When A Legendary Grunge Band Risked Death At An Amusement Park

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Rex Aran Emrick, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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While the legend of Vernon, New Jersey’s notorious Action Park has spread across the world in recent years due to a successful documentary, denizens of the greater New York metropolitan area have been well versed on the subject for decades. Nicknamed “Traction Park” by locals who spoke of it in tones of excitement, reverence, and horror, it delivered on promises of big adventure at the price of  bumps, bruises, broken bones, and so much worse.

The sheer volume of injuries at the park necessitated a private fleet of ambulances. While severe injury was commonplace, death wasn’t entirely rare either. Three people drowned in the wave pool, while one was thrown from the Alpine Slide onto rocks that the park had been told to remove. Yet another person was electrocuted after falling into the water on a ride called the Kayak Experience.

Knowing its reputation, metalheads throughout the northeast were shocked when Riki Rachtman announced in 1993 that he was taking Seattle grunge kings Alice In Chains to Action Park for a special episode of Headbangers Ball.

When asked in a 2020 interview with Variety if he knew what he was getting into that day, Rachtman replied: “I’m from Hollywood, so I’d never heard of Action Park — I remember being in Hollywood and they said ‘We’re going to shoot at Action Park tomorrow morning,’ so I had to take the red-eye and go right to the park. It was pretty nuts. I never heard any of the bad things, or about anybody dying at the park. I just remember being on this chairlift and looking at the [Cannonball] Loop, and I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ And they said, ‘Actually, it’s closed down. Somebody broke their nose on it.’ I said, ‘Somebody actually tried it? This has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever: How can you make a water slide with a loop? There’s no way you can’t get hurt on it!’ I was really thinking this can’t be safe, but I did them all.”

For their part, Alice In Chains came ready for adventure. Armed with goggles and swimmies, the band approached their time at Action Park with good-natured fearlessness. “There was never a band that was more fun to do anything with than Alice In Chains,” Rachtman said. “They would always do something goofy, whether it’s being in a mansion with robes and ascots or everything that we did at Action Park. That episode of Headbangers Ball is the most asked-about episode ever.”

The host elaborated: “We did stuff with Alice In Chains quite a bit. All we did was have fun — nobody ever said, ‘Let’s not do that.’ We were all reckless, just kids just having fun. And because we had the camera crew, we didn’t have to wait in line. So we’d go to the front of all the lines, film a segment, get on a ride and then go onto another ride. And [at Action Park], we could do whatever we wanted in a place where people did whatever they wanted!”

As for his specific memories from their time together at Action Park, Rachtman said: “I remember us doing the one thing where you get on little mats and you [go down a slide] really fast, and me and Layne [Staley] and Jerry [Cantrell] were racing, and one of the security guys fell and we flew all the way to the safety wall, and that is the footage they used in the movie [Class Action Park]. I remember sumo wrestling with Jerry. From what I understand, once I posted something on Twitter about it, the producers said that was the craziest day at Action Park.”