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The Tragic Truth About Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains was the first band to bring
grunge into the mainstream. But despite their considerable fame and fortune,
the band had more than their share of disasters, thanks to an array of drama, unfortunate incidents,
and rock star excess. Here is the tragic story of Alice in Chains. As the songwriter, guitarist, and co-vocalist,
Jerry Cantrell is responsible for much that makes Alice in Chains great, and seeing as
the band’s musical vibe tends to skew toward despair, it’s no surprise that Cantrell has
his share of personal tragedies. One of the biggest blows came when Cantrell
was only 21, and he lost his mother and grandmother over a short period of time. Cantrell explained to Kerrang!: “Those losses really tilted my horizon. My whole f—ing life was basically taken
away from me within the period of a year, and I felt like I was on my own.” Cantrell notes in Mark Yarn’s Everybody Loves
Our Town: A History of Grunge that he was living with the two women at the time, and
when he was still dealing with the gut punch that was his grandmother’s death, his mother
informed him that she had mere months to live. Cantrell’s mother was only 43 when she died
of pancreatic cancer. In Greg Prato’s book, Grunge Is Dead: The
Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Cantrell says that the losses happened within a span
of six months or so, leading him to a situation where he had no immediate family, other than
his distant father. As a very minor silver lining, his mother’s
insurance policy left him with enough money to buy some music gear and, quote, “exist
for a while.” Jerry Cantrell may not have lived quite as
rough a life as the band’s famously tragic frontman, Layne Staley, but that doesn’t mean
he’s had it easy. As Louder reports, the aspiring rock star’s
difficult relationship with his father was such a case. Cantrell Senior had his share of psychological
issues from his time in the Vietnam War. This ultimately played a part in breaking
up the family, leaving Cantrell and his father estranged. Fortunately, the Cantrells eventually managed
to grow closer after the guitarist was inspired to write a song about his father’s experiences
in Vietnam. He named the brooding, dark song “Rooster”
after his dad’s old nickname, and Cantrell Senior was so fond of the end result that
he agreed to appear in the music video. Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley lived
a life that was full of tragedy and sorrow, but his personal history contains a sharp
turning point. A.V. Club recounts that In October 1996, Staley
was deeply shocked by the death of Demri Parrott, the vocalist’s long-time girlfriend and fellow
drug addict. The couple was already separated at that point,
and while Staley had plenty of rock star money to finance his habits, Parrott’s relative
poverty allegedly forced her to sell her body in order to finance her drug use. Parrott’s addiction resulted in fatal bacterial
endocarditis, and Staley took the news of her passing extremely hard. In fact, with friends reporting that he never
recovered after Parrott passed away. Staley distanced himself from his band and
the world in general, opting instead to binge on narcotics and play video games. Over time, this less-than-healthy lifestyle
started taking its toll on the singer, who persisted on this dark path despite the numerous
attempts his bandmates made to lure him back into the land of the living. Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney, in particular,
attempted to contact Staley three times a week for years, but Staley refused to talk
to him. Rumors about the vocalist’s condition started
making rounds, and some said he’d even lost an arm to gangrene, or at least a couple of
fingers. On the few occasions when Staley emerged from
his self-imposed exile, he indeed resembled a shambling, grey zombie. “Before, you know, they’ve had a chance to
see whether or not you’ve changed, they’re just assuming you have.” Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney’s tenure
with the band has been comparatively tragedy-free, though Kinney did have his own struggles with
alcohol abuse during the Layne Staley years. Still, there was a time when the drummer’s
very presence on the band’s first studio album, Facelift, was at risk. As bad luck would have it, Kinney broke his
hand before the band was due in the studio, and Greg Gilmore, the drummer of Mother Love
Bone, sat in on the kit. Fortunately for Kinney, the producer, Dave
Jerden, didn’t feel that Gilmore could capture the Alice in Chains drum sound, so the band
took a little while off…but not enough for Kinney’s hand to heal. Eventually, he decided that he couldn’t miss
the band’s big break, so he cut off his cast and drummed on the album with a broken hand,
cooling it with a bucket of ice he kept beside his drum kit. Truly, art is suffering. Alice in Chains’ sophomore studio album, 1992’s
Dirt, was a massive success that cemented the band’s place in the grunge pantheon and
featured landmark hits like “Angry Chair”, “Would?”, and “Rooster”. However, the making of the album was somehow
an even darker process than the notoriously gloomy end result. As Rolling Stone writes, the Dirt sessions
were seemingly cursed by misfortune, and were even interrupted by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The mayhem got so bad that assorted members
of the band found it better to flee L.A. for Tijuana and Joshua Tree, California. According to Revolver, things weren’t much
better when they were in the studio. The band was struggling with the newfound
success from their first album, Facelift, and singer Layne Staley and bass player Mike
Starr in particular were beginning to use drugs heavily. Staley was so out of it that he had to wear
