Perhaps the northwest has never known a greater talent than Layne Staley or a sadder story. Although many around here will argue for Andrew Wood, while still others will argue for Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain but they all had something special and unique about them, therefore comparisons are a waste of time. Layne Staley had the ability unlike anyone I’ve ever seen or heard to summon those inner demons that had haunted him for most of his life. He turned that desperation and depression into incredible music that has been with us for well over two decades.
A dozen years after his passing Layne remains near and dear to our hearts around here and although many people tried so many times to reach him and bring him back from the edge, he seemed hell bent on taking himself out through drugs. The northwest seems to have had more than it’s share of this with our beloved icons and it’s sad. It’s sad that we can’t save them if they don’t want to be saved. To further add to the pain he carried with him, his beloved Demri Parrot died in 1996. Talking to people that were close to Staley will reveal that her death pushed him over the edge.
In Layne’s last interview with Argentinean writer Adriana Rubio he sounded like he was pretty much done(with life), that he knew somewhere deep inside that he was not going to make it. The conversation took place less than three months before he died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine, revealing a broken man, who, at 34 years old had given up the will to live. Staley tells the interviewer, “I know I’m dying, I’m not doing well. Don’t try to talk about this to my sister Liz. She will know it sooner or later.”
Layne continues, “This fucking drug use is like the insulin a diabetic needs to survive, I’m not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this sh–. 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.”
The interview surfaced about a year after Layne died and painted a chilling picture of what the final months and years had been like for the Seattle legend. Staley, suffering from fever and nausea, told Rubio that his need for heroin was all-consuming, even though the effects of the drug were no longer enjoyable. He added that smack had completely ravaged his system and left him empty and filled with regrets.
The most somber passage of the interview reads like a suicide note.
“I know I’m near death,” he said. “I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It’s too late. I never wanted the public’s thumbs’ up about this fucking drug use. Don’t try to contact any AIC (Alice in Chains) members. They are not my friends.” Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney however never gave up even if Layne didn’t realize it. Kinney states, “I kept trying to make contact…Three times a week, like clockwork, I’d call him, but he’d never answer. Every time I was in the area, I was up in front of his place yelling for him…Even if you could get in his building, he wasn’t going to open the door. You’d phone and he wouldn’t answer. You couldn’t just kick the door in and grab him, though there were so many times I thought about doing that. But if someone won’t help themselves, what, really, can anyone else do?”
In the rest of the interview, Staley talked about his relationship with his family. He stressed that he’s always been close to his mother Nancy McCallum, sister Liz and stepsister Jamie, but he shed some light into what really happened to him. When he was eight years old his father walked out on the family and Staley’s life faded to black. “My world became a nightmare,” he said. “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.”
Staley knew he had the talent and creativity to be rock star, and thought that if he became famous his dad would return. So he started writing songs in his teens and jamming with other musicians. At the same time, he did a bit of research to find out where his father was living and what kind of a man he was. “When I was 16, I tried to find him without saying a word to my family,” revealed Staley. “I did it for a long fucking time, and what I found over the years was not good, so I changed my mind about wanting to see my dad again.”
That’s when Layne focused all his energy on music, channeling his pain into songs as a way of expressing the hurt that he felt inside. “I was about 20, and music became my only obsession to stay alive,” he said. “I had the chance to throw out all this anger by the music in order to help others. It was therapeutic and worked for me for a while until my dad saw my picture printed on a magazine.”
Just as Alice in Chains started to take off, the man Staley expended so much energy and anguish thinking about suddenly wanted to become a part of the rocker’s life. The then 21-year-old singer was wary, but he still hoped seeing his dad again would help fill the hole in his heart.
“He said he’d been clean of drugs for six years,” Staley related. “So, why in the hell didn’t he come back before? I was very cautious at first. Then the relationship changed. My father started using drugs again. We did drugs together and I found myself in a miserable situation. He started visiting me all day to get high and do drugs with me. He came up to me just to get some shit, and that’s all. I was trying to kick this habit out of my life and here comes this man asking for money to buy some smack.” Being used by his father only added to the torment that he had felt for years.
“He finally kicked heroin use, and I’m still fighting,” he said bitterly. “I invested a lot of money on treatments. I know I did my best or what I thought would be right. I changed my number.” Staley grimly states, ” I don’t wanna see people anymore and it’s nobody’s business but mine.”
Rest In Peace Layne
These excerpts of Layne’s last interview come from the book Layne Staley: Angry Chair by Adriana Rubio
Layne Staley with Alice In Chains – Unplugged