Michael Alig, the New York City club promoter who in the early- to mid-1990s made a name for himself as the leader of the “Club Kids,” and was subsequently convicted of first-degree manslaughter for the 1996 death of Andre “Angel” Melendez — the inspiration for the 2003 film “Party Monster” starring Macauley Culkin — has died of an apparent heroin overdose. He was 54. The New York Daily News reported that Alig was found in his Manhattan apartment on Christmas Day. His death is believed to have occurred on Dec. 24.
Alig’s story, from wide-eyed Indiana teenager to notorious downtown NYC hipster who helped put famous nightclub The Limelight on the map, garnered significant attention outside of the local scene thanks in large part to a 1999 book written by his club friend James St. James, “Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland.” Later renamed “Party Monster,” it, along with reporting of the murder, served as the inspiration for the movie 2003 movie co-starring Seth Green as St. James.
The “Club Kids” was a catchall for the outrageously-dressed club goers of the time. First gaining attention with several television apperarances, including one in 1987 on a daytime talk show hosted by Geraldo Rivera and featuring a panel that included Alig and Rupaul, Club Kid parties were often themed and, like raves, could take place spontaneously anywhere in the city or its outer boroughs. Most famous is a Club Kid gathering that took place at a fast food joint and another on a Manhattan subway platform.
Information concerning Melendez’s March 17, 1996 murder, which was carried out by Alig and his then-roommate, Robert “Freeze” Riggs, was first revealed in an April 1996 article in downtown weekly the Village Voice written by Michael Musto. Although Musto disguised the identities of those involved, it was known to many in the scene that Alig was responsible for the heinous act — after killing Melendez with multiple blows by hammer, Alig and Riggs dismembered the body and packed it into a cardboard box which they dumped in the Hudson river — largely because he was openly boasting about it.
Still, it took a while for the authorities to gather a case. At the time, the city, under a mandate from then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, was waging a war against nightlife and looking to bust (and subsequently deport) Limelight owner Pater Gatien whose club portfolio (which included The Tunnel and Club USA) personified the high times of the late ’80s and early ’90s. In the city’s PR efforts to bring down the club business, the Limelight was labeled a “drug supermarket” in the press, an albatross that Gatien asserts was untrue in his book “The Club King: My Rise, Reign, and Fall in New York Nightlife,” released in April of this year.
The Limelight was Gatien’s best-known franchise. First opened in Atlanta, the New York club found its home at the former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, a stunning Gothic Revival brownstone on Sixth Avenue. But once federal agents got involved in investigating drug transactions at the site — Melendez was in fact dealing to club patrons and Alig had owed him a significant drug debt — the Limelight’s party nights were ostensibly over. Although it would reopen sporadically throughout the ’90s, it relaunched as The Avalon in 2003 but was shuttered four years later. Since 2014, it’s served as a gym.
Melendez’s remains were discovered off Staten Island weeks after the murder and in October 1997, Alig and Riggs both took plea deals — to first-degree manslaughter — and were sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. In 2010, Riggs was released on parole, followed by Alig in May 2014.
The film “Party Monster,” released while Alig was imprisoned, brought the story of the Club Kids to the world. In addition to Culkin and Green, Wilson Cruz played Melendez and Wilmer Valderrama was DJ Keoki, Alig’s boyfriend in the years during which he was building his club persona. Chloë Sevigny, Marilyn Manson and Natasha Lyonne had smaller roles and real-life clubbers Amanda Lepore and Richie Rich made cameos.
The 2016 documentary “Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig” chronicled his story in great detail and had cameras rolling upon his release from prison. Shortly afterwards, St. James screened “Party Monster” for a freed Alig, astutely noting that the movie is what an overwhelming majority of people know to be Alig’s tale.
In interviews since his release, Alig took some issues with the movie’s portrayal and has also tried to correct the narrative, particularly as it involved Melendez, citing his own drug use as creating “another reality, as opposed to a premeditated act.
Alig’s struggles with drug use persisted even after his 17-year prison stint. In 2017, Alig was arrested in the Bronx for smoking crystal meth. His Dec. 24 death has been attributed to a heroin overdose, though additional details have yet to be revealed.
Some 25 years after Melendez’s death, the legacy of Alig and the Club Kids continues to fascinate, as evidenced by the 2020 releases of Gatien’s book and of “In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the 90s,” by photographer Steve Eichner. Speaking to Variety in October, Eichner noted that “this was a real moment in culture… a moment in New York City history.”
Alas, like the treadmills that currently occupy the Limelight’s once hallowed walls, time marches on.