sunglasses when they shot the music video for “Rooster” so viewers wouldn’t realize
how high he was, while Starr’s drug problems became so bad that the band had to ultimately
fire him. Staley even broke his foot before they started
touring the album as a warm-up act to Ozzy Osbourne, so he had to perform several dates
in a wheelchair. Layne Staley was hardly the only member of
the band to struggle with addiction. Mike Starr, the band’s original bass player,
also developed a taste for narcotics early on. Starr took care of bass duties on Alice in
Chains’ beloved debut studio album, Facelift, as well as their even more esteemed sophomore
effort, Dirt. He was there when they toured with giants
like Van Halen and Iggy Pop, but sadly, so was his drug addiction. Alice in Chains and Starr parted ways in 1993. Layne Staley said that Starr left because
he didn’t want to keep up with the band’s hectic touring and press schedule, while Starr
later said that he was straight up fired because of his addiction issues. Regardless of what actually happened, this
marked the start of a long downfall. A year or two after his Alice in Chains days
ended, Starr got in trouble for stealing luggage at an airport, and spent 90 days in jail. Later, he became something of a mainstay in
reality shows of the Celebrity Rehab and Sober House variety. On March 8, 2011, the 44-year-old musician
passed away in Salt Lake City, just a month after he’d been arrested for drug possession. Deseret News reported that Starr had been
mixing his anxiety medication and methadone, and The Hollywood Reporter later confirmed
that the bassist’s cause of death had been a prescription drug overdose. The band had their last full tour with Staley
in 1993, when they were co-headlining Lollapalooza. In 1994, they were set to tour with Metallica,
but they ended up canceling just before the first dates. The reason? Staley’s heroin addiction. Staley had recently gone to rehab, but soon
afterwards, he showed up in a band rehearsal under the influence. As Rolling Stone recounted, the rest of the
band were less than pleased, to the point that drummer Sean Kinney swore he’d never
play with Staley again. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell agreed with the sentiment,
and just like that, Alice in Chains took a hiatus – they never officially did brake up. They managed to patch things up six months
later, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of their troubles. If the tragedies Alice in Chains has faced
over the years were a mountain range, Layne Staley’s death in 2002 would quite likely
be its highest peak, when the 34-year-old lead singer was found dead in his apartment
in Seattle. Though his long-time issues with drug addiction
were well known, Staley had also been a recluse for quite some time. As a result, his body wasn’t found until two
weeks after his death, when people realized they hadn’t heard about him in a while. When the police broke down the door of Staley’s
home, they found the singer’s apartment in a sorry state, and its six-foot-one occupant
dead and so withered, he only weighed 86 pounds. Staley’s place was full of various drugs and
paraphernalia, and he was still clutching a syringe filled with the next intended dose
of heroin. The death was ruled accidental, and caused
by a “speedball”, a combination of cocaine and heroin. “It was a team, and I really miss him a lot. I love him. I miss him terribly.” Surviving members of Alice in Chains, guitarist-singer
Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney, reunited in 2006 without a particularly
clear vision for their future. However, they soon discovered William DuVall,
who ended up joining the band as a vocalist and guitarist. In 2009, the new lineup released the fourth
Chains studio album, Black Gives Way to Blue, and they’ve kept busy ever since. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t sit
too well with many people, who saw the death of Layne Staley as the end of Alice in Chains. The band continuing with its new lineup prompted
criticism from such fans, and as Loudwire tells us, in 2018 the band decided to fire
a volley right back at their critics. Cantrell pointed out that DuVall wasn’t replacing
Staley any more than Inez had replaced former bassist Mike Starr. He said, “We never looked at it as a part of somebody
is replaceable, because Layne Staley is not replaceable, Mike Starr is not replaceable. Their period of time with us in the band,
on those records is indelible and completely unique.” In an interview with The Los Angeles Times,
Jerry Cantrell recalled that the road to their fifth studio album, 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs
Here, was a painful one for him. The guitarist developed a repetitive motion
injury and had to have surgery to fix the issue. According to Revolver Mag, the band had started
working on the album soon after wrapping up their previous tour. However, after recording just one song, Cantrell
started experiencing excruciating pain in his arm. It turned out that the guitarist was suffering
from a cartilage injury he had been enduring since 2005, as the years of intensive guitar
heroics had worn down the glenoid labrum in his shoulder socket in a similar
way that sometimes happens to baseball pitchers, wherein the bones essentially grind on each
other with painful results. The injury and the ensuing surgical procedure
set the musician, and his band, back several months. Still, Cantrell ultimately came to see a silver
lining in the painful situation, as it forced him and the rest of the band to recharge their
batteries before jumping right into a labor-intensive album cycle. If you or someone you know is struggling with
addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 24/7 National
Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. That’s 1-800-662-4357.

