The element that made Alice In Chains so potent among fans during the Layne Staley era was the singer’s connection to the darkest recesses of the human condition. His unique voice dripped with the kind of pain and pathos that was almost tangible.
To hear Staley’s tales of addiction and anguish was to both admire and pity him. This was a man who was dying as the whole world watched.
Although struggle was never a foreign element to the band, things took an even darker turn in the months surrounding their 1995 eponymous album. Although they failed to support the record, Alice In Chains did manage to pull themselves together enough to perform a now-legendary set for MTV Unplugged on April 10th, 1996.
For a brief moment, it looked like the band was potentially entering a period of renewed stability. In a depressingly ironic twist of fate, they were given the opportunity to sign on as the support act for four dates of rock legends Kiss’ reunion tour when Stone Temple Pilots were forced to cancel due to frontman Scott Weiland’s return to rehab.
Their June 28th, 1996 show at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium would be the first time that Kiss would play a real concert since 1993, and the Army was ravenous. Coming face to face with 40,000 frothing Kiss fans is not necessarily a desirable situation for most opening bands, but Alice In Chains held their own and won over the audience with ten original numbers interspersed by tiny interludes of Kiss hits “Beth” and “Detroit Rock City.”
The band would open for Kiss again in Louisville and St. Louis before their final show together on July 3rd, 1996 at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it would be Staley’s final public performance with Alice In Chains. Shortly after this concert, the frontman became hospitalized after suffering a severe overdose.
Although he managed to record a few songs with Alice In Chains for a box set in 1998, Staley’s personal demons forced him into a state of nearly total isolation. He died on April 5th, 2002, two weeks before his body was found. The autopsy concluded that he weighed 86 pounds.
Despite boundless pain and tragedy, Alice In Chains managed to channel the looming cloud of grief over their heads into something positive. After recruiting William DuVall four years after Staley’s death, the band released the critically acclaimed Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009 and have continued on ever since.