Mike Starr, the original bassist for Seattle metal band Alice in Chains who was found dead Tuesday in Salt Lake City, could well have arm-wrestled with Axl Rose and the members of Guns N’ Roses over who most deserved to call an album “Appetite for Destruction.”
Rose was a champion of the group’s debut album, “Facelift,” and when fame hit for the group, the members first reveled then struggled with all the fallout from all that had been laid at their feet.
Starr was friends with Aliice in Chains guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell before the band formed in 1987 with singer Layne Staley and drummer Sean Kinney. But it didn’t take long before Starr reached overload. He quit the band around the time its second album, “Dirt,” was released, a collection that went on to sell more than 4 million copies and which chronicled the dark path the group seemed to be on.
Rolling Stone magazine described that album as "a sustained, unflinching meditation on heroin addiction." Times staff writer Mike Boehm wrote in 1993 that “ ‘Dirt’ scrapes bottom with a litany of complaints sung from a deep pit of despair, self-loathing and never-ending woe.”
Shortly after taking up the bass post in the band in 1993 after Starr left, new member Mike Inez told The Times, “We're four young guys on the road with the whole world by the balls. We're like a pack. Whatever we want, we get. We wake up and we're like, 'What do we want today?' Whether it's food or girls or drugs or whatever, everything is there for you."
Having suddenly vaulted to multiplatinum success, Cantrell said at the time, "It's a weird feeling to go from nobody to everybody. You're known on a two-dimensional level. People yank on your hair, not realizing you're a real person."
Of “Dirt,” Cantrell said, "It’s a dark album, but it's not meant to be a bummer. Those five songs on the second side, from 'Junkhead' to 'Angry Chair,' are in sequence because it tells a story. It starts out with a really young, naive attitude in 'Junkhead,' like drugs are great, sex is great, rock 'n' roll, yeah! Then as it progresses, there's a little bit of realization of what it's about . . . and that ain't what it's about."
Staley died of an overdose in 2002 at age 34. Starr in recent years took his battle with addiction to the airwaves as a participant in the third season of VH1’s reality TV show “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew,” and spoke about shooting heroin with Staley and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. When Cantrell decided to resurrect Alice in Chains for another go-round several years ago, he tapped Inez rather than Starr to be in the reformed group. A cause of death was not immediately reported.
-- Randy Lewis