Reader Comments

  1. People need to lay off Duval and Jerry. No one can replace Layne, but Duval is a damn fine vocalist and Jerry can still write some outstanding guitar riffs. Layne was always the voice of the band, but Jerry is the heart.

  2. Sometimes someone comes along so connected to life that there is little to no difference between their music and the way they experience life.

  3. I cant believe people are still upset about William DuVall joining up with the band. Aside from the fact that he has now been in the band longer than Layne Staley, he was very respectful about stepping in. They even got the approval of Layne's mother first, which they did not even need. She gave them all her best, and the rest is history. Drugs made AIC's biggest hits, but it also killed the band. Whether Layne OD'd on that couch that day or ten years later, the band was moving on. Layne was the greatest, like many others I named my son after him, but this "No Layne No Chains" nonsense is just worn out by now. The band still has a LOT to offer, if you want to miss out on it because you are stuck in the 90s, that's your choice, just like Drug addiction was Layne's choice. Like they all said, he just wasn't going to quit. But the band was unanimous, and they decided they should not and will not punish themselves for choices Layne made that cannot be undone. They are still Alice in Chains and they still have a band to manage, and they do it on their terms, as well they should. Not respecting their decision at this point is just sour grapes.

  4. Alice in Chains is one of my fav's from the 90's and still are now with the new singer but I don't understand why the sellers pushers of the drugs to rock stars who overdose and die from the drugs that they sell to them aren't investigated, prosecuted and thrown in prison

  5. I feel sorry for the people who didn't listened to Alice in Chains's work post Layne Staley's death. Layne Staley is irreplaceable but BGWTB and TDPDH are one of the epic modern masterpieces of rock.

  6. If no one is replaceable, then Duvall should be able to put more of his skill and creativity into the band. He's an incredibly talented guy and Jerry just wants to write the same old riffs in half time. DPDH is the only Duvall era album that gripped me at all. I've listened to the others. I can't get into them. The band needs to grow and evolve.

  7. I love both Layne and Duvall era's, if William didn't have the talent he obviously does, Jerry wouldn't have him.

  8. One of the greatest bands the world has ever seen. They may not get the fame they deserve over other bands, but Jerry's genius and lanye's soul has impacted all of their fans. They have gifted us with some of the best music ever. 💙💙

  9. Saw them in 93 on that Lollapalooza tour in Dallas, Texas. I will never forget it❤ One of the highlights of my life

  10. Bout damn time Alice In Chains gets one. I always wonder who the bands fame would’ve been if layne could’ve pulled through for Woodstock 94’ or was able to tour past 96’.

