Home / Music & Arts / 'Alice in Chains: The Untold Story' shows band's drug battle

'Alice in Chains: The Untold Story' shows band's drug battle

Cover for 'Alice and Chains: The Untold Story,' by David de Sola.Handout

Cover for ‘Alice and Chains: The Untold Story,’ by David de Sola.

Alice in Chains was the first of grunge’s big four to break out, but Nirvana clearly won the to-the-death competition.

Kurt Cobain short-circuited death by heroin with a shotgun blast to the head in 1994. It took Layne Staley, Alice in Chains’ lead singer, a while longer to kill himself with a speedball.

One of the many drenched-in-drug moments revealed in David de Sola’s new book, “Alice in Chains: The Untold Story,” has Cobain and Staley striking a deal while the bands were on tour in Rio de Janeiro.

To their shock and dismay, the two addicts discovered there was almost an excess of cocaine to be had in Brazil but no smack. Cobain agreed to pay for the product if Staley shouldered the cost of having it flown in.

That night, Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr, who had just been tossed from the band, claimed he actually died and came back as he bounced from shooting up with one famed musician to the other.

“Layne shot me up first a couple of times. Then Kurt shot me, and then Layne shot me after that and I died, for like 11 minutes.”

And those were the good times.

Staley was found dead, toothless and weighing only 86 pounds, in his Seattle apartment in 2002. Starr, after a stint on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” and “Sober House,” overdosed on prescription drugs in 2011.

Sean Kinney, Layne Staley, Mike Starr and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains during an In-Store record promotion in Los Angeles in September 1990.Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Sean Kinney, Layne Staley, Mike Starr and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains during an In-Store record promotion in Los Angeles in September 1990.

Both Jerry Cantrell, the other engine driving Alice in Chains, and drummer Sean Kinney openly talk about their sobriety these days, but are none too specific about the substances, other than booze, at the source of their addictions.

Actually, the best of times was when everyone was just strung out on booze, coke and sex — the basic musts on any rocker’s CV.

One of the purely amusing anecdotes de Sola shares concerns the night the Music Bank, the rehearsal warehouse where the band rented space, was raided in 1988.

Layne turned a corner with two strippers into a hallway crowded with cops.

“They were obviously coked out because they (the strippers) started b—-ing up one side and down the other to the point where Layne actually told them to shut up because they were making it worse than it needed to be,” according to one observer.

Back in those days, the band lived in abject poverty, “obsessed with getting p—y and who they were f—–g.”

Then, two things changed. Staley’s girlfriend, Demri Lara Parrott, started shooting smack — and Alice in Chains got famous.

Mike Starr, Sean Kinney, Layne Staley (sitting) and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains were opening for Van Halen in 1991, just as their music was climbing the charts.Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Mike Starr, Sean Kinney, Layne Staley (sitting) and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains were opening for Van Halen in 1991, just as their music was climbing the charts.

 Mike Starr claims that he actually died while shooting up with Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley while the bands toured in Brazil.Alison Braun/Getty Images

 Mike Starr claims that he actually died while shooting up with Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley while the bands toured in Brazil.

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  • Mike Starr, Sean Kinney, Layne Staley (sitting) and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains during filming of one of their videos in August, 1990. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
  • UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 04: Photo of Alice in Chains & Mike Starr at the Offramp in Seattle (Photo by Alison Braun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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Alice in Chains was opening for Van Halen on tour in 1991 when Staley, prompted by Parrott, started using.

On one hand, the two bands got up to some hilarious business pranking each other. One night, Alice in Chains dressed up as strippers in skimpy panties and combat boots, and followed Van Halen on stage, aping their signature walk.

On the other, Staley’s affair with heroin got serious fast. By the next year, the band’s dark and deeply pained breakthrough album, “Dirt,” was rife with references to the drug. At that point, Staley had already been to rehab after an intervention.

Then he relapsed again. Close to a dozen more stints in rehab were in his future. But when the band was recording in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992, Staley would hit the scary streets, desperate to score.

For the first time, there were problems with his vocals. He hadn’t yet mastered singing high. Staley created a personal shrine in the recording studio featuring a dead puppy in a jar that he used for inspiration as he crooned lyrics like “Stick your arm for some real fun.”

Kinney, though, continued to have fun the old-fashioned way on the Shi–y Cities tour in 1992.

“When Sean got lit he was pretty unstoppable,” a friend says. “He was sort of a classic destroyer of hotel rooms.”

