Few rock vocalists created such a dark and eerie body of work as Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Born in Kirkland, WA, on August 22, 1967, Staley showed musical talent at an early age, and took up the drums. But upon joining garage bands and discovering rock music as a teenager (Black Sabbath, the Doors, etc.), Staley switched to singing. He met guitarist Jerry Cantrell shortly thereafter, and both formed a Van Halen/Guns N' Roses-esque glam metal band, Alice N' Chaynz (along with drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr). Taking a hint from fellow Seattle bands (Soundgarden, Melvins, Screaming Trees, etc.), the group rejected their early showy direction in favor of a more straight-ahead approach both musically and visually, and ultimately changed the spelling of their name to Alice in Chains.
Staley was quickly creating an original vocal style -- borrowing the creepiness of such metal vocalists as Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper, and merging it with the such classic rockers as Jim Morrison, as the group's sound slowed down to a Sabbath-like crawl. Signed to Columbia Records in the late '80s, AIC issued their first album, Facelift, in 1990. Hardcore touring built a fan base, but it wasn't until the summer of 1991 that the single/video "Man in the Box" became a hit and broke the band to the big-time. Further releases (the hard rock full-lengths Dirt and Alice in Chains, as well as the acoustic EPs Sap and Jar of Flies) garnered more attention and huge sales, solidifying the group as one of Seattle's finest and earning Staley the respect as one of rock's most original frontmen. Indeed, Staley's influence permeated much of the late-'90s alt metal landscape, as such singers as Scott Stapp (Creed), Travis Meeks (Days of the New), and Sully Erna (Godsmack), clearly contained elements of the Alice in Chains frontman's vocal style in their delivery.
Despite all the success, things were going wrong behind the scenes. Rumors that Staley had developed into a hardcore drug user began spreading by the mid-'90s, and the speculation only grew louder when the band refused to mount any substantial tours after an appearance on Lollapalooza 1993. By the late '90s, the group was on hiatus, as a best of (Nothing Safe), a box set (Music Bank), and an in-concert set (Live) appeared, but no new album was planned. Staley had appeared as part of the one-off Seattle supergroup Mad Season (1995's Above), as well as on the motion picture soundtrack for The Faculty (a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall - Part 2").
But the sporadic work eventually ground to a halt, as Staley seemed more interested in feeding his drug habit than pursuing music. His life took a turn for the worst in 1996 when his fiancée died from drugs, which friends say made the former Alice in Chains frontman blot out the pain with further drug abuse. During the last few years of his life, Staley rarely left his Seattle condominium, and refused to answer the door or phone when former bandmates or friends came around to check on the singer's condition (which had supposedly deteriorated to the point that he had lost most of his teeth and had abscesses all over his arms). Although it shouldn't have come as quite a surprise, the rock music world was shocked when Staley's dead body was found on a sofa in his condo, the victim of a lethal overdose of heroin and cocaine. Since the body had been in the apartment for two weeks and had begun to decompose, it was hard to determine at first the exact date of Staley's passing. Eventually, a date was determined, which proved to be eerie -- April 5, 2002 -- exactly eight years to the day that another leading figure of the early '90s Seattle rock scene also took his life, Kurt Cobain. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi