Michael Christopher “Mike” Starr (April 4, 1966 – March 8, 2011) was an American musician, best known as the original bassist in Alice in Chains, which he played with from the band’s formation in 1987 until 1993.
In 1983, Starr formed the heavy metal band SATO, his first group of note. They are best known for the song “Leather Warriors”, which appeared on Northwest Metalfest, a compilation album featuring various metal acts released in 1984 by local Seattle label Ground Zero Records. Starr briefly joined another band by the name of Gypsy Rose, which included early Alice N’ Chains producer Tim Branom on lead vocals and his future bandmate Jerry Cantrell on guitar. Starr and Cantrell left Gypsy Rose and the two of them began working together to form a new band. First, they contacted drummer Sean Kinney, who coincidentally was dating Starr’s sister Melinda at that time and had exchanged phone numbers with Cantrell’s roommate Layne Staley. Then the trio began staging what Cantrell and Kinney later said were fake auditions in order to coax Staley into joining their band. Eventually, Staley quit the other bands he was performing with at that time and joined their band as well.
This band gained attention in the Seattle area playing under several different monikers before they eventually settled on the name Alice in Chains, which they had taken from Staley’s previous band Alice N’ Chains. The band was later signed to a record deal with Columbia Records and enjoyed extensive success via record sales and radio play in the grunge rock movement of the early 1990s. Starr was with the group for the Facelift and Dirt albums and the Sap EP. He was most often seen playing several variations of a Spector NS-2 bass guitar through an Ampeg SVT all-tube head and Ampeg 8×10″ speaker cabinets.
Starr departed the group while it was touring behind the album Dirt. According to former singer Layne Staley, in a Rolling Stone article from February 1994, Starr’s departure from Alice in Chains stemmed from “just a difference in priorities. We wanted to continue intense touring and press, Mike was ready to go home.” Starr, however, mentioned on an episode of Celebrity Rehab that he was kicked out of the band due to his budding drug addiction. Starr later was hired to play bass for the band Sun Red Sun, which featured Ray Gillen and Bobby Rondinelli, both former members of Black Sabbath. The project was cut short by Gillen’s death in 1993. After the disbanding of Sun Red Sun, Starr no longer played music professionally until 2010.
In 2010, Starr was reported to be working with his new band, which included touring with the band Days of the New. This was cut short, however, with his sudden death.
In April 1994, Starr was arrested for drug possession at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport In Houston Texas. As he was trying to check in for a flight to Los Angeles with a suitcase that he stole from the baggage claim area, authorities at the airport searched him and found he was carrying marijuana. He was sentenced to 30 days in a jail in Houston Texas. In 2005 Starr was arrested in Seattle for vandalism after he was caught pulling the hood ornament off a car. Starr was featured in the third season of the VH1 reality television series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2010, which documented his treatment for methadone addiction beginning in August 2009 at the Pasadena Recovery Center. His subsequent stint staying in a sober living environment was then documented on the spinoff Sober House. He and fellow recovering addicts Mackenzie Phillips and Tom Sizemore appeared in the eighth episode of Celebrity Rehab’s fourth season to provide testimonials about their recovery to that season’s patients. During this appearance, Starr marked six months and seven days of sobriety.
In an interview on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Layne Staley’s mother, Nancy McCallum, Starr said that he spent time with Staley the day before he died as Starr’s birthday was April 4. Starr claimed that Staley was very sick but would not call 911. The two ex-band mates briefly argued, which ended with Starr’s storming out. Starr stated that Staley called after him as he left: “Not like this, don’t leave like this”. Since Staley is believed to have died a day later, on April 5, Starr expressed regret that he did not call 911 to save his friend’s life; Starr reported that Staley had threatened to sever their friendship if he did. Starr was the last known person to see Staley alive. The interview ended with Starr’s apologizing to McCallum for not calling 911, but McCallum was insistent that neither she nor anyone in her family blamed Starr for Staley’s death. She also told Starr: “Layne would forgive you. He’d say, ‘Hey, I did this. Not you.'” With that said, Starr still blamed himself for Staley’s death. Starr kept this story a secret to himself until this appearance on Celebrity Rehab in August 2009. Additionally, during this interview Starr claimed that Staley saved his life when Alice in Chains was on tour in January 1993 with Nirvana. Both Staley and Kurt Cobain gave him shots of heroin one night on tour. Right after Staley had shot him up again, Starr collapsed, but was quickly revived by Staley by giving him CPR. Starr later recalled waking up to Staley hysterically crying.
Both Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney criticized the show Celebrity Rehab, calling it “disgusting”. However, they stopped short of criticizing their former bandmate and expressed hope that Starr would turn his life around. “I totally back Mike and I back his efforts to get clean and remain somebody that I and the band really care about,” said Cantrell. “He’s a friend of ours, you know, and we wish him the best.” Kinney also thanked Starr along with all other members of Alice In Chains both past and present within the liner notes of Alice in Chains’ Black Gives Way to Blue album.
On March 8, 2011, at 1:42 pm, police were called to a home in Salt Lake City where they found 44-year-old Starr’s body. There were no indications of foul play, and authorities suspected Starr died of a drug overdose. A private memorial was held for Starr at Experience Music Project in Seattle on March 20, 2011. There were roughly 400 people in attendance, including former bandmates Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney. Dr. Drew Pinsky has said that Starr’s death was the result of “a prescription-drug overdose.” Drug-addiction counselor Bob Forrest has described Starr and fellow Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew alum Jeff Conaway (who died two and a half months later) as having “such severe addictions.”
- Alice in Chains
|1990||We Die Young
|1999||Nothing Safe: Best of the Box
||Bass on tracks 2–8,15.|
||Bass on tracks 1 and 2.|
||Bass on tracks 1–5.|
|2006||The Essential Alice in Chains
||Bass on Disc 1 and “Would?”.|
- Other appearances
||Sato||Bass on Track 7 “Leather Warrior”.|
|1995||Sun Red Sun
||Sun Red Sun|