The unbelievably true story of Dancing, Drugs and Murder
“I can’t remember every tiny little detail, because we were extremely high on drugs. I was on Special K and went into a k hole – your senses are shut off,” he said. “We were in another dimension. We felt like we needed to do something other than call the police or an ambulance and we didn’t know what that something was.”
New York party promoter Michael Alig was released in May 2014 after serving 17 years in jail. The self-proclaimed “King of The Club Kids” infamously slayed his drug-dealer friend, Angel Melendez, in March 1996, before dismembering the body with his accomplice, Robert “Freez” Riggs, and disposing of it in the Hudson River.
Here, in his own words, is his story.
“It was just after we had heaved the cardboard box containing Angel’s remains into the Hudson that we heard the deafening sound of helicopters. Police searchlights blinded us as we cowered by the roadside, raising our hands above our heads.”
In truth, there was no 4 a.m. swoop on that dark, chilly morning in March 1996. ” It was a figment of our drug-addled imaginations. Our day of reckoning on the West Side Highway was a paranoid hallucination caused by panic, fear and the mountain of heroin we’d consumed.”
“Yet the dismembered corpse that Freez and I threw into the river and the sickening crime we had committed were all too real.”
Alig, 48, spent the last 17 years in prison for killing his flatmate, Andre “Angel” Melendez, a fellow club kid, who also supplied him with drugs. The body sat in Alig’s bathtub for a week before he chopped it up and dumped the remains into the Hudson River.
Alig continued to party, but says reports that he made fun of the crime are false. “The reporting that we had parties and invitations mocking the death categorically never happened. When this started going around in the media that I was a sociopath then I thought, ‘Yes, I am. I must be,’ but this was stemming from stories that weren’t true,” he said.
“Drug addiction mirrors almost the same symptoms of being a sociopath, and I didn’t have those symptoms until I became a drug addict.”
THE CLUB KIDS
Nightlife in New York City, the city that quite literally never sleeps, is defined by it’s nightclubs. In the late 1980’s the most popular clubs were taken over by a colorful, but often outrageous looking young people, called The Club Kids. They were professional party goers, most were gay.
Nightclub owners paid them to show up in wild costumes, and dance all night long. Their antics drew people to the clubs. Many club goers happily parted with the twenty dollar entrance fee, just to see them.
The head clown of this travelling carnival was a party promoter. His name was Michael Alig from Indiana.
“I was the prototype of the club kids. They were misfits that came from outside New York and was desperately looking for acceptance.” explains Michael himself. “We wanted to be adored, and that was what the Club Kids were all about.”
When artist and nightlife trendsetter Andy Warhol died suddenly in 1987 Michael and his friends saw an opening and set out to remake the club scene in their own mirror image.
“Today,” says Alig “You can’t afford to be a freak and live in New York. It’s gotten so corporate.”
“Because of real estate, it costs so much money to open a club. You need to make the money back, which means you can’t let those kinds of people in for free. You have to have bottle service. Is it me, or should the government subsidize nightlife? It’s the lifeblood of the city, and I don’t know why it’s taken them so long to realize that. Anything stylish or hip or cool or creative that’s come out of New York City in the past 25 years has originated in nightclubs.”
“It’s sort of like the mid’90s, when Ecstasy was becoming kind of not Ecstasy anymore. And all these kids were coming into New York and taking what they thought was Ecstasy, and it wasn’t. You couldn’t explain to them what they were missing.”
“The biggest similar phenomenon of the past few years is a pop singer called Lady Gaga. But, really, if you look at her style, it’s a page ripped straight out of the Club Kids handbook. And it’s amazing that no one else seems to notice that.”
Alig says: ” I love Lady Gaga. She would have fit right in at Disco 2000. A lot of people don’t understand what she’s doing, but she is a satire of a pop star. She is making fun of it, and at the same time, she’s going to go out and get everything she can by doing it.”
“And that was our mission too.” confirms Alig today. “We saw the whole fame thing collapsing. We wanted to grab it quick, while there was something left to grab, because we saw it all coming down.”
But not all clubbers of the time agree with what the club kids stood for, or the legacy they left behind.
“We clubbed, got in free, I knew all of them. Free drinks, comp 4, free X. But I also was a buyer in the day and got my Masters and had a life. The club kids were background dark clowns. And most of the people that moved to the Limelight were not club kids, they were club people that had gone to all of the clubs..Mars, Tunnel, Roxy.. Alig was a successful promoter, his time ended and he couldn’t make a comeback.”
It took infamy, a book that joked about it, a documentary, a crappy move and a bunch of fuss by young people that weren’t even born when Angel was murdered.
