Former Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle home Friday; he was thirty-four. The King County Medical Examiner has not yet released an official cause or time of death, but heroin-related paraphernalia was found with the body, suggesting death by overdose. An official announcement is expected in several weeks after toxin reports return from the state lab.
Staley had apparently been deceased for several days before police discovered him on his couch, decomposed beyond immediate recognition. A Saturday autopsy confirmed his identity. Reuters reports that police have ruled out foul play and no criminal investigation will take place.
Layne Thomas Staley was born on August 22, 1967 in Kirkland, Washington. Beginning as a drummer at age twelve, he eventually switched to singing, leading a cross-dressing glam outfit called Alice N’ Chains. In 1987, a chance encounter with guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a party, and subsequent introductions to bassist Mike Starr and drummer Sean Kinney resulted in a re-constructed Alice in Chains. The band signed with Columbia Records two years later, releasing its first EP, We Die Young, in June and the full-length debut album Facelift in August. The album was certified gold a little over a year later.
Alice in Chains became a popular icon of the Seattle music scene, making a cameo appearance in Cameron Crowe’s film Singles early in 1991. Their follow-up album Man in the Box was released soon thereafter. In November 1991, Staley, Cantrell, Starr and Kinney collaborated with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm of Mudhoney for “Right Turn,” a one-off song recorded under the name Alice Mudgarden and released on the Alice in Chains EP Sap.
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Plagued by in-fighting and Staley’s well-publicized battles with heroin addiction, Alice in Chains withdrew from touring after their third full-length album, Dirt, which was released in September 1992 and certified double platinum by 1994. By this time, Starr had retired and was replaced by Mike Inez. That summer, the band returned to the road on the Lollapalooza tour with Tool, Rage, Primus, Fishbone, Dinosaur Jr., Arrested Development and Babes in Toyland, immediately heading into the studio afterward.
Jar of Flies, recorded in September 1993, made history in 1994 as the first EP to debut at Number One on the Billboard album chart. The band remained off the road, feeding the rumors of Staley’s crippling addiction to heroin.
In October 1994, while on hiatus from Alice in Chains, Staley joined guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, drummer Martin Barnett of Screaming Trees and bassist John Baker Saunders to form the grunge supergroup Gacy Bunch, later renamed Mad Season. The band recorded one album, Above, released March 1995. In November, Alice in Chains released their eponymous fourth album, which also debuted at Number One, followed by the 1996 release of their MTV Unplugged acoustic album. They also served as the opening act for Kiss, before quitting the road for good.
“[Drugs] worked for me for years,” Staley told Rolling Stone that year, “and now they’re turning against me — and now I’m walking through hell.”
Fans congregated in Seattle to mourn the singer/guitarist’s death throughout the weekend.