Mike Starr (musician)

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Mike Starr
Grainy, black-and-white image of Caucasian, long-haired male looking directly into camera
Starr in 1988
Background information
Birth nameMichael Christopher Starr
Born(1966-04-04)April 4, 1966
Honolulu, Hawaii
DiedMarch 8, 2011(2011-03-08) (aged 44)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Years active
  • 1983–1993
  • 2010–2011
Associated acts

Michael Christopher Starr (April 4, 1966 – March 8, 2011)[1][2] was an American musician best known as the original bassist for the rock band Alice in Chains, with which he played from the band's formation in 1987 until January 1993.[3] He was also a member of Sato, Gypsy Rose, and Sun Red Sun. Starr died of a prescription drug overdose at the age of 44, in 2011.


In 1983, Starr formed the heavy metal band Sato. Their song "Leather Warriors" appeared on Northwest Metalfest, a compilation album featuring various metal acts released in 1984 by Seattle label Ground Zero Records.[4] Starr briefly joined another band, 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 started working in other bands. Cantrell wanted to form a new band and his roommate, Layne Staley, gave him the phone number of Melinda Starr, the girlfriend of drummer Sean Kinney, so that Cantrell could talk to him.[5][6][7] Kinney and his girlfriend went to the Music Bank and listened to Cantrell's demos.[6] Cantrell mentioned that they needed a bass player to jam with them and he had someone in mind: Mike Starr, with whom Cantrell had played in the band Gypsy Rose in Burien.[5] Kinney pointed at his girlfriend and said: "that's weird cause that's his sister".[5] Kinney called Starr and a few days later he jammed with him and Cantrell at the Music Bank.[6] But they didn't have a singer.[5][6] Then the trio began staging what Cantrell and Kinney later said were fake auditions in order to coax Staley into joining their band.[5][7] Eventually, Staley quit the other bands he was performing with at that time and joined their band on a full-time basis.[5][8][6]

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.[5][6] The band was later signed to a record deal with Columbia Records[6] and enjoyed extensive success via record sales and radio play in the grunge rock movement of the early 1990s.[6] 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.[citation needed]

Starr parted ways with Alice in Chains just as the band was achieving its greatest commercial success while touring behind the album Dirt in 1993. According to the band's lead vocalist Layne Staley in a February 1994 Rolling Stone article, 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."[9] Starr, however, contradicted this account on an episode of Celebrity Rehab, claiming that he was kicked out of the band due to his escalating drug use.[10][11]

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 disbandment of Sun Red Sun, Starr stopped playing music professionally until 2010, as his drug use spiraled out of control.[citation needed]

In 2010, Starr recorded a cover of Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing" with singer Leiana.[12] The song premiered on radio during Starr's last interview, which was for Dr. Drew Pinsky's show Loveline aired on February 16, 2010.[13] That same year, Starr was reportedly putting together a new band which had secured a spot opening for the band Days of the New.[14] The project disbanded upon Starr's sudden death a year later.

Personal life[edit]

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. Starr admitted stealing the luggage after he discovered that his own luggage was damaged.[15][16] In April 2005, Starr was arrested in Seattle for vandalism after he was caught pulling the hood ornament off a car. It was reported that his past charges included DUI, reckless driving, and various drug charges.[16] On September 28, 2009, Starr was arrested in Los Angeles on drug charges. The arrest was a felony narcotics charge. He was held at the Bauchet Street Jail with bail set at $100,000.[17]

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-bandmates 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 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.[18] Starr kept this story a secret to himself until his appearance on Celebrity Rehab in February 2010.[19][20] "I wish I hadn't been high on benzodiazepine [that night], I wouldn't have just walked out the door", Starr said.[10] Additionally, during this interview Starr claimed that Staley saved his life when Alice in Chains was on tour in January 1993 with Nirvana in Brazil. 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.[21][22]

Both Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney criticized the show Celebrity Rehab, calling it "disgusting".[23][24] However, they stopped short of criticizing their former bandmate and expressed hope that Starr would turn his life around.[23][24] "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."[23] 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.[25]

