Nine Dead Grunge Stars

Layne Staley of Alice in Chains

No one associated with the word "grunge" has ever liked it, except maybe Green River/Mudhoney founder Mark Arm, who popularized the term and remains one of the few grunge frontmen still alive. This punk/metal hybrid, defined by plodding rhythms, bleak lyrics, fuzzy guitars, and growling vocals, emerged from Seattle in the late 1980s. Many of the genre's best-known musicians suffered from drug abuse and depression – often to fatal ends.

  1. Andrew Wood. The body count began in March 1990 when Wood, vocalist for Mother Love Bone, overdosed on heroin shortly before the release of the band's debut LP. His name may be a footnote now, but in the '80s, when I would visit my father in Seattle and pick up zines in local record stores, Mother Love Bone was clearly one of the city's best-loved bands, next to Soundgarden and Mudhoney. (Nirvana wasn't even close.) Surviving members went on to form Pearl Jam.
  2. Kurt Cobain. Wood's death, mere days before his potential breakthrough, shocked Seattle. Cobain's 1994 suicide by shotgun, at the very pinnacle of Nirvana's fame, shocked the world.
  3. Layne Staley. Alice in Chains was the quintessential grunge band, and the first to go platinum with their 1990 debut Facelift. Their 1992 LP Dirt put them on the map and marked Peak Grunge. Singer Staley's addiction issues caused Alice to go on hiatus in 1996; he spent most of his remaining years in isolation. Staley was found dead in April 2002 from a mix of heroin and cocaine. He was 34 and weighed just 86 pounds.
  4. Mike Starr. Alice in Chains' original bassist left the group in 1993 because of his own drug problems. Starr was featured on Celebrity Rehab in 2010 as he tried to stay clean; he ultimately failed, overdosing on prescription meds the following year.
  5. Chris Cornell. The latest and most unexpected death of a grunge frontman occurred in May 2017, when the Soundgarden/Audioslave vocalist hanged himself in his hotel room shortly after a concert in Detroit. Cornell's family believes he was under the influence of prescription meds, as there was no indication that he was suicidal, despite a troubled past.
  6. Scott Weiland. The only notable grunge bands not to hail from Seattle were London's Bush (whose singer, Gavin Rossdale, is still very much alive) and San Diego's Stone Temple Pilots, led by Weiland. Although STP eventually adopted a more traditional hard rock sound, their first and most successful albums, Core and Purple, were grunge to the bone. Weiland remained active until his 2015 death, when he overdosed on a mixture of drugs before a show.
  7. Kristen Pfaff. Grunge triumph – and tragedy – wasn't limited to the dudes. Pfaff, formerly of the Minneapolis band Janitor Joe, was brought on as Hole's bassist in 1993 and helped their 1994 album Live Through This become an instant hit. Sadly, Pfaff OD'ed on heroin just two months later.
  8. Stefanie Sargent. With the riot grrrl movement advancing arm-in-arm with grunge, there was a lot of crossover between the various bands. Guitarist Sargent co-founded Seattle's 7 Year Bitch in 1990 and saw them through their debut album before dying, Jimi Hendrix-style, in 1992: choking on her own vomit after partying hard the night before. (Hendrix, of course, was also from Seattle.)
  9. Mia Zapata. Sargent's friend Mia Zapata fronted the Gits, an Ohio punk band who relocated to Seattle in 1989. The Gits' rough sound probably precluded them from any mainstream breakthroughs, but who's to say what kind of career Zapata would have had, had she not been raped and murdered on the street in 1993? The 27-year-old singer's death devastated the Seattle community and remains the most appalling loss of the era. 7 Year Bitch's 1994 album ¡Viva Zapata! was a tribute to their late friend.