  11. AIC fan here , same age as most of the band members , rediscovered them and now listen now more than ever

  12. Mike starr saw him and partied with him probably the day he died , they argued and as mike was leaving layne said stay and mike left when mike was on celebrity rehab he told this story to layne's mom and asked for forgiveness layne's mom said of course mike it was not your fault , mike died about a year later.

  13. Could you imagine how Eddy Vedder feels today, knowing out of all the singers from that era Nirvana, Soundgarden,AIC and STP, he's the only one left and he was hard into drugs as well.

  14. Awesome seeing all the love for AiC here. No other band makes me actually 'feel' something when I listen to them.

  15. I’m all for the AIC music not only is it solid, but it’s better then most of the new “hard rock” that is produced in the modern.
    I hope the best for them and a giant thanks to Mr Cantrel for keeping the music alive.

  16. Thank you for covering this band, even though it's their tragic half they were the type of band to make the ugly beautiful.

  17. What I love most about AIC is that they were able to do slow melodic songs but also the classic hard rock songs, truly an incredible band!

  18. We all have tragedies and it's never an acceptable reason to use drugs. They all used because they WANTED to. Absolutely no sympathy for a fool.

  19. August 22nd,1967….. Layne's birthday.5 years later to the Exact day……….I was born. I saw them live on the "Monsters of Rock" tour when he was still alive.they were the only band the list that day that I had only mine early heard of and had never really listened to them. When he came out he just stood there dressed in black singing. Meanwhile I'm being packed like a sardine into a can. But his voice,(and this is a true story you can ask people from Philadelphia). Was so loud, that pieces of the building cracked and fell off and on to people's heads (it was scheduled to be one of the last shows there before they tore the building down but I think the band damn near tore the building down themselves). It is one of the most treasured memories of my youth.

  20. I love this band and the people in it. I listen to just about everything, but hard rock doesn't really do it for me…except for these guys. I will say their lives aren't more tragic than a lot of ours. What sets them apart from the rest is how they took these issues and put them in their music and made it sound natural and relatable. That last part is important. I feel like some songs people make are about problems they don't have

  21. I'm happy about Duvall's inclusion – the band has years of new music left to create. Not so happy about that pixie cut on Cantrell, tho.

  22. Lane Staley, like countless artists before him, died from a drug overdose. The End.
    *Anything predating the band isn’t the tragic truth “about” Alice In Chains.

  23. Simply put 🙏 THANK YOU !!! This band has truly gone through HELL, and their work in 90’s will live on forever, they deserve all the respect and to have the recognition of true Legends!

  24. I’d still tongue kiss the soul from Jerry’s body. Besides my lust for him, this is one of my favorite bands of all time. I listen to them literally, every other day. ❤️

  25. Never in my life have I heard a band that I can relate so well to. Not just musically but personally. Alice in Chains is the greatest rock band ever. Rest in peace Layne Staley and Mike Starr.

  26. @ 5:47 – '…Alice In Chain's beloved debut SOLO album "Facelift…'? What? How can a band's album be a 'solo album'? Can't have both.

  27. I'm SO PISSED that for SOME REASON I simply decided not to go with friends to see the "Clash Of The Titans" show back in the day…ugghhh

  28. "All this time I swore I'd never be like my old man. What the hey it's time to face exactly what I am."
    Sadly another contributing factor in Layne's emotional struggles is the fact that his biological dad was an addict himself, abandoned Layne at a young age, and did not make an effort to make contact with his son until he became famous. No one can deliver a song with the same intensity and depth as Layne. I truly admire Jerry Cantrell's strength. Not only is he a phenomenal musician, but a remarkable human being. His ability to keep pushing on through the darkness and never give up. His work ethic, his ability to use his talent to touch so many lives while remaining humble, gracious and grounded throughout the entire process.

