The Michael Alig I Knew: ‘Club Kid,’ Killer, and Mystery
Legendary New York nightlife scribe Michael Musto recalls his long acquaintance with Michael Alig, the infamous “club kid” and killer who has died, aged 54.
Michael Alig used to be more press savvy. Dying, aged 54, of an apparent heroin overdose on Christmas Day (and in the midst of an attempted presidential coup) threatened to get him lost in the news shuffle, and he definitely should have waited until after the inauguration.
That kind of dark thought is hardly inappropriate for the club kid leader/killer, who lived to stir the s**t and garner attention by any means necessary. In 1996, as he got even more druggy and less supervised, he and his roommate Freeze (Robert Riggs) got into a tussle with friend/drug dealer Angel Melendez that led to their horrific killing of Angel, before dismembering the body for disposal. (Alig pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was freed from jail in 2014.)
I had certainly seen glimmers of his dark side. In fact, in 1991, I wrote in the Village Voice, “The bad seed in cha cha heels, Alig will do anything to get a response, even if that response is the deafening sound that accompanies projectile vomiting. He’s an arrested child who should be arrested… a cute little dolly that ends up biting your head off.”
But the Indiana-born clubbie loved fighting ennui, complacency, and bourgeois values and had staged some appealing events through the years, like a “Filthy Mouth” contest, where contestants spewed four letter words for prizes, and his “King and Queen of New York” shows—messy pageants where his favorite clubbies were elevated to royalty. (His story was made into a 2003 movie starring Macaulay Culkin as Alig, Party Monster, which was based on James St. James’ book, Disco Bloodbath.)
We cheered him as he ran from the cops who busted one of his “outlaw parties,” pesky events held at unsuspecting spots where you partied quickly because by necessity they didn’t last long. Some club kids also point to Alig’s kind side and the fact that they all fit into a family which wasn’t always Manson-esque; it gave them a place in LGBTQ nightlife, far from any harsh, buttoned-down realities, for better or for worse.
In 12-inch heels and war paint, the club kids stepped in to fill a void. In 1987, Andy Warhol—the deity for all Downtowners—died, and I went on to proclaim “The Death of Downtown” in a Voice cover story, decrying the downturn in creative clubbing, though I was passionately open to some kind of new wave.
Again, I must have been psychic, because I ended the piece by writing, “The new downtown will have nothing to do with disco and everything to do with outrage and surprise. Maybe it’ll be an angry rebellion that’ll pull the stick out of everyone’s asses.” Well, Alig and his band of alienated and striving marauders were the new wave, and I was paid to cover it, doing so in an immersive way since my column, “La Dolce Musto,” was a first person romp with no filter.
Alig and I got interactive all right. At a talent contest at the multi-level club Danceteria, Alig had offered me “Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” if I voted for him, but I didn’t, turned off by the attempted bribe and also by the fact that, as a gogo dancer, he had no discernible talent. His gift turned out to be for leading, promoting, and annoying, as well as both pulling (he once brattily tried to pull me into a pool set up at a nightclub) and pushing (he flagrantly pushed pills into a club kid’s mouth), getting away with more and more demonic acts as time went on.
A legion of kids in outfits, wanting to be famous, followed his lead as they came of age at a time when you couldn’t have sex, or weren’t supposed to. But with Alig at the helm, outside rules barely even existed, as long as you were fabulous and willing to flaunt it on a nightly basis.
I remember him throwing a gigantic hissy fit when he was asked to pay $5 for an AIDS benefit, though I shouldn’t have bristled when he threw a party advertised as being for “HIV negatives only.” In Howard Stern-like fashion, Alig was using satire to puncture through the political correctness of people like me, and I stepped into the trap every time.
After all, there I was at his wildly incorrect events, like Disco 2000 Wednesdays at the church-turned-drug-rehab-center-turned-dance-club Limelight. The night gave host to the Unnatural Acts Revue, which featured a guy who drank his own urine, and a girl who mounted the prosthesis and stump of a dancing amputee. Part of me wanted to shower, while another part felt that Alig was celebrating anyone different or kinky in a way that anti-oppression promoters should be allowed to do.
