When the news came through on Tuesday (March 8th) that former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr had passed away at the age of 44, it felt tragically familiar. While the rock stars of the early ’90s certainly brought forth some truly revolutionary sounds and completely redefined the music industry for a few years, they also set an unnerving precedent for dying young. Rock stars have always had the specter of early death hanging over them, from the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly to Elvis Presley’s early exit to John Lennon’s tragic murder to Jimi Hendrix’s heartbreaking passing.
But the participants of the grunge era seemed to pass away at an alarming rate, with far too many succumbing to drug problems (including Starr’s Alice in Chains bandmate Layne Staley, Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon and Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff). In fact, one of the inciting incidents for grunge’s rise to prominence was the premature death of one of the Seattle scene’s most popular icons.
Back in 1990, a band called Mother Love Bone seemed primed to become the biggest rock attraction to come out of Seattle in a generation. They had impeccable songwriting chops but had mostly made their mark as a live act. They were lead by a charismatic singer named Andrew Wood, who borrowed healthily from Freddie Mercury and gave the band’s huge choruses a gigantic presence. Fleshed out with future stars in Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, Mother Love Bone were going to be the next big thing.
But on March 19, 1990 — just before the release of the band’s debut album Apple — Wood lost a battle with his demons and died of an overdose of heroin. It started a disturbing trend that has touched far too many members of the rock community connected to the alt-rock ’90s, though the legends of the fallen live on.