  29. You can replace a frontman if that's all he was. If said frontman writes and steers your music? The best you can hope for is a tribute of yourself. Sad.

  30. They deserve so much more recognition then they get, especially Layne. It puts the biggest smile on my face to hear about them from time to time. It would’ve been absolutely amazing to see these guys play in the early 90s. Original lineup, or with Inez was just. so. good.

  31. One of the craziest things I’ve noticed about Alice In Chains is that they’re the greatest band of all time.

    Jerry is a generational talent and they’ve never even released a mediocre song..everything is absolute 🔥 and they’re the only band / artist I’ve never had to press skip on. Mind boogaling . Rainier Fog gets better on every listen 👂🏼 That’s the truth. 💯

  32. Layne Staley girlfriend had to sell her body for her habit ? Wonder why he didn’t help her out.

  33. 7:50 is incorrect. His manager seen that no money had been taken out of laynes bank account in 2 weeks, this is why the authorities were called to check. Not bc "people havent heard about him in awhile" that makes no sense

  34. I respect Cantrell's viewpoint. They want to write, and perform, and that's awesome. I even tried to get into the new music, and I've listened to every album as it came out. I can't get into the new sound, though. Not only is it not the same (obviously), but it's just not as good. The writing isn't as potent, the sounds isn't nearly as powerful. So good luck on your journey, but this is where we part ways.

  35. They really had to refer to Lane Stayley’s girlfriend as a “fellow drug addict” that is unbelievably disrespectful.

  36. Cantrell was NOT the only song writer of the band as you mentioned early in the video. Staley wrote many songs, including the last 2 ever produced and released, “Died” and Get Born Again”.

    I’m sure you know that, but just wanted to set the record straight.

  37. I really like William DuVall, he does justice to the Staley songs while bringing his own unique sound to the band.

  38. The man who sings for them now, sounds exactly like Layne. I saw them in concert a few years ago, and it was outstanding. I miss this music.

    R.I.P- LAYNE & MIKE💔

  39. Nonsense, William Duvall is a great singer and sounds amazingly close to Layne. Layne was part of the brilliant duo that was the core Alice in Chains but William is a great addition and their music is still great. I was fortunate enough to see AIC in '93 on the lalapalooza tour.

  40. I wasn’t a big AIC fan until I saw the mtv unplugged for the first time in 2014. Then I loved them, that unplugged was great

  41. So sick of the poor me stories everybody has the same shity lives but no one cares if your not famous fk off u poor rich celebrities

  42. No mention of how they were a bunch of misogynistic bros that hopped onto the local band wagon when grunge started to take off? They were hardly the first band out of Seattle. Lazy video.

  43. Not sure why it was relevant to share that Demri had to sell her body for drug money. Some things are better left unsaid. We can get the picture about the tragedies of her and Layne's story without adding a detail that further stigmatizes a woman already suffering in her most vulnerable state.

  44. I think the impact in Rockmusic would have been even more bigger if they had more years to play in their original condition. The tour with Metallica and maybe a new studioalbum after the Unplugged would have make them even more iconic and popular

  45. This is my favorite band along with Nirvana… I’ve never seen the documentary about the band portrayed so sadly so sorry for it’s so sad but let’s look at it on the bright side… I believe so an extra special from God is going to be the new singer for Alice in chains within the next couple a few years or so… I believe! Someone special from God!

  46. I will always be heartbroken over Layne’s death. I always wanted to see him live, but I was only in 3rd grade when he did their last tour. Always held out hope they’d tour again, but I was a senior in high school when he passed. I have seen them multiple times since then, but it’s just not the same (even though Jerry is amazing) & cannot ever be without Layne.

  47. Jerry and Layne harmonizing is out of this world. Alice in Chains is easily the most talented and interesting band from the 90s to our time.


  49. So sad 😞 seriously I loved some of the music these guys put out. Sometimes we only become legends after we pass on and off the world but it was definitely a waste of talent for those this famous to die from drug overdoses. What would they be doing now if they were still with us?

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