In February 2011, Starr was arrested in Salt Lake City for investigation of drug possession and on an outstanding warrant from 2003 for failing to show up for sentencing on a separate drug-related conviction. Starr was the passenger in a van that was pulled over on a routine traffic violation near 1200 S. State about 12:30 a.m. According to jail documents, Starr was illegally in possession of prescription medication, including the painkiller Opana, also known as oxymorphone, and alprazolam pills, used to treat anxiety and panic attacks. In addition, the officer found Starr had a warrant out for his arrest. According to Utah court records, Starr was convicted in 3rd District Court in 2003 of felony drug possession, but a bench warrant was issued on August 25, 2003 when he failed to appear for sentencing. Another Salt Lake police report showed that in 2003, Starr and his father, John Starr, were arrested for allegedly doing drugs on a Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. John Starr said he was taking his son to drug rehab in Seattle at the time, the report states. John Starr was witnessed injecting Mike Starr with a syringe, and the two began arguing after the needle broke off, according to the report. Mike Starr was seen going to the plane bathroom for 15 to 20 minutes. When he returned, he handed John Starr something, and "John then turned towards the window with a cut up coke can and a lighter," the report states. The two were arrested as they stepped off the plane. Investigators found the Starrs to be in possession of a syringe and balloons filled with heroin, according to police records. In Mike Starr's pockets, police said they found Valium, Xanax, and Celexa. When they checked the Starrs' luggage, they found drug paraphernalia and prescription drugs. Starr claimed his father forced him to shoot up in the plane, according to the report.[26]


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.[27][28] A public memorial was held for Starr at Experience Music Project in Seattle on March 20, 2011. There were roughly 400 people in attendance.[29] A private memorial was also held, which was attended by Starr's former bandmates Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney.[30] Dr. Drew Pinsky has said that Starr's death was the result of "a prescription drug overdose."[31] 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."[32]


In 2013, Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney added the initials "LSMS" on his drum kit, a tribute to Layne Staley and Mike Starr. Kinney explained: "There’s been six people in this band and that’s it", and Cantrell added, "And we’re all up there". [33] [34]

On September 19, 2013, Jerry Cantrell paid tribute to both Starr and Layne Staley before performing the song "Nutshell" with Alice in Chains at the Rock in Rio concert in Brazil.[35] For the show in São Paulo on September 26, the band had T-shirts of Brazil national football team with the names "Staley" and "Starr" on display on the stage. Since then, Cantrell has always paid tribute to Staley and Starr before performing "Nutshell" at concerts.[36][37]

Jerry Cantrell revealed that the lyrics "Left me here so all alone, only for me to find/Hear your voice on waves we rode, echoes inside my mind/Disembodied, just a trace of what it was like then/With you here, we shared a space that's always half empty" from the song "Rainier Fog" are about Staley and Starr. The song was featured on Alice in Chains' 2018 album, Rainier Fog.[38]

In 2015, a signature bass for Starr made by Spector was announced and released, the Euro4LX Mike Starr LE. Work on this signature model had begun before Starr's passing, and was resumed later after his family had reached out to continue it. It was available as a limited run only for 2015.[39]

Posthumous releases[edit]

In October 2017, Lost Realm Records released a 500-copy limited edition CD+DVD deluxe package of 10 songs, taken from the original master tapes and digitally remastered, and live performances by Starr's previous band Sato, titled Leather Warriors – Sato Anthology 82/86; this package was dedicated to Starr's memory.[40] In December 2019, Lost Realm announced an upcoming 250-copy limited edition vinyl release of Leather Warriors.


Alice in Chains
Year Album details Notes
1990 We Die Young EP
  • Released: August 21, 1990
  • Label: Columbia
Songwriting credits on "It Ain't Like That" and "Confusion".
1992 Sap
  • Released: February 4, 1992
  • Label: Columbia
  • Released: September 29, 1992
  • Label: Columbia
Songwriting credit on "Rain When I Die".
1999 Nothing Safe: Best of the Box
  • Released: June 29, 1999
  • Label: Columbia
Bass on tracks 2–8,15.
Music Bank
  • Released: October 26, 1999
  • Label: Columbia
Songwriting credit on "Fear the Voices".
2000 Live
  • Released: December 5, 2000
  • Label: Columbia
Bass on tracks 1 and 2.
2001 Greatest Hits
  • Released: July 24, 2001
  • Label: Columbia
Bass on tracks 1–5.
2006 The Essential Alice in Chains
  • Released: September 5, 2006
  • Label: Columbia
Bass on Disc 1 and "Would?".
Year Album details Notes
2017 Leather Warriors – Sato Anthology 82/86
  • Released: October 9, 2017
  • Label: Lost Realm
Limited edition
  • CD+DVD: 500 copies
  • Vinyl: 250 copies
Other appearances
Year Album details Band Notes
1984 Northwest Metalfest
  • Released: 1984
  • Label: Ground Zero Records
Sato Bass on track 7 "Leather Warrior".
1995 Sun Red Sun
  • Released: 1995
  • Label: Angel Air Records
Sun Red Sun Bass on tracks 1–3, 5, 6.


