Mike Starr had addiction problems, but was on the road to recovery and didn’t commit suicide, two of his friends said Wednesday, the day after the former Alice in Chains bassist was found dead in a Salt Lake City house.
Starr, who played bass for the seminal Seattle grunge band from its formation in 1987 to 1993, died nearly three weeks after being arrested by Salt Lake City police on Feb. 18.
Alice in Chains
The band was one of four Seattle bands — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains — that popularized the grunge movement in the early 1990s.
After Alice in Chains’ breakthrough hit “Man in a Box” in 1990 brought the band mainstream success, the 1992 album “Dirt” was a commercial and critical success, and is now considered one of the most influential and harrowing albums released in the 1990s. Six of the 12 songs on the album dealt with addiction, and Starr was credited with co-writing the track “Rain When I Die.”
When he left the band in 1993, Starr was replaced on bass by Mike Inez. The band broke up in the wake of lead singer Layne Staley’s death from a drug overdose, but regrouped in 2008 and released the successful album “Black Gives Way to Blue.”
"I don’t think this was a suicide," said Brett Gunn of Salt Lake City, Starr’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. "We had a lot of plans."
Starr was living in the 1900 block of Richards Street with Spencer Roddan, a fellow musician who had known Starr for several years after being introduced to him by a friend, Travis Meeks. Roddan and Meeks met while in rehab at Utah’s Cirque Lodge Drug Rehab Center in Sundance.
Meeks, the frontman of the rock band Days of the New, found Starr’s body at about 1 p.m. Tuesday in Roddan’s house.
"I don’t think [his death] was intentional," said Roddan. "Our deal was he had to be clean. He said he was going to make me proud."
Starr has been living with Roddan for about six weeks. He and Meeks had been making music in Roddan’s basement recording studio. Meeks had booked shows on the East Coast the weekend of March 18, Roddan said, and Starr was going to join him on the road.
Starr had other musical plans, Gunn said. He wanted to collaborate with Gunn’s Salt Lake City band Nazty Habit, and had spoken of playing with hard-rock bands P.O.D. and Korn. He had much to live for, both Gunn and Roddan said, with Gunn adding that the two planned to go to California this weekend to pick up some of Starr’s instruments.
The Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy. But both Roddan and Gunn said they believe the death was caused by Starr using both methadone and other prescription drugs. During the Feb. 18 traffic stop, Starr was a passenger in Meeks’ vehicle and was allegedly found with six Opana pain pills and six Alprazolam pills for which he did not have a prescription. He was charged by police with a third-degree felony and one class B misdemeanor count of possession or use of a controlled substance.
Gunn said Starr had been using Opana to deal with a recurring pain from an injury. He then began using anti-anxiety medication Alprazolam, a benzodiazepine usually referred to by its trade name, Xanax, after his February run-in with the law. Gunn said he didn’t know Starr had been using the other medications while on methadone until after Starr’s death, when Meeks told him.
Health Central.com reports that "the most dangerous combination is methadone with a benzodiazepine ... This combination can be fatal by stopping breathing." WebMd.com instructs patients taking methadone to tell their doctor or pharmacist if they are considering taking alprazolam because there is a risk of serious side effects, such as slow or shallow breathing."
The death came 18 years after Starr left Alice in Chains during the band’s tour supporting their 1992 album "Dirt."
On Alice in Chains’ website Wednesday, the band posted a note: "Members of Alice in Chains are mourning the loss of their friend and ask that the media respect their privacy — and the privacy of the Starr family — during this difficult time. Their thoughts & prayers are with the Starr family."
Starr returned to the limelight in 2010 when starred in the third season of the hit VH1 reality series, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew [Pinsky]," which chronicled his attempts at beating his addiction to drugs. He then appeared in the spinoff series "Sober House," which documented his stay at a sober-living home.
In "Celebrity Rehab," Starr appeared with other patients, including actor Tom Sizemore and Mackenzie Phillips, and was often shown fighting with residents and workers at the Pasadena Recovery Center while detoxing.
In the fourth season of the show, Starr reappeared for one episode to talk to the latest cast in rehab about his ongoing fight for sobriety.
Drew Pinsky’s publicist said Wednesday that Pinsky would have no further comment beyond the message he had posted on his Twitter account: "Devastating to hear of Mike Starr succumbing to his illness. So very sad. Our prayers are with his family."
Roddan said he is upset in the wake of Starr’s death, and Gunn was still in disbelief. They prefer to remember Starr as a fun-loving jokester who loved eating gyros at local fast-food chain "Mad Greek."
"The night before he died, he said, ‘Spencer, I love you,’" Roddan said.
"He was messed up and I didn’t know what to do," said Gann about a conversation he had with Starr the night before he died. "I gave him a hug and said I loved him."
Vince Horiuchi contributed to this story.
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