Alice in Chains lead singer found dead

— Layne Staley, lead singer and guitarist for the grunge band Alice in Chains, was found dead in his apartment, authorities said Saturday. He was 34.

Tests were required to establish the identity because the body, discovered Friday, had started to decompose. The King County Medical Examiner's office did not release his cause of death.

"It was natural or an overdose � that's the way it was determined by our investigators," said Seattle Police spokesman Duane Fish.

Police did not immediately release details on anything that was found at the scene, and a spokesman did not respond to several messages.

With Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Alice in Chains was one of the most prominent bands of the Seattle grunge scene of the early '90s. The group was known for its dark, menacing sound, which combined grunge and heavy metal, and often wrote about heroin.

"He was a sweet guy, but very troubled," said Charles Cross, a former editor of the defunct Seattle music magazine The Rocket who recently wrote a biography of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. "He lost his girlfriend to drugs a number of years ago. People still had hopes he would turn around. It's a sad tale."

While Alice in Chains didn't garner as much respect as other Seattle grunge groups, the band's influence still reverberates, Cross said.

"Critically, they'll never rate in the same pantheon as Nirvana, but they were a band that inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of other bands," Cross said. He pointed to Creed and Godsmack, a band that shares its name with an Alice in Chains song.

"They had huge commercial aspirations from the beginning. They fulfilled that, and so much of that was Layne's voice," Cross said.

His voice ranged from a low, growly monotone to a pained, piercing wail; many a bar-band singer frayed vocal cords in the early 1990s trying to imitate it. Staley also played some guitar for the group.

Chad Schuster, 21, a University of Washington student and guitarist in a garage band, came with other fans to an impromptu memorial Saturday at the Seattle Center.

He said the group's music "was very dark, but it was melodic and hopeful at the same time. It was heavy metal that didn't hurt your ears."

Despite his well-documented drug problems, Staley was an inspiration for many, Schuster said.

"He was open about his drug problem and his struggles with life, and I think a lot of people can relate to that," he said.

Eighteen-year-old Lorn Conner, who also came to the memorial, was less forgiving.

"Seattle always produces so much talent, and they always end up messing it up," he said.

Alice in Chains stopped touring in the mid-'90s, when Staley's drug use proved too great an obstacle. He began a number of stints in rehab.

In a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Staley spoke of how his drug use influenced his lyrics.

"I wrote about drugs, and I didn't think I was being unsafe or careless by writing about them," he told the magazine. "Here's how my thinking pattern went: When I tried drugs, they were (expletive) great, and they worked for me for years, and now they're turning against me � and now I'm walking through hell, and this sucks."

The group's first album, "Facelift," was released in 1990. It later released "Dirt" and "Alice in Chains." The group's hits included "Man in the Box," "Them Bones," "Rooster," and "Would?"

The latter song was partly inspired by the 1990 heroin overdose death of Andrew Wood, singer of the seminal grunge group Mother Love Bone.

Staley's body was found just over 8 years after Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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