  1. ^ David De Sola (August 4, 2015). Alice in Chains: The Untold Story. Thomas Dunne Books. p. 63. ISBN 9781466848399.
  2. ^ "Mike Starr: Bassist and self-destructive founder-member of the Seattle band Alice In Chains". The Independent. March 12, 2011.
  3. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Prato, Greg. "Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  4. ^ "Various - Northwest Metalfest". Discogs.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Interview Alice In Chains – Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney about Layne Staley". YouTube. January 12, 2010. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Sola, David de (August 4, 2015). Alice in Chains: The Untold Story. ISBN 9781466848399. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Prato, Greg. "Grunge is Dead:The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music." p. 218. April 2009.
  8. ^ Prato, Greg. "Grunge is Dead:The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music." p. 219. April 2009.
  9. ^ "The Real Dirt". Rolling Stone. Archived by gsg2007.de. February 24, 1994. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Alice In Chains Bassist Mike Starr Dies At 44". Rolling Stone. March 9, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  11. ^ de Sola, David (August 4, 2015). Alice in Chains: The Untold Story. Thomas Dunne Books. pp. 191–194. ISBN 978-1250048073.
  12. ^ "MIKE STARR Featured On LEIANA's Cover Of SONIC YOUTH's 'Kool Thing'; Audio Available". Blabbermouth. March 24, 2011.
  13. ^ "Alice In Chains' Mike Starr's Last Interview - Loveline (February 16, 2010)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021.
  14. ^ Downey, Ryan J. (March 8, 2011). "Ex-Alice in Chains Bassist Mike Starr Found Dead". MTV. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  15. ^ "Ex-grunge Musician Jailed For Airport Luggage Theft". Orlando Sentinel. April 16, 1994.
  16. ^ a b "Former ALICE IN CHAINS Bassist Arrested". BLABBERMOUTH.NET. April 4, 2005.
  17. ^ "Exclusive: Celebrity Rehab's Mike Starr Arrested On A Drug Charge". Radar. October 1, 2009.
  18. ^ "Mike Starr Layne Staley Death Alice in Chains Celebrity Rehab Sober House Confusion AIC". YouTube. February 22, 2010. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  19. ^ "Family Weekend - Season 3 Ep 7". VH1. February 18, 2010. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  20. ^ "Mike Starr Layne Staley Death Alice in Chains Celebrity Rehab Sober House". February 22, 2010. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  21. ^ "Five Years Ago: Former Alice in Chains Bassist Mike Starr Dies of a Drug Overdose". Diffuser. March 8, 2016.
  22. ^ "'Alice in Chains: The Untold Story' reveals the drug-addicted history of one of the greatest grunge bands: book review". New York Daily News. August 1, 2015.
  23. ^ a b c "Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains Slams Dr. Drew's Celeb Rehab". KROQ-FM. CBS Radio, Inc. February 21, 2010. Archived from the original on August 18, 2011. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  24. ^ a b "Alice in Chains Drummer Slams 'Celebrity Rehab' as 'Disgusting'". WMMR. Greater Media. February 18, 2010. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011.
  25. ^ "Encarte: Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue". Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  26. ^ "Former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr arrested in Salt Lake City". Deseret News. February 18, 2011.
  27. ^ Quinn, Ben (March 9, 2011). "Mike Starr, legendary Alice in Chains bass player, found dead". The Guardian.
  28. ^ Goodman, Dean (March 8, 2011). "Former Alice in Chains rocker Mike Starr dies". Reuters.
  29. ^ Allison, Melissa (March 20, 2011). "Memorial held for Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr". Seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  30. ^ Wilkle, Jim (March 31, 2011). "ESPN Music's 2011 bass-ball preview Mike Inez". Sports.espn.go.com. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  31. ^ "Season 3 Revisited." Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Exec. Prod. John Irwin, Damian Sullivan, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Howard Lapides, Joel Rodgers, Rob Buchta, Jill Holmes, Tom Huffman, Noah Pollack, and Jeff Olde. VH1. December 4, 2011.
  32. ^ Shira, Dahvi (June 9, 2012). "Joey Kovar: Real World Star's Hopes and Demons Before His Mysterious Death". people.com. Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  33. ^ "WMMR MMRBQ 2013 Alice in Chains Interview". March 5, 2015. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  34. ^ "Alice in Chains Always Remember Orignal [sic] Members Layne Staley & Mike Starr". Feel Numb. January 11, 2015. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  35. ^ "Rock in Rio 2013 – Alice In Chains". March 5, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  36. ^ "Com "Dante" no vocal, Alice In Chains cria camisas personalizadas da seleção". Globo Esporte (in Portuguese). September 29, 2013. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  37. ^ "Mais extenso, show do Alice in Chains em SP foi impecável e superou o do Rock in Rio". Estadão (in Portuguese). October 12, 2013. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  38. ^ Nick Hasted (August 2018). "No Excuses". Classic Rock. No. 252. pp. 62–63.
  39. ^ "Spector Introduces Limited Edition Mike Starr Signature Euro4LX Bass". May 6, 2015.
  40. ^ "Sato (USA) 'Leather Warriors – Sato Anthology 82/86' CD+DVD Teaser Video". August 23, 2017. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved September 10, 2017.

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