On daytime talk shows like Geraldo Rivera’s, I was the pundit, trying to strike a balance between mocking Alig’s deviousness while holding off the puritanical, homophobic wave that wanted to put a stake in his groin. Years before he stuck his hand in his pants to adjust his mic, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani was on a ’90s crusade to crack down on nightlife and weed out all the weirdos on demon booze, which seemed to make Alig even more determined to be a nocturnal bad boy.
And he spiraled, seeming barely coherent when I went to his apartment in late ’95 for a club-related meeting that never happened. In April 1996, I ran a mention of a missing club person in Alig’s sphere, and I followed that with my blind item featuring the buzz about the death by hammer and Drano, and the just as grisly aftermath.
Page Six picked up my items and a New York magazine piece and made it into their lead item, “Mystery of the Missing Club Kid.” Later that year, the body surfaced, and Alig and Freeze were in handcuffs, as the lunchbox brigade mourned both Angel’s life and their own lifestyle.
In 1997, I interviewed Alig at Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was incarcerated at that point. “Heroin cures boredom,” he told me. “If I were on heroin, I could stare at that chair for eight hours and not need any other stimuli. But I’m adamant that, once outside, I’ll stay clean.” But he didn’t. He didn’t even stay clean inside.
Once free, he kept tweeting me, saying he wanted to get together, but I have to admit I blew him off. When I ran into him at the shoot for a film, he seemed the same as before—messy, fidgety, and talking about his press. He even claimed that, contrary to my blind item, Drano wasn’t used during the murder, but it was a good story, so he had always gone along with it. That would be just like Alig, but I didn’t buy it, since using Drano was just like him too.
In 2016, I agreed to play a part in an indie movie called Vamp Bikers Tres, in which Alig played a zombie called God and I was a mad doctor named Hedda Hopper. Our interaction instantly brought back our old bantering rhythms (with an underlying awkwardness, naturally), and I only saw him blow up on the set once. The fact that he flashed me a stack of murder-related DVDs he happened to have (like Toolbox Murders) was gross, but proved he still had that puckish urge to irritate and horrify.
In 2016, Alig talked to Anthony Haden-Guest in a Daily Beast interview about being freed from jail. “I thought that coming home would solve all my problems, and I would be happy. But I came home, and I wasn’t. I came home and I realized that it doesn’t really matter if I’m here or I’m there. I’m just the same person!”
Haden-Guest asked Alig if prison had changed him. “Back then I used to be whoever I said I was. Now I know who I am.”
“Of course, I’m sorry,” he said of his part in the murder of Melendez. “But that sounds trite. No words can make any difference anymore. It’s actions. There’s a charity element to every one of my projects.”
Reporter Ernie Garcia had been part of Alig’s circle, playing the part of Clara the Carefree Chicken at Disco 2000, when he was known as Ernie Glam.
Garcia said to me, “I invited Michael to stay in my guest bedroom upon his release from prison in 2014, and he spent 16 months with me. I took him in mostly rent free, to help him get back on his feet. Í considered Michael my soul brother. He was very generous with me and I loved his creativity and perverse sense of humor. Unfortunately, he was a profoundly flawed, unhappy man who carried many painful and self-destructive impulses.
“His demons had carried him into drug addiction, which led him to commit a depraved crime against my friend Angel Melendez. I did my best to help him avoid his toxic past after he was released, but the horror and guilt of his crime haunted him and he sunk into abuse by 2016. In recent years, I avoided spending time with him because I was saddened by what I saw, though we still exchanged texts and emails. I’ll miss him, but I’m relieved that his anguish has ended. I hope Michael’s death will help bring closure to members of Angel’s family and friends who are still in pain.”
Alig showed varying degrees of remorse through the years, telling me he had imaginary conversations with Melendez—some calming, some contentious—though Alig told another clubbie who visited him in jail, “Oh, nobody liked Angel.” Alig’s amorality was challenged by nagging guilt pangs, along with his realization that he was never going to be fabulous again. The open bar had officially closed.