in Chains and pay tribute to Staley playing the piano in "Black Gives Way to Blue",[160] the closing song in the album of the same name.[161] The song was written and sung by Cantrell, who described it as the band's goodbye to Staley.[162] The first concert that Staley attended was Elton John's, and his mother revealed that he was blown away by it.[161] According to Cantrell, the album's cover art featuring a heart surrounded by a black background, was inspired by the fact that the members of the band had their hearts broken by losing Layne.[163] Staley's former bandmates also thanked him in the album's liner notes.[164]

On the ninth anniversary of Staley's death in 2011, Revolver published some outtakes from an interview with Mike Inez, who said:

I always thought that us being, like, almost being sequestered in the Pacific Northwest, there was time for bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana to marinate as a band and kind of discover their sound before they were put on a world stage. I think that was cool, just being isolated away from Los Angeles and New York was really good for all those bands. And every one of those singers, too, sounds different from the other guy. Truth be told, out of all of them, Layne was my favorite. He was just such an original, just an original American voice.[165]

He was a one-of-a-kind singer. A lot of guys nowadays try to sound like him, but nobody can sound like him.

-- Mark Lanegan[108]

On September 6, 2011, Hank Williams III released his Attention Deficit Domination album and dedicated it to Staley.[166]

On the tenth anniversary of Staley's death in 2012, The Atlantic published an article written by David de Sola, who began:

The Seattle grunge scene that transformed rock in the '90s produced four great voices, but the most distinct among them belonged to Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain deeply understood musical dynamics and could simultaneously scream and sing a melody in a way that few others could--think of John Lennon's searing lead vocal performance on "Twist and Shout." Soundgarden's Chris Cornell wailed and hit high notes, putting him at times in Robert Plant or Freddie Mercury territory. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder combined a Jim Morrison-style natural baritone range with other punk and rock influences.

But Staley sounded like no one else. His ability to project power and vulnerability in his vocals, as well as the unique and complementary harmonies he created when singing with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, made for a style that would get copied for years after Alice in Chains became a household name.[26]

Staley's Alice in Chains bandmates have stated that one of the saddest aspects of his legacy is to hear him remembered primarily for his drug use rather than the other aspects of his personality.[167][141] Kinney and Jerry Cantrell have also expressed their frustration over the Grammys ignoring Staley during their annual tribute to the musicians who have died in the past year.[168]

In 2013, Alice in Chains drummer, Sean Kinney, added the initials "LSMS" on his drum kit, a tribute to Staley and the band's former bassist Mike Starr, who died in 2011.[169][170]

The music video for Alice in Chains' 2013 single, "Voices", features a picture of Staley next to a photo of Nirvana's frontman, Kurt Cobain, at the 2:20 mark.[171]

Jerry Cantrell always pays tribute to Staley before performing the song "Nutshell" with Alice in Chains. Since 2011, Cantrell pays tribute to both Staley and Mike Starr before performing the song at concerts.[172][173] For the show in São Paulo on September 26, the band had t-shirts of Brazil national football team with the names "Staley" and "Starr" on display on stage.[174][175]

Eddie Vedder paid tribute to Staley during a Pearl Jam concert in Chicago on August 22, 2016, which would be Staley's 49th birthday; "It's the birthday of a guy called Layne Staley tonight, and we're thinking of him tonight too. 49 years old", Vedder told the crowd before dedicating the song Man of the Hour to his late friend.[176]

In April 2017, Nancy Wilson revealed that she started writing the song "The Dragon" for Staley in the '90s. The song was recorded in 2016 and is part of the EP of Wilson's new band Roadcase Royale, scheduled to be released in 2017.[177] Wilson said of the song, "I started writing that in the '90s for Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, who at the time had not yet departed the world. But everybody saw it coming, and it was inevitable that he was gonna overdose. And so it was sort of a song like, "Don't go there." And I had the verse and the chorus, I just never had the B part, the other part. It just wasn't meant to be a Heart song, I guess. Finally, with Dan Rothchild, my bass player, he came up with the little bridge section that sort of completed the song. And it was supposed to be a Roadcase Royale song, I suppose. It was too square for the round hole for Heart."[178]

