Layne Staley’s death was a surprise. But it also wasn’t a surprise. And that contradiction is part of what made it such a tragic loss.

 

Layne Staley joined Alice In Chains as their lead singer in 1987. For the next ten years, his voice would become synonymous first with the Seattle grunge scene, then with alternative rock worldwide.

 

Everyone has their favorite of the Big Four Seattle grunge bands. Maybe Alice In Chains is yours. But even if they’re not, you can’t deny the pure alchemy of the way Layne Staley’s voice blended with guitarist Jerry Cantrell‘s.

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains gives an acoustic performance just a few short years after Layne Staley's Death

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

 

Millions of words have been spilled about the band, their dynamic, and Staley’s life and struggles. I won’t rehash those here. Instead, I’ll share my story of where I was when the news came down that Layne was gone.

 

Layne Staley’s Death: A Fated Loss, a Final Legacy

The actual date of Layne Staley’s death is April 5, 2002. That’s exactly 8 years to the day after the death of Kurt Cobain. That blows by eerie and goes right into uncanny territory. Of course, we didn’t actually know Layne died that day. At first.

 

Staley’s body wasn’t discovered until April 19, when his mother Nancy McCallum called 911 and joined police for a well-check after she’d not heard from her son for two weeks. He had died of a speedball; his death was ruled accidental.

 

In April of 2002, I was hosting mornings on 104.7 The Edge in Albuquerque, NM. The April 19th fell on a Friday that year, so by the time the news broke about Layne’s death, I was off the air and back home, taking it all in on MTV news.

 

I was shocked. But I wasn’t shocked. Alice In Chains had been on unofficial hiatus for over a half-decade by that time. Jerry Cantrell was already two solo albums deep. It was understood that, if the band reformed, it would be without Staley.

 

But there was always that faint glimmer of hope. Maybe Layne would finally clean up his act. His struggles with addiction were no secret. On the contrary, they were the lyrical fuel with the band’s breakthrough 1992 album Dirt.

 

Layne Staley’s death was the death of hope. Hope that we, as fans, would hear his voice again, soaring over an Alice In Chains track, dipping back down to join with Jerry in jagged harmony. That hope was gone. Layne was gone.

 

But what a legacy he left. Layne Staley inspired his peers like no other musician of his era, aside from Cobain. And the fandom built around him and his band endures. As does his music. It’s at once of his time, and timeless.

 

So let’s take a long look back at Layne and remember, via a few of his standout performances.

  • Layne Unplugged

    Layne Staley’s vocal performance on the Alice In Chains MTV Unplugged special oscillates between heartwrenching and gutwrenching. And I mean that in the best possible way. “Down In A Hole” might be his personal best moment during the performance.

  • Lollapalooza Layne

    In 1993, Alice In Chains played Lollapalooza. The band was a well-known quantity by ’93, with both Dirt and Facelift selling millions of copies. Layne absolutely crushed this performance of “Man In The Box.”

  • Layne, Singles-style

    Layne Staley, raspily howling his way through “Junkhead.” Such power. Such edge. This comes from the movie release party for Singles in 1992.

  • Layne's Last Stand

    This is, to my knowledge, Layne’s last live show with Alice In Chains. It’s taken from an episode of Saturday Night Special from 1996. Bent, but not broken.

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