Michael Christopher 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 January 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 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. Kinney and his girlfriend went to the Music Bank and listened to Cantrell's demos. 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. Kinney pointed out at his girlfriend and said: "that's weird cause that's his sister". Kinney called Starr and a few days later he jammed with him and Cantrell at the Music Bank. But they didn't have a singer. 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 on a full-time basis.
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 8x10" 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 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. 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. 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.
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 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.
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.
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 alprazalam 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 Aug. 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, Zanax, diazepam 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.
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."
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".
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. 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 in the stage. Since then, Cantrell always pays tribute to Staley and Starr before performing Nutshell at concerts.
|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?".|
||Sato||Bass on Track 7 "Leather Warrior".|
|1995||Sun Red Sun
||Sun Red Sun|
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