On Staley's 50th birthday on August 22, 2017, Alice in Chains released a video paying tribute to him featuring Jerry Cantrell, Ann Wilson, Mike McCready and Barrett Martin.[179]

William DuVall revealed that he was thinking about Staley, his grandmother and the late Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell while writing Alice in Chains' song "Never Fade", from their 2018 album Rainier Fog.[180] The album's title track, written by Cantrell, is partly a tribute to Staley and Mike Starr.[181]


Two biographies have been written about Staley, both authored by Adriana Rubio--Layne Staley: Angry Chair released in 2003, which contains an alleged final interview of Staley that Rubio claimed to have conducted less than three months before his death,[93] and Layne Staley: Get Born Again, released in 2009, which was described as "a 'brand new book' that has been revised and updated with the inclusion of two new chapters: 'Hate to Feel' and 'Get Born Again' as a revival of the acclaimed Angry Chair book."[182] On September 28, 2006, reported on a movie project related to Rubio's most book on Staley.[183] However, Rubio stated on her blog that the movie could not be made because the Layne Staley Estate did not authorize it.[184]

Staley's family have disputed Rubio's work, stating they don't believe she interviewed him in 2002.[185] Staley's last interview was for the radio Rockline on July 19, 1999, promoting the release of the box set Nothing Safe: Best of the Box with the other members of Alice in Chains.[186] The content of Rubio's book, including what she described as Staley's final interview was called into question in David De Sola's 2015 book Alice in Chains: The Untold Story.[93][185] In the book, he questions not only the content of the interview, which portrays Staley as using his lyrics in casual conversation, it dispels the claim that she held the interview at all, citing Rubio's refusal to release the tape with the interview and the fact that not even her publisher had access to the tape.[93] Staley's sister, Liz (née Elmer) Coats, released the following statement about Rubio's book:

I personally have never read Adriana's book. I did meet with her and speak with her at length. I also talked with Layne when I was contacted by her, and let him know of her intentions to write a book about him. He let me know that he wanted no part of it. He said that he did not trust journalists, and that they had never been honest in his experience. He also said for me to tell her, and I quote, "Tell her if she wants to write a book about someone, she should write it about herself." Anyone who knew Layne would know that would be something he would say. When I heard that Adriana claimed to have spoken to Layne, I knew the book would be full of lies, and I chose not to read it. The fact that she came out with that after his death made me sick. I regret that I ever spoke with her. In all of his wisdom, he was right again, and I unfortunately had to learn the hard way. She was not to be trusted.

You might wonder why I ever spoke with her in the first place. Imagine watching your big brother, this incredible man, trapped in his addiction, a personal hell on earth, for years and years. When I was first contacted by Adriana, I was so grateful that this woman from another country was so impressed by him, and wanted to tell his story, and honor him this way. I wanted Layne to know, or hear again, how much he was admired and loved, as he was such an extraordinary person. I even had the hope that a book written honoring him, might be one of the things that might change his course. You grasp at straws after you've watched someone you love go through such strife for so long.

I'm glad so many people realize what a joke this book was. I hate the thought of people believing her lies, but I know the truth, and that's why I will never read the book. No point.[185]

Staley was featured on the books Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music (2009) by Greg Prato, and Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge (2011) by Mark Yarm, both containing quotes from Staley's mother, friends and bandmates.[187][188]

In 2015, journalist David de Sola released the biography Alice in Chains: The Untold Story,[189] which is focused on Staley and features interviews with his friends and relatives.[190]


Alice in Chains

Staley appeared on all of Alice in Chains releases from We Die Young up to "Died", later taking part in reissues and compilations containing material from his time in the band.

Other appearances

Year Album details Band Notes
1993 Desire Walks On
  • Released: November 16, 1993
  • Label: Capitol
Heart Guest vocals on the song "Ring Them Bells".
1995 Above
  • Released: March 14, 1995
  • Label: Columbia
Mad Season U.S. #24, Gold
Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon Vocals on "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier".
  • Released: December 15, 1995
  • Label: Red Rocket
Second Coming Guest vocals on the song "It's Coming After".
1998 The Faculty: Music from the Dimension Motion Picture
  • Released: December 8, 1998
  • Label: Sony
Class of '99 Vocals on "Another Brick in the Wall Part 1, Part 2"


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