Just as Alice in Chains became famous, Staley's girlfriend, Demri Lara Parrott, introduced him to heroin.

Just as Alice in Chains became famous, Staley’s girlfriend, Demri Lara Parrott, introduced him to heroin.

Kinney claims he had an alter ego he called Steve who would stand on a chair in an upscale restaurant and pee on the dessert cart or methodically pour beer into the sconces lining a hotel hallway for the pleasure of seeing them explode seconds later.

Meanwhile, Starr, who’d been introduced to heroin by Staley, drank a bottle of bleach used for cleaning syringes, thinking it was water. He ended up in the hospital.

In 1993, when the band was touring in support of “Dirt,” Staley would walk offstage midsong to get high. Band manager Susan Silver told Staley that he had to be the one to break it to ticket buyers that the concert was going to end midperformance because he was too screwed up to carry on.

“There is no f—–g way I’m going to do that,” he shouted.

“I pay you,” she screamed back. “Go f—–g do it now.”

That was the last time Staley would do a major tour.

Courtney Love tried to chase him down following Cobain’s death. She wasn’t happy with the suicide ruling and wondered what more there might be to the story. Since both Staley and Cobain were smackheads and ran with the same musicians, the assumption was he might know something. What’s not known is if they finally connected.

Courtney Love, center, tried to chase down Staley following the death of Kurt Cobain (r.), to see if he might've known something about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Cobain's death.Terry McGinnis/WireImage

Courtney Love, center, tried to chase down Staley following the death of Kurt Cobain (r.), to see if he might’ve known something about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Cobain’s death.

Staley’s final public performance was in Kansas City, Mo., in 1996. He was traveling with a bodyguard hired specifically to keep his drug use in check, but after the show he overdosed.

“It was only five or six shows, and by the end of the last one, it was cops, ambulances, and, ‘Get on the plane! Hide the drugs!’ ” Kinney recalls. “The same s–t was going on again.”

In a lawsuit filed after Staley’s death, his mother, Nancy Layne McCallum, alleged that at one point in the mid-’90s, her son tried to withdraw from the band to take care of his issues, but Silver forcefully pointed out that if he did, he would be putting 40 people out of work.

Staley and Parrott, by then his fiancée, went to rehab together at least once. They broke up, in part because she couldn’t accept his relentless womanizing. By the end, she was living with an older man who bizarrely drove her around unconscious for several hours before getting help. She died in the hospital late in 1996.

By 1998, Staley already seemed on last legs. He showed up in the recording studio toothless, emaciated and looking like an 80-year-old man.

Producer Dave Jerden watched as Staley disintegrated after a dressing-down from Cantrell: “Layne, who had such a strong personality, had completely turned into this nothing.”

There would be occasional sightings of Staley after that with open sores on his arms. Mainly, he holed up in his apartment, gaming, playing with his cat and doing drugs.

Layne Staley with Alice in Chains during filming of one of their videos in Los Angeles, CA. in 1990.Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Layne Staley with Alice in Chains during filming of one of their videos in Los Angeles, CA. in 1990.

Staley would be found dead in his Seattle apartment in 2002, weighing only 86 pounds and sitting on a batch of used needles.Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage

Staley would be found dead in his Seattle apartment in 2002, weighing only 86 pounds and sitting on a batch of used needles.

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  • Layne Staley with Alice in Chains during filming of one of their videos in Los Angeles, CA. August 1990 (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
  • Layne Staley, singer of Alice in Chains during Alice in Chains Live at the Whisky a Go Go at Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage)

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Starr was likely the last one to see him alive. On April 4, 2002, Starr, high on benzodiazepine, offered to call 911. Staley erupted, then yelled at him whenever he tried to take more pills. Finally, Starr left angry.

The autopsy later revealed that the next day Staley plunged a speedball into his vein. Days passed before his accountant sent up an alert that Staley hadn’t been withdrawing any money.

The police broke down the door.

Staley was on the sofa, illuminated by a flickering television. He was holding a loaded syringe and was sitting on a batch of used ones. There was a stash of cocaine and two crack pipes on the table. Brown heroin stains led from the bathroom to the living room.

The end everyone saw coming had finally arrived.

In 2005, Cantrell, Kinney and Mike Inez, who replaced Starr as bassist, reunited for a benefit concert. William DuVall later replaced Staley and Duff McKagan joined on rhythm guitar. That version of the band still records and performs.

So it is that Alice in Chains, with its influential blend of heavy metal and grunge, which plays on.

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Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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