“I’d rather think about the club nights that truly were spectacular and they weren’t dark and they weren’t bitchy. That’s James St. James’ crowd. We used to like everyone and everyone (including promoters and club “celebrities” liked us.”
“Novelty wears off quickly as does RETRO. So i see nowhere for him to go. Talent? Fabulous? Prove it without the drugs.” – CHANCE63
THE EARLY YEARS
“It was August 1984 and I can still remember the knot of anxiety and excitement in my stomach as we crossed the George Washington Bridge as Mom and her boyfriend, Bill, drove me to Fordham University in the Bronx. It was intimidating looking at the famous Manhattan skyline, wondering how I was going to compete with all the beautiful, smart, talented, rich people living there.”
“But soon I moved in their circles. I managed to latch onto a student called Ludovic, a flamboyant, sexually ambiguous type who was dating the artist Keith Haring. One night, Keith threw a party at Area, one of the coolest clubs in the city. In my hometown of South Bend, Ind., a nightclub was a honky-tonk of men with beer-gut bellies watching sports on TV. This was a modern-day speakeasy with 300 people lined up outside. The doorman selected who got in, one at a time, like a florist chooses roses and carnations for a bouquet. Grace Jones was there. Cameras flashed. Ludovic, who was led out of our limo on a leash, wore nothing but underwear and white body paint.”
Michael grew up far from Manhattan in South Bend, Indiana. His parents went through a divorce when he was four years old. While his older brother was a track star, Michael knew from a very early age that his sexual identity set him apart. He claims “since I was in kindergarten I knew I was gay.” “My mother always made me feel that being different was being better, so it wasn’t so traumatic for me.”
Michael was an effeminate boy and an easy target for bullies. But Michael made an effort to fit in. He was a good student, he had a stint with the basket ball team and he even took a date to the Prom. Michael kept his homosexuality secret from most people, even his mother.
“I did not know Michael was gay,” admits his mother. ” Even though there were signs all over the place, I had never been around a gay boy.”
“As a gay teen coming to terms with my sexuality, I was overwhelmed and exhilarated. It was liberating. Talk about being in the right place at the time. While the rest of the country was entrenched in depressing Reaganomics and “Just say no,” downtown New York nightlife was having a moment.”
It was a Warholian scene of self-proclaimed celebrities with names like John Sex, Billy Beyond and Sister Dimension. Their job was to go out every night and be fabulous.
“I dropped out of college, earned $50 plus tips as a busboy at Danceteria and started organizing my own party nights. The first one at club owner Rudolf’s venue Tunnel was themed “Consumer Hell.”
“Satirizing the idea of conspicuous American consumption, I paid someone to bring me 10 shopping carts from a store in New Jersey. TV commercials played on the video screens. I wore a hat made out of an Oreo box and Fruit Loop earrings. People arrived in Saran wrap dresses stuffed with Cheerios and Fluffer Nutter. It was crazy.”
The idea of The Club Kids came about after I met James St. James, the flamboyant socialite, and my boyfriend DJ Keoki, who built up a following at Tunnel and later Peter Gatien’s marquee clubs in Manhattan, Limelight and USA.
The clique expanded to include RuPaul, Robert “Freez” Rigg, Jennytalia and Gitsie. I loved the idea of packaging someone like a product, like the old movie industry in Hollywood who took Norma Jean and made Marilyn Monroe.
I moved to New York in 1984, and I started off as a busboy at Danceteria. To me it was a really cool place, like, the best club I’d ever been to. But looking back and thinking about what people told me, Danceteria was already over by the time I got there. I think the reason I actually got the job was because nobody else wanted to work there.”
Nightclubs seemed somehow important then. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were doing installations, the outré 4 a.m. fashion was more interesting than anything on the runways, and people seemed to emerge from the disco as fully formed celebrities.
Alig was the last of these self-created downtown freaks. He started off as a busboy at Danceteria in 1983 and quickly developed a reputation for being able to conjure up ingenious parties out of thin air. By the time he was handed the reins to the basement of the Tunnel by Rudolf Piper, he had become Clown Prince of the Club Kids, leading his band of fabulous weirdos, with their kiddie lunch boxes and funny nicknames, as they traipsed from one nightclub to the next. Their numbers grew week by week, and soon he was drawing hundreds of people to his outlaw parties, where the costumed hordes would overwhelm a Burger King or doughnut shop or subway platform, turn on a boom box, and party until the police showed up. It all seemed like so much innocent fun.
On our next page read how the lad from Indiana became a cult leader in the New York club scene