About Layne Staley
Layne Staley was born to Phil Staley and Nancy McCallum (née Layne) in Kirkland, Washington. He was seven years old when his parents divorced, after which he was raised by his mother and stepfather, Jim Elmer. He took his stepfather's name while in high school and was known for some time as Layne Elmer. In early 2002, shortly before his death, he would describe the experience of witnessing his parents' divorce: "My world became a nightmare, there were just shadows around me. I got a call saying that my dad had died, but my family always knew he was around doing all kind of drugs. Since that call I always was wondering, 'Where is my dad?' I felt so sad for him and I missed him. He dropped out of my life for 15 years." In that same interview he also said that he was convinced that if he became a celebrity his dad would return.
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. His bandmates found this amusing, and they would poke fun at him, which infuriated him. He proceeded to trade in his drum set for a microphone and started the band Alice In Chains with co-founder Jerry Cantrell.
Career with Alice in Chains
The band released their debut album Facelift on August 21, 1990. Their lead single, "Man in the Box", whose lyrics were written by Staley, became a huge hit. Facelift has since been certified 2x platinum by the RIAA for sales of two million copies in the United States. "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, less-urgent voice."
Following the success of Facelift, the band went on to record two more studio albums - Dirt and Alice in Chains - as well as two EPs - Sap and Jar of Flies. Although Cantrell wrote or co-wrote along with Sean Kinney, Mike Starr, and Mike Inez almost all of the music, Staley wrote more and more lyrics as time went on, eventually receiving credit for about half the lyrics from their entire catalog as well as writing three songs musically and lyrically - "Hate to Feel", "Angry Chair" and "Head Creeps." Staley's lyrics often dealt with his struggle against addiction as well as other personal troubles. The album Dirt showcased the former in songs like "God Smack," "Junkhead", "Sickman" and "Angry Chair", the only single where Staley wrote the music as well as the lyrics.
The other members of Alice in Chains, seeing Staley's deteriorating condition, opted not to tour in support of their 1994 EP Jar of Flies. Following its release, Staley entered a rehabilitation clinic and began to work on a side project with several Seattle musicians, including Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees. The band worked on material for several months and eventually scheduled a show at the Crocodile Cafe under the name The Gacy Bunch. Within a few weeks, the band changed its name to Mad Season. In January 1995, Mad Season performed two songs on Pearl Jam's Self Pollution Radio broadcast, "Lifeless Dead" and "I Don't Know Anything". 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, and "I Don't Know Anything" still receives occasional airplay. A live performance filmed at the Moore Theater in Seattle was released in August 1995.
During Alice in Chains' hiatus, reports of Staley's addiction began to gain widespread circulation in fan and media communities, in part from changes to 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." Some of the more persistent and unsubstantiated rumors, ranging from gangrene to missing fingers, 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."
Alice in Chains regrouped to record their self-titled album, sometimes referred to as "Tripod," (largely due to the image of the three-legged dog, Sunshine, featured on the cover) released late in 1995. With the exceptions of "Grind", "Heaven Beside You", and "Over Now", the lyrics are all written by Layne Staley, 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, in which they poked fun at the rumors of Staley's addiction – Charles R. Cross would later say that they had Staley's obituary on stand-by at The Rocket – 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, guitarist Jerry 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 do that kind of bullshit that you see happen a lot".
During the band's appearance on MTV Unplugged, Staley was visibly weak and emaciated and had problems singing at times, including stopping the song "Sludge Factory" due to forgetting the words. He was nevertheless received by the audience with loud applause. He made his last performance on July 3, 1996, in Kansas City, Missouri, while Alice in Chains were touring with Kiss after their Unplugged appearance. In October, Staley's former girlfriend, Demri Lara Parrott, died from secondary complications caused by drug use (bacterial endocarditis). He was reported to have been placed on a 24-hour suicide watch according to NME, which quoted, "a friend saying Layne was taking Demri Parrott's death 'extremely badly' and had fallen into a deep depression".
Final years: 1997-2002
Staley remained out of the spotlight until February 26, 1997, when he and the other members of Alice in Chains attended the Grammys after "Again" (from the 'Tripod' album) was nominated for "Best Hard Rock Performance". In September 1998, Staley re-emerged to help record two tracks ("Get Born Again" and "Died") with Alice in Chains, which were released on the Music Bank box set in 1999. 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 snow." 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.  Staley was thought to have left behind his "self-imposed rock & roll exile"  when in November 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. The group recorded parts one and two of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" for the soundtrack to the movie The Faculty, with a music video filmed for part two. 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 Moore Theater video. On July 19, 1999, syndicated radio program Rockline was hosting Cantrell, Inez, and (via telephone) Kinney for a discussion on the release of Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, when, unexpectedly, Staley called in to participate in the discussion. From 1999 to 2002, Staley became more reclusive; little is known about the details of his life during this period. Staley's mother owns the last known photo of Staley, taken in November of 2001, which features him holding his new-born nephew; Oscar. However, this photo has never been released to the public, and may never be, due to Staley's sickly physical appearance. Other than this rare incident, Staley was not seen often by family or friends. Sean Kinney has commented on Layne's final year's and isolation period. "I used to go up to the condominium in Seattle and Layne never would come to the door. I would even get to the point of throwing rocks and stones at the door of his apartment yelling 'Layne its me! Let me in!' But he would never answer, so eventually I had no choice but to leave."
In his last interview, which took place in early 2002, Staley spoke of the damage caused by his heroin addiction: "I'm not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this shit. It's a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning, and I'm throwing up all the time and shitting my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It's the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body." Staley's physical appearance had become even worse than before: he had lost several teeth, his skin was sickly pale and he was severely gaunt.
As far as published reports are concerned, such as Blender.com's "We Left Him Alone," close friends such as Matt Fox have said, "If no one heard from him for weeks, it wasn’t unusual." Further in the article, reporter Pat Kearny provides a glimpse into Staley's daily life and 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'."
Staley's close friend Mark Lanegan had much of the same to say with respect to 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".
On April 19, 2002, an unidentified person placed a call with 911 to say "She hadn't heard from…[Staley] in about two weeks." Staley was found dead in his home after "his mother and stepfather went to his condo with the police".  As reported by Rick Anderson of the Seattle Weekly, his body was surrounded by various drug possessions and paraphernalia: "When police kicked in the door to Layne Staley's University District apartment on April 20, there, 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." The article also stated that the 6'1" Staley weighed 86 pounds when his body was discovered. The autopsy report later concluded that Staley died after injecting a mixture of heroin and cocaine known as a "speedball".
The King County Coroner's Office estimated Staley to have died on April 5, 2002.